Jan 29, 2019

Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?




"Whoever does the will of God is my 
brother and sister and mother."

Readings for Tuesday: 

Mark 3: 31- 35


Why would Mary and Joseph not have other children after the birth of Jesus?  That's a logical question that seems reasonable on a purely natural level.  After all they were both young, Mary likely in mid to older teens and Joseph, well older than Mary most probably but not by that much. It is very clear they were thoroughly Jewish, had other extended family, certainly intended to marry and have children we might assume before their lives changed forever by the visit of the Angel, so it's a logical question based on all that. In our Gospel reading for today we hear: "Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you . . ."  Sounds like a big family! Other traditions of Christianity, while not exactly stating that Mary and Joseph had other children, do not hold to the perpetual virginity of Mary so further prodigy is implied.

We as Catholic/Christians might speculate that such would be certainly possible if it were not for further stronger tradition and scripture in the Church's long held belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  There is no doubt that God asked both Mary and Joseph to undertake a singular and truly unique way of life from the time Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit.  Mary was of course virginal at the time of their betrothal and Joseph knew that and maybe it took some convincing on Mary's part to assure Joseph this was all in God's mysterious plan for them both. We can safely assume as well I believe that Joseph complied totally with God's will and respected Mary's understanding and virginity throughout their unique, yet completely Jewish, married life.

The Angel in a dream had assured Joseph that taking Mary as his wife, though she was already with child, was the right thing to do so much more was in the plan that was only gradually revealed to them both.  Luke tells us on various occasions that "Mary pondered these things in her heart." She reflected on them, mulled events over in her mind, what do they mean, what is God asking and doing here with her son and with her role in these miracles and through his public ministry?

In a spiritual and biblical sense it is also reasonable to assume that considering the circumstances around Jesus birth and the role of Mary and Joseph to act as Jesus father, that God would not have abandoned either of them with special graces throughout their earthly lives.  It seems strong tradition that Joseph did not live the length of Jesus public ministry; there is no mention of him being present specifically beyond the finding in the Temple of the young twelve year old Jesus.  There is reference to Jesus being the "son of Joseph" when he preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth at the beginning of his public ministry but that doesn't necessarily mean that Joseph was alive at the time.

Being that as it may, the stronger belief and ancient tradition is that Mary's only child was Jesus. It is not unreasonable to be confident that Mary realized what God had asked of her and with Joseph full support they both cared for Jesus in what they knew was a mysterious and very special child.

Remember the scriptures were not written in 21st century American English so we cannot assume that the words we read mean what we think they would today. In reference to Jesus"brothers and sisters," we read translations of both Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the languages of the Bible,
meaning that cultural applications are in play here. In the language of Jesus, Aramaic/Hebrew, extended members of the family from both his mothers and fathers side, were referred to as "brothers and sisters." These words for nephews, nieces, or cousins were a normal part of conversation and reference to extended family members. Mary's cousin Elizabeth and other family we may not know of and Joseph's extended family we know nothing of may have been present.

Regardless, we are brothers and sisters in the service of the Gospel.  We are born as children of God in baptism, made adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, and invited into the family of the Trinity.  Thereby we are spiritual brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus and of one another in the faith.  Those who follow the Lord are his brothers and sisters.

As Jesus states in the Gospel:  "For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." Let us treat one another as true brothers and sisters in the Lord and carry out the will of God as we understand it.


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