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Gospel for Sunday, June 09: Mark 3:20-35

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20 He went into a house and again a great crowd gathered around him, to the point that they could not even take food. 21 Then his own, hearing this, went out to fetch him; for they said, “He is beside himself.”
22 But the scribes, who had come down from Jerusalem, said, “This man is possessed by Beelzebul, and he casts out demons by the prince of demons.” 23 But he, calling them, said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided in itself, that kingdom cannot stand; 25 if a house is divided in itself, that house cannot stand. 26 In the same way, if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is about to end. 27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and kidnap his things unless he first binds up the strong man; then he will plunder his house. 28 Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and also all blasphemies that they shall speak: 29 but whosoever shall have blasphemed against the Holy Ghost, he shall not have forgiveness for ever: he shall be guilty of everlasting guilt.” 30 For they said, “He is possessed with an unclean spirit.”

31 His mother and brothers came, and standing outside, they sent for him. 32 All around was the crowd sitting, and they said to him, “Here is your mother, and your brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.” 33 But he answered them, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” 34 Turning his gaze to those sitting around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God, this one is my brother, sister and mother.”

Mk 3:20-35

Care sorelle e fratelli della Misericordie, sono Carlo Miglietta, medico, biblista, laico, marito, padre e nonno ( Anche oggi condivido con voi un breve pensiero di meditazione sul Vangelo, con speciale riferimento al tema della misericordia.

“He is out of himself” (3:20-21)

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Jesus is in the house, and in Peter’s house, where the first nucleus of the Christian faith will later arise.

This passage reflects the contrast between Peter’s group and that of James, Jesus’ cousin, there is the contrast between those who are “in,” the disciples, and those who are “out,” his relatives: “Your mother, your brothers and sisters, are out looking for you.” These relatives want to take away this family disgrace, this carpenter who set out to be a preacher, and a healer, and in the name of common sense they call him crazy. This passage, who knows why, is preached little in the Church. Jesus’ relatives go to tell him that he is out of his mind.

These relatives are us, who although we are in the Church, although we are relatives of Jesus, we do not believe his word to the fullest, we often think Jesus is a fool, and we try to take hold of him in a thousand ways. For his Word is madness, it goes against all common sense.

Jesus and Satan (3:22-30)

(see Mt 12:22-32; Lk 11:14-23)

There is an interlude: the scribes accuse him of doing what he is doing in the name of Beelzebub: this was an ancient Syrian deity, Balzebul, “Lord of the house,” who was later ridiculed into Balzebuc, lord of the flies: but Jesus says clearly, “I am the strongest.” Jesus is the one who defends himself against these accusations with a sentence of twofold significance. On the one hand extremely liberating, he says, “All sins will be forgiven even blasphemy.” This is very beautiful: even those who blaspheme, even those who lash out at God, even those who believe God is the cause of evil, are by God understood, by God forgiven. All sins will be forgiven. But on the other hand, judgment is

inappellable against those who persist in rejecting the Messiah: the only sin that will not be forgiven is the rejection of the Lord: the sin against the Holy Spirit, the deliberate and conscious rejection of His Love As 1 John 5 says is apostasy, it is leaving the Lord out of our lives (but is it then possible to reject such a lovable God, or do we reject distorted images we have received of Him?).

Jesus’ true relatives (3:31-35)

(see Mt 12:46-50; Lk 8:19-21)

There is a passage that preachers generally avoid or reluctantly comment on, for fear of making…Our Lady look bad. It is the episode in which Jesus’ mother and his relatives go looking for him “to fetch him” (Mk. 3:20-351): already note that the verb used here for “fetch” is in Greek “kratèo,” which means “to seize by force.” Mark, he alone, explains the reason for this violence that the family members wanted to do to Jesus: “because they said, <<He is beside himself!>>” (Mk 3:21). Oops. Mary also says Jesus is mad, and wants to take him away by force?

They warn Jesus, “Behold, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside looking for you” (Mk 3:32). Note that in Mark the house2 is always symbolic of the community of disciples, of the Church3: Mary and the other relatives are “outside” this church community, and this is reiterated twice: “His mother and his brothers, standing outside, sent for him” (Mk 3:31); “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside” (Mk 3:32). Jesus, turning his gaze on his disciples who were surrounding him, said, “Behold my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother, sister and mother” (Mk 3:35). The evangelist Luke slightly tweaks this response and explains in this way what is meant by the will of God: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Lk 8:21).

