Spirituality of the Readings
The Gospel for this 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be puzzling.
For instance: it raises the question whether Jesus actually had brothers and sisters, and whether they and Mary, the blessed mother, think that he is crazy?
First, did Jesus actually have brothers and sisters in our present-day sense? There are many theories, and this is one:
In Semitic usage, the terms “brother,” “sister” are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters.*
So, Jesus had cousins and other kin, in this alternative. Do you remember his pregnant mother’s trip to see her cousin, Elizabeth? Today children of “first cousins” are called “second cousins,” and would qualify as brothers and sisters in ancient Semitic usage. Jesus would not be different from other Nazarenes in this regard. Nor would there be a contradiction to anything central to the faith.
Second, could it be that his “mother and his brothers” were among those who thought of him as “out of his mind”? The Gospel of Mark asserts only the following:
His mother and his brothers arrived.
Standing outside they sent word to him
and called [for] him (Gospel).
Perhaps this was just familial interest on their part instead of a desire to “seize him” and carry him away. Conclusion: we do not have to think that his mother was being critical of Jesus when she arrived with other relatives.
Third: but now, Jesus seems to totally ignore his family. Hearing that they are calling out to him, Jesus says,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.”
Some have taken this speech as Jesus rejecting Mary and his other relatives. Actually it is a statement of Jesus’ mission. He is showing that the most important reason for life is the love of God and one’s neighbors, as opposed to the easy and presumably self-enclosed way of staying home where relatives will take care of you.
Growth in this kind of love must come from God. As Jesus says: “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” He is widening our life-search to include others, not instead of the family but including them in the overall purpose of life itself: letting in the love of God and passing it along to everyone we know.
Fourth, we have now discovered the meaning of Jesus’ words,
whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin.
Sounds severe, but it is just repeating the message of love. If a person or a society turns against (blasphemes against) the Holy Spirit of God, they will have shut off the very source of love. As we have seen repeatedly, Christians discovered the Trinity of God by seeing it played out in this world: the love of the Father for the Son, together with the loving inclusion of everything in existence, which is the work of the Holy Spirit.
John Foley, SJ
**From Saint Louis University