Scripture: Lectionary 396. Tue. July 23. Exodus 14:21-15:1. Resp. from Exodus 15:8-188.8.131.52. Matthew 12:46-50:
For this reflection I suggest you read Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21; these are two parallel passages to what Matthew says about the family of God through discipleship and his family and relationship to Mary his mother. I believe Mark first handed on the scene, followed by Matthew and lastly by Luke. I call it a Christology of Relationship in all three versions. Now for my specific reflection on the passage:
We learn about Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Matthew’s first two chapters where the relationship with Joseph of the House of David is emphasized. Luke will give us a more detailed narrative of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in his Infancy Narrative (Luke 1 and 2).
After the Infancy Narrative, Matthew rarely mentions the mother of Jesus. When he does, he is following the scene that Mark has given us. This is what our Gospel presents to us for reflection. Matthew has followed the outline of Mark and has used many of the events in Jesus’ life from Mark almost two-thirds of Mark is contained in Matthew. Both Matthew’s use of Mark and his own point of view are uniquely stressed in what he borrows from Mark. Each Evangelist has a special pastoral and theological point of view geared to their respective communities as they hand on their Gospels. They are called Synoptic for they present to us the same scenes; they do not copy one another’s theological perspective.
Matthew directs the incident of Jesus’ mother and “brethren” coming to him as a lesson in discipleship. The ambiguous crowd mentioned in Mark now is the group of disciples whom Matthew addresses while showing them the true meaning of their relationship to him. It is not like that of Mary which stems from her very body and blood. Matthew intentionally wants the disciples to be spiritual followers of him doing the will of the Father. Mary is both a disciple according to her faith but also because she is his mother and has brought him to this point in his life.
We note that in both Matthew and Mark the “sister” are added, perhaps, later in the composition of this scene. They are to be disciples of the Lord as well but in the spiritual realm not the physical. The scene often needlessly separates us from our Catholic interpretation with the Protestant interpretation that takes brother and sister literally. The Greek words “adelphoi” and “adelphai” (brothers and sisters) has the meaning of “brethren” or extended family members like cousins and relatives. This is easily confirmed if one reads all the passages that deal with the word brother and sister. It especially is evident in the Pauline writings. Jerome was aware of two opposing interpretations—one from Helvidius and another from Epiphanius. He strongly refuted the literalism of Helvidius and did not subscribe to the opinion of Epiphanius who followed an Apocryphal work when speaking of the brothers of Jesus through Joseph. This pericope does touch upon the perpetual virginity of Mary and is used often against it, but from our faith perspective and living Tradition, we hold onto the ancient belief of the Church that Mary had no other children but Jesus. Origen, one of the brightest of theologians in the third century (185-254) stated “For if Mary had no other Son except Jesus, in accordance with those who hold a sound opinion of her…etc.” This was written well before the writings of Jerome , Helvidius, and Epiphanius and is rarely recalled by both Catholic and Protestant scholars.
Today it is best to focus on the discipleship theme of the pericope and realize that we are called to be disciples of Jesus without being Jewish as he was and certainly as his mother was very Jewish. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.