Surely we would not have expected Jesus to treat his mother so badly. But in fact Jesus is giving Mary the most beautiful praise, for Mary’s greatness lies not so much in her physical motherhood but in her having been the perfect disciple, the one who hears the Word and puts it fully into practice, the woman of “yes,” of “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). As Augustine said, “Beatior Maria percipiendo fidem Christi

quam concipiendo carnem Christi”: Mary was blessed not so much for having conceived Christ, but for her Faith. As Jesus also points out when he seems to reject, in an unkind manner, the praise of his mother that a woman wanted to give: <<Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast from which you took milk!>>. But he said, <<Blessed rather are those who hear God’s word and keep it!>>” (Luke 11:27-28). “Jesus chooses to have not a carnal family, from which he takes a radical distance, but a new family that is no longer founded on bonds of flesh and blood, nor on bonds of <<marriage>> of any kind, but is composed of those who do the will of God […]; that family which, for every disciple, must be the true family, even at the cost of suffering persecution from the family of origin4” (L. Monti5).

Wonderful is the figure of Mary who does not hesitate to stand in solidarity with the other sinful family members, who want to go and take Jesus away believing him to be insane: she is the mother who stands with those in the family who are weaker, more in difficulty, sharing even their wrong choices, but sure that it will be only with love and solidarity that conversion can be hoped for. And indeed, the “brothers of the Lord ”6 will later be converted to Jesus, and among them James will even become the head of the Jerusalem community7, and Judas will be credited with an apostolic letter8. When will there be a significant new litany, “Mary, in solidarity with sinners, pray for us”?

The “brothers of Jesus”

One question that always comes up in this passage is: but who are Jesus’ brothers if Our Lady was a Virgin? This is a big problem because on the one hand the tradition of Matthew and Luke tell us explicitly about Mary’s Virginity, and on the other hand we are always talking about these “adelphòi,” “brothers” of Jesus.

The Lateran Council of 649, presided over by Pope Martin I, emphasized the three moments of Mary’s virginity, teaching that “the holy Mother of God ever virgin immaculate Mary … conceived without seed by the Holy Spirit and gave birth without corruption, remaining indissolubly even after childbirth her virginity,” and Paul IV declared (1555), ‘Beatissimam Virginem Mariam… pestitisse semper in virginitatis integritate, ante partum scilicet, in partu et perpetuo post partum.’ In the New Testament, however, there are passages dealing with Jesus’ kinship, such as, “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing him were amazed, and said, Whence came these things to him? And what wisdom is this that has been given to him? And these wonders wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, of Joses, of Judas, and of Simon? And do not his sisters stand here with us? And they were scandalized by him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not despised except in his own country, among his relatives, and in his own house” (Mark 6:2-5).

Aegesippus (110-180 A.D.) a connoisseur of Greek, Hebrew and Syrian, a Jewish convert, a second-century Christian, in his writings against heresies (quoted by Eusebius) argues that the “brothers of the Lord” mentioned in the Gospels are, in fact, cousins. Mark’s Gospel itself in the crucifixion episode, moreover, says: “There were also some women, who stood watching from afar, among whom were Mary of Magdala, Mary the Mother of James the younger and of Ioses and Salome, who followed him and served him while he was still in Galilee, and many others who had gone up with him to Jerusalem” (Mk 15:41f); in this passage the “brothers” James and Joses of Mk 6:2-5 are sons of a Mary, however, not the mother of Jesus.

St. Jerome Hieronymus Stridon, born in Dalmatia 347 and died in Bethlehem in 420, translator of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew to Latin (the Vulgate), father and doctor of the Church, in “De perpetua virginitate” rejected the thesis of brothers or half-brothers of Jesus and concluded for cousins on Mary’s side of the family. The Gospels mention Jesus’ “brothers” but never call them “sons of Mary”; only Jesus is called “son of Mary,” and she is always called “Mother of Jesus” and not mother of her brothers.

But the New Testament generally uses the Greek term “adelfòi,” brothers, although there are terms for relatives, “sunghenès” (Lk 1:36,58,61; 2:44; Mk 6:4) and cousins, “anepsiòi” (Col 4:10). Among historians, biblical scholars and theologians of various denominations, there has been open discussion and controversy, and the theses on the table argued for Jesus’ “brothers” are:

– true brothers, i.e., sons of Mary and Joseph;

– cousins, kinsmen, sons of Mary’s half-sisters or first-born sons of Joseph (apocrypha);

– collaborators in the apostolic ministry.

