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Family Ties

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

We've all heard the expression: "Blood is thicker than water." Apparently this particular proverb does not apply for Christians.

Today's episode in the Gospel of St. Matthew usually raises questions about the so-called "brothers" of Jesus. Catholic tradition teaches that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. Yet the Gospels refer to the brothers of Jesus. To understand this reference, we must make ourselves familiar with the notion of family in first century Middle Eastern countries and cultures.

A man's household consisted of his wife and children as well as the wives and children of his brothers. Sons did not leave the homes of their fathers. When they took a wife, the woman came to live with the man in the home of his father. Daughters, conversely, left the homes of their fathers to live in the homes of their husbands. When a man died, his house and his belongings were inherited by his eldest son who took his father's place as the patriarch of his family unit. His younger brothers continued to live with him along with their wives and children. The women, girls and young boys lived together in one part of the home while the men and adolescent boys lived in a separate part of the home. Thus, the term brother came to mean all of the males living in a particular home. Mary would have been living in the home of Joseph's father or older brother along with her in-laws. There was no possibility of a woman living a solitary life although biographical movies about Jesus and Mary usually portray her this way. Even if Joseph left no family behind, upon his death Mary would have been forced to move back to the home of her father, her uncles, or her brothers.

Family units were the backbone of the social and cultural structure of first century Israel. Loyalty to the family was a priority for these people. To move beyond family was to deny one's past, one's present and one's future. So when Jesus indicates that his family includes those who hear the word of God and live by it, he is essentially saying that water, the waters of baptism that is, is thicker than blood. Our relationship is as strong as the bonds of family for a typical Middle Eastern first century family.

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