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This Sunday, Jesus Wants Us to Join His Mother in Glory

At first we might think the Gospel presents Catholics with a big problem in what it says about Mary and the brothers of Jesus on the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

But once we understand what is being said, the problem goes away and we discover instead not a troubling passage about Mary but a freeing passage about us.

Nobody in the early Church would have been bothered by this passage at all, because they knew a few key things we don’t.

We hear this Sunday that Jesus is speaking to a crowd when “His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him.” Jesus answers by seeming to be dismissive of his relationship with his mother.

Often, Protestants will use this passage to “prove” that Mary was not perpetually a virgin but had other children. But the first Christians wouldn’t have made that mistake.

Those who knew the Old Testament would know about the Semitic custom of calling cousins brothers. But more importantly, they would be far more aware of exactly who these “brothers” of Jesus were. This Sunday’s Gospel reading is from Mark, which elsewhere helpfully lists their names and includes James and Joses, who were well known as leaders in the Early Church. In several places Mark identifies them as the children of another woman named Mary, a woman Matthew calls “the other Mary” and who John identifies as “Mary, the wife of Clopas.” Theologian Brant Pitre shares even more information: The historian Eusebius in 313 A.D. reported that Clopas, the father of James, was a brother of St. Joseph, Jesus’s foster father. That makes James the “brother” of Jesus the biological cousin of Jesus.

Once you know that, you just need to put this story in context: This isn’t a story where Mary’s uniqueness is denigrated, but one where Christian possibilities are elevated.

As we know, Mary is highly regarded in the New Testament. The angel Gabriel calls her “full of grace” (or “highly favored daughter,” if you prefer), Elizabeth calls her “blessed among women” and “Mother of my Lord.” Her soul magnifies the Lord and every generation will call her blessed. When Jesus is presented in the Temple, Simeon gives her a personal prophecy, and Jesus performs his first public miracle at her prompting. In the early Church, she was so revered that she is depicted as crowned with stars.

Read this Gospel with the New Testament’s sky-high regard for Mary in mind and you will see how great every Christian’s vocation is.

At the beginning of the passage, Jesus comes home and got mobbed by so many people wanting cures or exorcisms, he can’t even eat. “When his relatives heard of this, they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Religious figures go on to suggest that Jesus is possessed.

His family members — his “brothers” — are spooked by what they are seeing. So Mary takes the situation in hand.

Mary is never afraid to be very direct with Jesus. “Son, why have you done this to us?” she asks at the Temple. “They have no wine,” she says at Cana, then tells the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.”  So, when his relatives have doubts about Jesus, Mary takes them directly to Jesus.

When he hears that they are outside, he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  He indicates his disciples and says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

His brothers must have realized that he was echoing Mary’s own advice to “Do whatever he tells you.”

His message is unmistakable: Being related to him means nothing — even in the case of “the mother of my Lord.” “Her nearness as a mother would have been little help for her salvation if she had not borne Christ in her heart in a more blessed manner than in the flesh,” said St. Augustine. Doing his will means everything — even for people who have only just met him.

His brothers got the message. They were there with the Virgin Mary at Pentecost, doing God’s will and being incorporated into God’s own life by the Holy Spirit.

Mary has the same advice for us — and brings us to the same Holy Spirit.

The Gospel today is all about the difference between those who are united to Jesus in his new family and those who are against Jesus in a house divided — the difference between those who “Do whatever he tells you” and those who say “He is out of his mind.”

The scribes accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan, and Jesus describes what that would look like. Satan is a slave-master, a strong man who owns us, and Jesus is here to “tie up the strong man and plunder his house.”

Jesus describes how our slavery to sin locks us into Satan’s house of horrors. “Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”

The phrase “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” means our refusal to repent, our refusal to acknowledge that sin is real. When we refuse to acknowledge our sin, we block out the Holy Spirit, the one who will “Wash clean the sinful soul, rain down grace on the parched soul, and heal the injured soul. Soften the hard heart, cherish and warm the ice-cold heart, and give direction to the wayward.”

The denial of sin does the opposite of what the Holy Spirit does. It leaves us unable to repent, perpetually dirty, dry and distorted, like a snake.

The Church gives us the First Reading from Genesis this week to show us an ugly icon of sin. God gave man and woman to each other as perfect companions, affirming God’s image in each other in self-giving love. But after committing to sin and self-aggrandizement instead, Adam hides from God, ashamed of his body, and resents “that woman who you put here with me.” Eve blames the serpent, but also in a way blames God, saying her intellect was inadequate and “the serpent tricked me!”

Sin does the same thing to us to this day: We hide in shame and resentment and blame others, even God. In fact, Genesis gives us a perfect metaphor for sin: the serpent.

Sin isolates us like the serpent who was “banned from all the animals.” Sin humiliates, telling us “on your belly shall you crawl.” Sin debases us, saying “dirt shall you eat,” and leaves us vulnerable saying “he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

That is an image of our worst nightmares, where fear grips us and we have no freedom at all, but are helpless: worthless, warped, rejected and alone. Slavery was bad enough when it was to the Egyptians, with their jackal, baboon and crocodile gods. This is worse. Slavery to Beelzebul, to Satan, means we are the captives of a twisted serpent, sucked into an agony of perpetual darkness.

On the other hand, our readings say, those who imitate Mary can join her in the heights where she is crowned with stars.

The world without Christ is a nightmare, but with Christ our greatest dreams become true. And what are our greatest dreams? The very opposite of that snakelike existence. We hope one day to experience the deepest desires that are awakened in us by the transcendent reality we sense all around us.

  • We want love. We have seen that even the greatest loves of our lives leave us dissatisfied. We are tired of being dismissed and forgotten and we are tired of continually disappointing those who look to us. We want to be fully known and infinitely loved.
  • We long for beauty. The beauty we see in the world pains us because it points to something more that we can’t reach. We want to experience Absolute Beauty.
  • Even goodness here seems like a dim shadow of a greater light. We hunger and thirst for more justice, more righteousness, authentic goodness that isn’t compromised and weak.

What we want is to be one with God, who is perfect love, infinite beauty, and unfathomable goodness. And that’s what St. Paul describes in our Second Reading.

“Although our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this momentary light affliction
is producing for us an eternal weight of glory
beyond all comparison,
as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen;
for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent,
should be destroyed,
we have a building from God,
a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.”

That’s a future that is the very opposite of the snake’s; it is in fact very much like the future given to Our Lady, the one who “heard the word of God and kept it,” and who was “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

At communion time, picture Jesus calling the congregation forward, saying: “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 


Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.