In Israel, in a culture of polygamy, carnal brothers (“’ah”) and sisters (“ahot”) are called “children of one man” (Gen 42:13) or “children of the same father” (Gen 42:32), but also “children of one’s own mother” (Gen 43:29; Deut 13:7; Jdg 8:19; 9:1-3), in each case “one’s own flesh” (Gen 37:27; cf. 2 Sam 5:1) even if by one parent. In Greek, siblings are called “adelphòi,” a word derived from “delphys,” the womb, preceded by the copulative alpha, and thus meaning the “born of the same womb.”

The Hebrew term “’ah” (in the Hebrew Old Testament used 635 times including plurals, forms with suffixes, etc.) has multiple meanings:

– brother, son of same parents (Cain and Abel, Gen 4:1-2; Esau and Jacob, Gen 25:24-26; Moses, Aaron and Miriam, Nm 26:59);

– half-brother, son of the same father (the sons Jacob had by four different women, Gen 35:22-26; 37:4; 42:3; 42:4; 42:13);

– kinsman or cousin, of the family circle (Abraham so called Lot, his brother’s son: Gen11:27; 13:8; 14:14; 14:16; and Laban his nephew Jacob: Gen 29:15; in 1 Chr 23:22 the term denotes the sons of the father’s brother; in Lv10:4 it denotes the sons of the first cousin);

– member of the same tribe (Nm 8:26; 2 Sam 19:11-13);

– friend or ally (2 Sam 1:26; 1 Kgs 9:13; Pr 17:17);

– colleague with similar charge (2 Chr 31:15; 1 Kgs 20:32; 1 Sam 30:23);

– neighbor (Jer 9:3; Ez 47:14);

– of the same faith (Deut 1:16; Ps 132).

The “Leggenda Aurea,” i.e., the hagiographies of Jacopo Varazze (bishop of Genoa, 13th cent.), not accepted by the Council of Trent, refers to the “trinubium Annae” who is said to have married according to the customs of the time and biblical usage, by successive deaths, three brothers Joachim, Alphaeus Salome, and by each of the three Anna is said to have had a daughter named Mary:

– Mary, by Joachim, later wife of Joseph, virgin mother of Jesus;

– Mary, by Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother of James the Greater and John the Evangelist;

– Mary, by Alphaeus, wife of Cleophas, mother of James the Lesser, Joseph the Just, Simon and Judas Thaddaeus.

Five apostles, so they might consider themselves cousins of Jesus, and two of the Marys mentioned in the Gospels would be sisters of the Virgin, all from Anna: “There were also there some women watching from a distance, among others: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Ioses and Salome” (Mk 15:40 and // Mt 27:56); ‘After the Sabbath had passed, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought aromas to go and embalm Jesus’ (Mk 16:1); “Among them was Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt 27:56); “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdala. “ (Jn 19:25).

In the Gospel of John (19:25), Mary the wife of Cleophas is the sister of the Mother of Jesus and is the other Mary of Matthew’s Gospel who with Mary of Magdala went to the Lord’s tomb on Easter morning (28:1). Cleophas, Cleophas, (Greek for “with a glorious countenance”) is the name of the husband of the Mary known as Mary of Cleophas, father of James the Lesser (called so to distinguish him from the son of Zebedee Mt 10:3; Mar 3:18; Lu 6:15; Acts 1:13), of one Judas, one Joseph and one Simon and, for the Palestinian historian Aegesippus, brother of St. Joseph. By tradition considered one of the two disciples of the Emmaus episode reported by Luke (24:18) to whom the risen Christ appeared on Easter evening and broke the Scriptures along the way. For Eusebius and Jerome, Cleophas was precisely a native of Emmaus where, by ancient tradition he was slaughtered by intolerants of his faith in the risen Messiah. Jerome certifies that by the fourth century Cleophas’ house had been converted into a church.

According to the Jerusalem Bible, the phrase “his mother’s sister” could refer to Salome, mother of Zebedee’s sons, not mentioned, or to Mary of Cleophas. A legend has it that in 44 A.D., after the beheading of her son James, Mary Salome fled by sea to the coast of Latium, and her alleged remains have been venerated since 1209 in the town of Veroli in the province of Frosinone, the city of which she is patroness.

A “sandwich” narrative

We emphasize here a peculiarity of style in Mark, which we encounter many times in his Gospel: the “sandwich” narratives. Typical of Mark’s Gospels is to interrupt the narrative to insert a new episode, with a different theme: we have seen that here the relatives of Jesus are mentioned, then there is the accusation of being possessed, then the relatives of Jesus are mentioned again. The resurrection of the Daughter of Jairus in ch. 5 is interrupted by the miracle of the emoroissa woman, the mission of the Twelve in ch. 6 is interrupted by the account of the death of the Baptist, the Easter preparations are interrupted by the account of the anointing of Bethany.

Buona Misericordia a tutti!

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