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"XIV. The Special Problem of Mark 3. 20-35"


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At first sight, one might think Jesus was rejecting His Mother, when He told the crowd that whoever does the will of His Father is brother , sister and mother to Him. Wilfrid Harrington (in: Mark, Glazier, Wilmington, 1979, p. 47) sadly errs when he says she did not believe in Him.

To grasp this, we need to notice that the passage has three parts: first, a group Mark calls the hoi par' autou (more on this presently) think He is beside Himself for preaching so intently, not taking time to eat. They go out to get Him, apparently by force. Secondly, His enemies charge He casts out devils by the devil, and He says that is the unforgivable sin. Third, His Mother and brothers come to a crowd where He is teaching. It is announced that she is there. He replies: Who is my mother... . .

We do not know for certain who are in the hoi par' autou. It could mean those about Him, or His relatives etc. Harrington feels certain that that group is the same as the group in verses 31-35. He says: "For Mark [3:31-35] is a continuation of vv. 20-21... his own did not receive him." He even says that the passage "may be seen to distinguish those who stood outside the sphere of salvation, and those who are within it." That seems to mean she was "outside the sphere of salvation"! This is horrendous!

Harrington is in gross error for several reasons. First, even if she was in the group of the hoi par' autou it would not follow that she did not believe in Him. Even an ordinary Mother is apt to stand up for her son when others turn on him. So she could have gone along to try to restrain the others. Secondly, Form and Redaction Criticism has shown us that a passage may be made up of several once independent units. That easily could be the case here, especially in view of the ill-fitting second unit. Third, and most important, St. Luke clearly pictures her as the first believer. We may not make one Evangelist contradict another!. And Vatican II taught, in LG 56 that at the annunciation she "totally dedicated herself to the work and person of her Son."

What really happened in the verses 31-35 is this. Jesus was teaching dramatically, and comparing two things, the dignity of being physically the Mother of God, and the privilege of hearing the word of God and keeping it. She was, of course, at the peak in both categories. Hence Vatican II said in LG 58: " In the course of His preaching, she received the words in which her Son, extolling the Kingdom beyond the reasons and bonds of flesh and blood, proclaimed blessed those who heard and kept the word of God, as she was faithfully doing. The situation is the same in the incident of Mt. 12. 48-50. In fact, it is probably the same occasion as that reported in Mark.

About the "brothers" of Jesus. Hebrew used the word ah for all sorts of relatives, since it had few words for precise names of relationships. Yes, Greek did have them, but in so many places in the NT we must look to the underlying Hebrew to understand. E. g. , in Rom 9. 13 Paul cites Mal 1:2-3:"I have loved Jacob and hated Esau." Hebrew and Aramaic lack degrees of comparison. So we would have said: love one more, and the other less. In 1 Cor 1:17 Paul says: "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach." Yet Paul had just said he did baptize some. Again, the lack of degrees of comparison explains. In Rom 5:19 we meet the word "many" as receiving original sin. But all did. There is a Hebrew rabbim, which means: "the all who are many". Paul always uses Greek polloi (when used as a noun) to mean what rabbim expresses. Again, the word yada usually translated as know actually means both know and love.

Further, If Jesus had 4 brothers and at least two sisters (cf Mt 13. 55 and Mk. 6. 3) it would be much out of place to ask John, at the time of his death, to take care of her. James the "brother of the Lord" was alive in 49 AD (Gal 1:19). He should have cared for her. Also in Mk 3:20-21, younger brothers in that culture would not have dared to go after an older brother - He was firstborn. And in the Temple at age 12, if there were younger brothers, Mary would have stayed home - women not obliged to come. But only Jesus is mentioned.

Also a Rabbinic tradition, starting with Philo, held that Moses, after his first encounter with God, never again had sex with his wife. (Cf. J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (Doubleday, 1991, pp. 240-41) who admits this even though he works so strenuously to prove that Jesus had 4 true brothers and at least two sisters, never seeing the implication for Our Lady!). What of Our Lady, who had borne the God-man in her womb for 9 months! As for Joseph, knowing that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, would he dare to intrude?

As to the word until and first born in Mt 1:25: The word until often indicates no change after the point mentioned, e.g., Mt 22:42-46; Dt 34:6; 2 Samuel 6:23. As to first born it designates a special status in the Hebrew family, need not mean any other sons after that. A Greek tomb inscription at Tel el Yaoudieh (cf. Biblica 11, 1930, 369-90 for a woman who died in childbirth: "In the pain of delivering my firstborn child, destiny brought me to the end of life."

So at least, no one can prove the "brothers" were blood brothers.