Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Matthew 12:46-50: Living as Brothers and Sisters
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

What do they want to say to him, the mother and brothers of Jesus, when they arrive at the house where he is speaking? What are they looking for, standing outside, as the text says? After a moment, someone points out to Jesus that they are there: “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” In the same story in Saint Mark, the context is even more tense. Only a few verses earlier, in chapter three of Mark’s Gospel, the story is told of how Jesus’s relatives had come to take him away. According to some of them, Jesus had lost his mind and had to be brought back to the village.

It is surprising to see in this Gospel text how the question of fraternity—“Who are my brothers?”—arises at such a moment in the life of Jesus. What a challenge for him! Jesus certainly loved his mother and his brothers, even tenderly and strongly. This moment must have cost him a lot. But he could not do otherwise. To welcome the coming Kingdom and to witness to it, the human heart needs to grow wider; our human ties need to open out, including (perhaps especially) the strongest ones. Thus it is very often in the midst of challenges, even tensions—Jesus never ran away from them—that the Kingdom must grow.

Throughout the text, in the space of a few verses, the words “mother” and “brothers” are repeated five times each, three times by Jesus himself. The words come as a cascade. Listening to the text, it seems that the possibility of a whole group of mothers and brothers is already suggested, with Jesus himself adding the word “sister” at the end. Welcoming the Kingdom and witnessing to it also means making room for everybody and forgetting no one.

A gesture in the middle of the story seems important. Matthew says that Jesus, after asking “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”, stretched out his hand and pointed to his disciples. St. Mark says that Jesus looked at those around him. Both versions of the story not only allow us to hear Jesus, but invite us to look at—to imagine—those who are present. Who are these people around him? Without giving a detailed picture of them, here and there the Gospel offers us clues. Surely it was a very diverse group. Often Jesus called them “little ones.” As disciples of Jesus, we must learn to look as he does, and for that to follow his hand pointing by which he reminds us that this or that person, nearby or far away, is indeed our brother or sister and, yes, this one too.

After Jesus stretched out his hand to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Doing the Father’s will is what Jesus testifies to in this story and throughout his life. Every person who comes to him, all whom he meets, without exception, become his brother or his sister, discovering themselves as a beloved child of the Father. This tells us that these words “brother” and “sister” are not mere titles to be borne. For us, to do the Father’s will, to live as brothers and sisters, implies as much becoming as being. We are brothers and sisters to the extent that we seek every day to become such persons, by heading towards an acceptance and recognition of the other for what he or she is.

- Can I try to situate myself, in turn, first as “the family of Jesus,” then as “someone in the crowd,” and again as someone “far from Jesus”? How do I feel?

- When I look around me, following in some sense the gesture of Jesus’ hand, who do I see? What people do I currently recognize as brothers or sisters?

- By what gesture, what words, what attitude can I live out brotherhood and sisterhood today?

Other bible meditations:

Printed from: - 16 September 2021
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