“My mother and brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
The gospel today has been cited over and over again as proof of two things: first that Jesus had sisters and brothers, hence Mary did not remain a virgin and, two, that Catholics are wrong to ascribe any particular special status for the mother of Jesus, since Jesus said his real family consists of those who do the will of God. Mary is not ever-Virgin and she is not special among human beings. Of course, Catholic Tradition has from the beginning taught otherwise.
But we ask ourselves, why did Jesus choose to stay inside the house where he was teaching and not go out to greet his mother and relatives. Was this not a discourtesy to ones who loved him and cared about him? “Honor your father and mother,” the fourth commandment tells us. And the Book of Wisdom tells us, “The Lord sets a father in honor over his children and confirms a mother’s authority over her sons.” Is Jesus setting himself above the Law of God? Certainly we know the answer is no, but then we ask what is Jesus doing in refusing to go outside the house when his family call for him. And what is Jesus teaching us by his actions?
First of all, let’s remember what has led up to this event. At the same time that more and more people are being drawn to Jesus because of his preaching and miracles there are others – especially members of the religious establishment – who are growing suspicious and jealous of him. They feel threatened and seek to discredit him, even to the point of accusing him of being in league with the devil. He is in danger.
His extended family (the Greek word adelphos does not mean simply siblings but cousins and kin) may want to protect him or themselves. One of the ways that they can culturally do this is to declare that he is “beside himself” or mentally sick, exhausted. Perhaps this is why they have come to take him home and force him to rest.
Jesus, however, does God’s will and no one else’s. He relies on his Father to take care of him, protect him. He hears the word of God and does it. And he is hungry for sisters and brothers who do the same. He comes to establish a new family not based on the cultural demands of human kinship or social ties but rather on the bond of unflinching obedience to the will of their heavenly Father and the demands of the Kingdom. In declaring to everyone that “My mother and brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and do it,” Jesus is establishing a new human family. This pronouncement is for both those inside the house and at the door.
Here is an amazing truth, if we are willing to accept it: you and each, each of us who has been baptized into household of God, the life of the Trinity, we have an honored place in the house of Jesus. The same love that Christ has for his mother Mary, and his foster-father Joseph, and his earthly cousins – belongs to us if we seek to know what God needs us to do and try as best we can to do. If we hear the word of God and do it, we have every reason to believe, at the end of our life, that when St. Peter whispers in our Lord’s ear that we are at heaven’s door waiting outside Jesus will say to his mother and the other saints sitting around the table, excuse me my sister, my brother or my sister is calling for me.