instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Mary in the Gospels, ii

The three synoptic Gospels each tell of Jesus being told His "mother and brothers" want to speak to Him. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it."

What can we learn from these passages, besides the facts that a) Jesus made use of the teaching opportunities that came His way, and b) His mother and His brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it?

Well, one other thing is suggested by Mark 3:21, which provides the reason Jesus' relatives came to see Him:
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind."
Though all three synoptic Gospels mention their arrival, neither Matthew nor Luke (the two with infancy narratives) report that they thought Jesus was out of His mind. Is this simply a matter of leaving out a detail that makes the infancy narratives harder to understand?

Neither Matthew nor Luke put the scene of the arrival of Jesus' relatives in much context. Mark, though, mentions that His relatives "set out to seize Him" after hearing reports of Him. What reports?

Well, the verse immediately before they set out to seize Him is, "He came home. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat."

So, on the natural level they've got a Relative Who is causing such a commotion, He (and those commoted) can't even eat. That might seem to call for an intervention, even from someone who knows He is the Messiah. (And we might point to the miracle at Cana as an example of Mary successfully imploring Jesus; she might have had something similar in mind here.)

On the supernatural level, Mark is comparing the doubt of Jesus' relatives -- which, for what it's worth, is not explicitly ascribed to Mary herself (though the context does seem to allow for that) -- to the doubt of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem.

Jesus' relatives think He is out of His mind. And, as Peter would later show, even one who believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, might criticize the way He was going about being the Messiah.

The scribes, on the other hand, say He is an agent of the devil, which Jesus points out is irrational (and, by implication, a worse mistake, possibly an everlasting mistake).

When, finally, His relatives arrive, Jesus completes the lesson by saying faith, not blood, makes a person His true brother, sister, or mother.

Did Mary have the faith to make her a true mother of Jesus? Scripture (to say nothing of Tradition) indicates she did -- but at the time of Jesus' ministry in Galilee her faith was not yet made complete by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

It's in the distinction between the perfect faith expressed in Mary's "Let it be done to me according to your word" at the Annunciation and the completion of that faith in the wind of Pentecost that I find the room to accomodate both her lack of understanding when Jesus was twelve and her arguable lack of understanding when He began His public ministry (always leavened by the understanding she showed at Cana).