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By Fr. Abu

…“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” *(Luke 8:21)

If there is one passage of Scripture that I have heard Non-Catholics quote in the attempt to present Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an ordinary woman who had other children for Joseph her husband, it is today’s Gospel passage. I have seen books on Christian Religious Education written for school children where it is clearly stated that Mary was only a virgin before the birth of Jesus and after the birth of Jesus, she had other children who are referred to as the “brothers of Jesus.” 

Unfortunately, such books with this heretical doctrine have found their way even to some catholic schools. Not surprisingly, I have dialogued with fellow Catholics who hold the opinion that Mary had other children besides Jesus Christ. Now, the question is: “What is the big deal if Mary had other children?” To answer this question, we need to ask, who are these other children? What does the existence of other children say about our entire Christian Faith? Is it a sin for a married woman to have children? In other words, does having other children reduce the honour we give to Mary as the Mother of God? 

We begin with the last question. Now, even if it were true that Mary had other children, it would in no way reduce her status as the Mother of God. To say Mary is the Mother of God is to acknowledge that Jesus is not just a man but God himself. Anyone who denies that Mary is the Mother of God is also denying that Jesus is God and such a person cannot be a Christian. (Cf. Romans 10:9 and 1st John 4:3).

To accuse Catholics of idolatry due to the honour (hyperdulia) we give to Mary is to indirectly accuse God of doing something wrong by making Mary the Ark of the Covenant in the new testament (that is, honouring Mary by becoming flesh in her womb). When you read the Old Testament, you cannot but notice how the children of God treated the Ark of the Covenant. For instance, would you call it idolatry when David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was being returned to Israel? Would you say the whole of Israel was idolatrous? Anyone who thinks Mary is nothing may as well consider the Ark of the Covenant as nothing. 

Of course, it is not a sin for a married woman to have children with her legally married husband. It would never have been a sin if Mary had decided to have other children for Joseph and this would never have reduced her place in the eyes of God but truth has to be told. Mary had already taken a vow of consecrated virginity to God before her marriage with Joseph. This was why even though she was already betrothed to Joseph (Luke 1:27), she still asked the Angel Gabriel “how shall this be since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). If she was planning to have sexual relations with the man she was already betrothed to, she would never have asked the Angel such a question. When you tell a girl whose introduction has been done that she would have a child, of course, she wouldn’t ask you how.

How can this be? What kind of marriage do people enter and yet plan not be married? This is using our modern-day mindset to read a culture that is thousands of years old. It is assuming that Mary and Joseph lived in the twenty-first century. Yes, it is possible in that culture for a woman to be under vows of celibacy and yet married. The book of Numbers states Numbers 6:2 “When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD.” Coming down to Numbers 30:6-7 we read: “And if she is married to a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it, and says nothing to her on the day that he hears; then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand.” 

Going further, in Numbers 30:13-15 we read: “Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her pledges, that are upon her; he has established them because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them.  But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.” This is the reason why Joseph would not even try to have sexual relations with her after marriage. Bear in mind that as at that time, the only Bible they had was the Old Testament.

So who are these “brothers” and even “sisters” of Jesus mentioned in several places in the Gospels? This is where it becomes very interesting. First, bear in mind that the Greek terminology which translates as ‘brother’ also translates for cousin and even distant relations. Secondly, bear in mind that the same New Testament mentions another Mary (different from the Mary the Mother of Jesus) who was the mother of James and John. (Cf. Matthew 27:61, Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:10 and Acts 12:12). We also believe that this other Mary is the sister (perhaps a relative) of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. John 19:25 reads: “…standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Thirdly, and most importantly, in our Gospel passage today, Jesus himself says: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21). In fact, it is even clearer in Matthew 12:50 and Mark 3:35. That is to say, the existence of brothers and sisters of Jesus should never be considered as a minus as far as Mary’s perpetual virginity is concerned because we ourselves are those brothers and sisters of Jesus, we ourselves are the children of Mary. 

Yes, if you are a Christian at all and you are doing the will of God, then know that you are also a member of the family of Jesus, and if you accept that Mary is the mother of Jesus, then you are a child of Mary. How do you treat your mother?

Again, going back to this passage, you may wonder, why didn’t Jesus leave the crowd to attend to his mother and ‘brothers’? Wouldn’t this have been a sign of honour show to his own mother? Firstly, note that Jesus has a special style of teaching. He always used graphic illustrations, parables, stories and took advantage of every situation to send a very strong message. In this case, Jesus used the occasion to teach us the IMPORTANCE OF DOING THE WILL OF GOD. If the person who interrupted Jesus to tell him about the presence of his mother and ‘brothers’ taught it was important for Jesus to stop and attend to them, Jesus was saying that it is equally important that we are not only hearers but doers of the word of God. 

Secondly, note that Matthew, Mark and Luke reported this story yet none of them told us what happened after Jesus uttered this instructional statement. Why should we assume that Jesus ignored them completely and continued to teach? Note that in Matthew and Mark’s version, this story concludes the chapter while in Luke’s version, the next thing we hear after Jesus made this statement is “One day, he got into a boat….” This means that other things happened that are not reported here. Jesus would not ignore Mary and his ‘brothers’ just like that. At least the story of the wedding feast at Cana reported in John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus would not refuse a request from his Mother.

In conclusion, Mary is not just any woman in the Bible. Fine, she is the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38) but she is not an envelope that was used and dumped by God. God does not use and dump human beings. And if at all, we ever think of Mary as a container, then at least, we cannot deny that she is the ARK OF THE COVENANT which of course, cannot be dumped anyhow! Mary deserves our respect. In respecting her, we are deepening our faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and worshipping God. There is no competition between her and God. God alone receives all the honour and glory just as a very beautiful person reminds you of the glory of God, the perfect artist, examining Mary’s place in salvation history only increases your devotion to God from whom all things come.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, help me to remain ever conscious of my identity as a lamp and more importantly of my identity as your brother and sister. Amen.

*Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Tuesday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Ezra 6:7-8,12,14-20, Psalm 122 and Luke 8:19-21)*

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