"Your Mother and your Brothers are standing outside"

The Gospel for the Memorial of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, priest, September 23, 2008 is Luke 8:19-21, which I will cite in full: The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you." He said to them in reply, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." Many years ago in the 1970’s, in the time that good taste forgot, the late Larry Norman, one of the first "Jesus Rockers," with long, long blonde hair, and not a little attitude, summed up his reaction to popular cultural portrayals of Jesus, and I paraphrase very loosely: "they portray Jesus as a feeble and frail man, his eyes gazing dolefully to heaven, his arms upheld as if he was waiting for his nail polish to dry." It made me laugh as a teenager, but more importantly challenged my perception of Jesus as a sappy, sentimental moralist, unable and unwilling to offend. How did I get such a portrayal of Jesus in my head? Not from the scriptures. This Lucan passage and portrait of Jesus drives home a picture of Jesus unwilling to play into cultural conventions, such as the priority of family, which was more than simply a cultural convention, but grounded also in the command to honor and obey one’s parents (Exodus 20:12). As always, though, this is not rebellious Jesus, acting out against "The Man," but Jesus asking us to consider the ways of God. This passage is not about disrespect for family, or challenging societal norms, except for the need to place the Family of God first. Focus should be placed on "those who hear the word of God and act on it." Jesus is not saying his Mother and brothers do not do hear the word of God and act on it; he is not challenging his family, instead he is challenging the anonymous voice that presumes that family, the status quo, takes priority over the call of God. "Those who hear the word of God and act on it" are Jesus’ family. More than anything it presumes careful hearing of the word, intentional listening to the voice of Jesus, in order that one can act upon the will of God. It recalls for me, too, the notion that "connections" are what matter most. Think of John the Baptist’s chastising of the crowds who came for baptism: "Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say for yourselves, ’We have Abraham for our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Luke 2:8). As the Church prepares for the Synod on the Word of God, we should pray that all of us "hear the word of God and act on it," for it is too easy to say, "I already am a part of this Church; I know it all;" "I am a theologian; let me interpret the Bible for you." Let us all listen intently and carefully for the word of God and act accordingly. John W. Martens
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