There are 3 versions of the story in today’s gospel. This particular version, that of St. Mark, seems to be very harsh toward the family of Jesus, most especially his mother. It has prompted many people to wonder: Is Jesus really doing what he seems to be doing – denying Mary her role as his mother, or at best minimizing her relevance or importance? It’s not hard to understand why people do read it that way, but perhaps the truth is a little more subtle.
We are in no position to say what Mary was feeling when she heard Jesus define his family as all those who do the will of the Father, but here is what we do know: Mary was her son’s first and most perfect disciple. What does it mean to be his disciple? Well, recall what he said, Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother, and consider:
- Mary was the first Christian to hear the word of God. Indeed, Mary was addressed by an angel as no human being before or after her has ever been addressed: Hail Mary, Full of Grace. The Lord is with you. Her response to the angel set the pattern for all who seek not only to hear, but to do, the will of the Father: Be it done unto me according to your word.
- Mary is the only gospel figure to be present at the beginning, from Christ’s incarnation, to his ascension, and then beyond, to the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is a model of fidelity, faithfulness to the call of discipleship that we can all imitate.
- Mary was Christ’s first missionary. Pregnant with him, she brought Jesus to the home of his herald, John the Baptist. There she would hear Blessed are you among women, and blest is the fruit of your womb to which she would respond, My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. As his disciples, how do we bring Christ to the world, and do we proclaim the greatness of the Lord or do we instead yield to the temptation to proclaim our own greatness?
- Mary’s final words in the Scripture are spoken not only to the headwaiter at a wedding, but to all of us: Do whatever he tells you. She has no more to say because there is no more to say. Her words are the echo of her son’s words in today’s gospel; obeying them will make us his brother, sister, and mother.
In these ways and more, Mary demonstrates what true discipleship means. Her son’s words were in no way a denial or rejection of her motherhood; to the contrary, Mary is his mother not simply according to the flesh but also according to the spirit. She heard the word of God and did it, whatever the cost. Far from an insult, nothing greater could be said of her, or, if we are so willing, of us.
From my book