10th Sunday in Ordinary Time [June 10, 2018] Mark 3:20-35
“For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mrk 3:35).”
In ancient Israel as well as in many Asian and African cultures, family and kinship are core to one’s identity. The family is practically everything. A person is born, growing, getting old and dying within a family and clan. In traditional Filipino and Indonesian settings, a house is meant for an extended and expanded family. Several generations are living in one house. When I ask some of my Filipino friends, “If your house is burning, what are the first things you will save?” Their answer is not money, important documents or jewelry, but family pictures! In 1977, the Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, one of the most prominent African figures during that time, visited the US and talked before the African students who studied there. Before them, he criticized those Africans who received much support from their families and clan, yet refused to go back after their studies. It was an act of cowardice and betrayal to Africa.
However, closely reading today’s Gospel from Mark, a good family-oriented and devoted Catholic will be startled. Naturally, we would expect Jesus to welcome Mary, his mother, and his relatives who come and look for Him. Surprisingly, Jesus does not do what is expected, but rather He takes that occasion to show His new family, “looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mk. 3:34-35) Jesus’ words seem to be harsh since Jesus appears to exclude Mary and Jesus’ relatives from the composition of His new family. Does it mean Jesus disrespect Mary, His parent? Does it mean that for Jesus, the biological and traditional family have no value?
The answer is plain no. Certainly, Jesus respects and loves His mother as He fulfills the fourth commandment of the Law, “Thou shall honor thy parents.” Jesus also upholds and teaches the sanctity of both marriage and family life (see Mat 5:31-32; Mat 19:19). The early Christians also follow Jesus’ teaching on the integrity of marriage and family life, as reflected in various letters of St. Paul and other apostles (see 1 Cor 7:1-17; Eph 6:1-5). We are sure that for Jesus, marriage and family are good, but the point of our Gospel is Jesus is calling all of us to go beyond this natural relationship. The new family of Jesus is not based on blood but rooted in following Jesus and doing the will of God. This is also the call that Jesus addresses to Mary and His relatives. Surely, Mary becomes the model of faith as she obeys the will of God in the Annunciation (Lk 2:26-38), follows Jesus even to the cross (Jn 19:25-26) and stays and prays together with the early Church (Acts 1:14). St. Augustine says about Mary in his homily, “It means more for her, an altogether greater blessing, to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been Christ’s mother.”
The family as a natural institution is good, but Jesus teaches that we need to be the good disciples of Jesus first before we become a good family member. Otherwise, the family will be exposed to evil and destruction. Corruption, nepotism, and cronyism are evil practices rooted in the natural family. Another extreme is when brothers fight, even kill, each other over inheritance as if they are not coming from the same womb. It is the will of God that we are faithful to one another, that we do justice, that we are merciful especially to the weak and poor. Without Christian values, the family will not become the source of goodness. Echoing the words of St. Augustine, it is a blessing to be part of a family, but it is an altogether a greater blessing to become Christ’s disciple.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP