Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Here are my mother and my brothers.”
For at least two reasons, today’s Gospel Reading may be used (erroneously) to criticize Catholic beliefs. The first is that Jesus seems to downplay the significance of His birth mother, Mary. The second is that Jesus refers to His “brothers”, which seems to contradict the Church’s teaching about Mary’s perpetual virginity. In replying to both concerns, we can not only help those with misunderstandings, but we can ourselves move closer to the heart of Jesus’ words.
First, is Jesus downplaying the significance of Mary in saying that “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother”? On the contrary, Mary is the perfect example of what Jesus is talking about here. It’s true that Jesus doesn’t go out of His way on this occasion (at least, as recorded by the St. Matthew the Evangelist) to point to Mary as the perfect embodiment of doing the will of God the Father. There are several possible reasons why Jesus did not think it prudent on this occasion to highlight Mary’s human perfection, but none of these suggest that Mary is not the perfect human creature that all the Church’s Marian dogmas describe her as being.
Second, the word in today’s Gospel passage that is translated into English as “brothers” is the Greek word “adelphoi”. Apologists have noted that other New Testament uses of this word show that the word can have meanings other than the strict sense of “siblings”. Others have noted the logical fact that Jesus having brothers doesn’t mean that Mary had other children besides Jesus, since Jesus’ “brothers” may have been step-brothers from an earlier marriage of Joseph, who may have been a widower. Ultimately, however, such arguments can turn Jesus’ very intention in this Gospel passage on its head: Jesus is trying to get us to move away from worrying about His blood relations, so that you and I might be His brethren through the Church.