Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Those Who Hear God's Word And Act On It Are My Mother, And My Sister, And My Brother.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of Ezra (6:7-8, 12b, 14-20)

Ezra tells us of a letter King Darius wrote to his officials, telling them that they must allow the Jews to continue building the Temple. In fact, he ordered them to help the Jews by offering them the taxes collected in the district, so that they could use the money to pay the construction costs. He even told them to give the Jews whatever provisions they needed to offer sacrifices to their God. He went further, issuing a command that anyone who tried to prevent the building of the Jewish temple would be punished severely.

Darius paid homage to many gods, and did not serve the true God; still, he wanted the Jews to pray to their God for himself and his people. So, God spoke to him and through him, and the Temple of Solomon, which had been destroyed by the King of Babylon, was restored through the goodness of the King of Persia. The project was completed in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

Soon after the building of the temple was completed, the Jews held the Passover holiday, which reminded them of the time when God brought their ancestors out of Egypt to the Land of Promise. For the Dedication of this dwelling place of the All-Holy, they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs as a sacrifice, and twelve he-goats as a sin-offering for all of Israel. Finally, they set up the order of priests in their classes, and Levites in their divisions, for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is prescribed in the Book of Moses. The exiles kept Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Levites sacrificed the Passover for the rest of the exiles, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.

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Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (8:9-21)

Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. But they could not get into the house where he was teaching because of the crowds. Someone told Jesus, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you’. Jesus said, ‘My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s message and obey it’ (Luke 8:9-21).


Hebrew and Aramaic have no word for “cousin”. The other children of my parents are my brothers and sisters. The children of my mother’s siblings and my father’s siblings are also called my brothers and sisters. So, for that matter, are the children of my grand-parents’ siblings. It is a reflection of the underlying truth: We are children of the same God; therefore, we are all brothers and sisters.


Cyril of Alexandria (374 – 444) took pains to say that Jesus was not putting his mother and brothers below his disciples, but rather raising the disciples to their level. “Do not let anyone imagine that Christ scorned the honor due to his mother, or disregarded the love owed to his brothers. He said, ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ How, I ask you, could he have rejected the love due to brothers, he who even commanded us to love not only our brothers but also those who are enemies to us? - he said, ‘Love your enemies….’ The greatest honour and the most complete affection are what we owe to our mothers and brothers. If he says that they who hear his word and do it are his mother and brothers, is it not plain to everyone that he bestows on those who follow him a love thorough and worthy of them?”

Typically, Luke softens the edges of Mark’s account. In Mark, Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (3:33). Luke omits this phrase, perhaps because it might appear to slight the family. He also displaces it from Mark’s sequence of events, using it here as a nice ending to his section on hearing the word.

We are so used to defending the family that we are apt to forget that it needs first and foremost to be redeemed. Family relationships are capable of becoming very destructive. People can be hurt more deeply by members of their own family than by any stranger. You sometimes meet people who have a feeling of being held prisoner in destructive or stuffy family relationships all their lives.

These relationships need strong and constant injections of God's grace. Jesus was drawing attention to discipleship in this passage; but his statement implies something about family relationships too. Everyone who hears and keeps the word of God is a relative of Jesus. Why not spell it out more fully? If you are trying to live a Christian life you can think of yourself as the Lord's mother, aunt, uncle, younger sister, older sister, brother, cousin, next-door neighbor.... If this awareness entered the soul very deeply we could never again treat any relative badly. Every human relationship would be opened up and made a vehicle for the grace of Christ.

Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

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