For people who come from a culture where the nuclear family is the norm, today's Gospel reading can prove troublesome, especially given the tradition that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. The Gospel speaks of Jesus' mother as well as his brothers and sisters. A few days ago, we heard that the family of Jesus thought he might be “out of his mind.” So we should not be surprised that just a few verses later, his family is seeking him out. Their concern might have centered on the fact that he seemed to be abandoning his family and surrounding himself by “outsiders.” They also may have been concerned by the stories they were hearing about Jesus as he healed people, cured their illnesses, and expelled their demons. However, here we are just a few days later, and the Gospel is telling us that his family is trying to communicate with him. Jesus then utters a pronouncement that illustrates that he is forming a new kind of family, something the Scripture scholars label a “fictive” family, built of people who have placed their faith in Jesus and his preaching.
I was recently watching a movie about Jesus of Nazareth. As is usually the case, family life for the three from Nazareth was depicted much the same as if the Holy Family had been living in a bungalow in a Chicago neighborhood. This was simply not the case in Israel at the time of Jesus. Families were "extended" and included a patriarch and his wife, his sons and their wives, and the children born to these several couples. Boys under the age of twelve and girls lived in the part of the house where the women resided. The men and the boys over the age of twelve lived in another section of the house, usually positioned in such a way as to guard the rooms where the women resided. When girls were old enough to be married, they were taken to the home of their prospective bridegroom where they took up residence in the home of their husbands' fathers. When boys married, they brought their wives to the homes of their fathers. Consequently, a family unit would be made up of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and all their children. It was common to refer to the all of the children as "brothers and sisters," even though today we refer to the children of our aunts and uncles as cousins.
Women never traveled alone. When they went to the well for water, they went together as a group. When they ventured out further, they were in the company of men. So when the Gospel records that the mother of Jesus was waiting for him outside, it also tells us that she was in the company of the men of the household. It would have been a source of shame and scandal for a woman to walk about the village alone. It is important to keep these details of cultural significance in mind when reading the Gospels.
While these cultural details help us to understand the rationale behind this scene, the true importance of this passage is that Jesus identifies those of us who have come to believe in him, who have heard his preaching and have accepted him as the Son of God as his family. St. Paul illustrates this concept by saying that we have been “adopted” by Jesus and the Father and have, as a result, inherited the riches of the kingdom. This realization should prompt us to continue to listen, to accept, to repent, and to strive to be true disciples of Jesus.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator