Today’s gospel is one of those that provides a bit of an “electric shock” to the reader. It’s hard to get a visual sense of where Jesus might be as it says he is speaking to “the crowds” but is obviously inside a house or some sort of structure because someone comes to him and says that his mother and brothers are outside asking for him. Perhaps he and the disciples have stopped at a relative’s house for a rest and, as often happens, people follow him and as many as possible crowd in (or on the roof) with the rest scrambling for space outside so that they can still hear what he’s saying. The shocking moment comes when his mother and brothers arrive – too late to get even close to the door – so someone brings a message to him that they are there. His response is a challenge to everyone there. He says, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? (and pointing to his disciples) Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, sister and mother.” (MT 12: 46-50)
Is Jesus showing disrespect to his mother and family? I can imagine that some in the crowd would think so and be horrified. Anyone who had been really listening to Jesus all along (like us, hopefully) might understand it differently. Jesus came preaching love of neighbor and even enemies in a revolutionary way. There was (and still is) no one outside the circle of his care. He even said we should love others as ourselves – as if they are not separate from us in any way. It’s like my mother who in her last days told everyone who approached her not just that she loved them but that she loved them best! I suspect that Mary got that point because she already knew Jesus and his message intimately. I can’t imagine her turning away in a huff or holding back tears because she felt dismissed by him. I have a sense that she waited until the crowds dispersed (listening proudly to his every word) and then had some time – maybe a meal with him and the family and the disciples – as the day ended.
In these days of cultural mobility when family members live far from each other and do not see each other often, it is important to recognize that distance does not imply lack of care. Even when responsibilities keep us apart it’s good to have the confidence of connection and to celebrate the freedom it offers us to be present to all who cross our path – loving them best of all in that moment of encounter.