Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Did Jesus Rebuke His Mother in Luke 8:19-21?

Yesterday's Gospel is an easy one to stumble over as Catholics. It's from Luke 8:19-21, while Jesus is teaching the crowds:
Then His Mother 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.”
A few chapters later, we hear something similar (Luke 11:27-28):
While He was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
What's going on here? Is Jesus denouncing His Mother?

Nope.  Rather, He's showing that it's primarily faith, not blood relation, that matters.  In the case of Mary, She was connected to Christ in both ways.  It's precisely because of Her faith that She became His Mother.

Compare the passage above to a third scene from Luke's Gospel, Luke 1:41-45,
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 
And how does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
At first, Elizabeth's Holy Spirit-inspired prayer to Mary sounds very similar to what the woman in the crowd shouted to Jesus in Luke 11.  Both Elizabeth and the woman in the crowd talk about Mary's blessedness.  But Elizabeth, being filled with the Holy Spirit, is able to understand that Mary is blessed for is her faith, not because of Who she's related to.

Obviously, Jesus isn't denying that Mary is blessed. He's not contradicting the Holy Spirit.  And we shouldn't read His words in Luke 8 or Luke 11 as a rebuke of His Mother.  Instead, we should see them as an invitation.

Mary is both the biological Mother of Jesus, and His most devoted follower.  But which of these two traits matters more to Jesus?  Would it be better to be a faithless blood relative, or a faithful foreigner?  The answer is obvious to us today, but it wasn't always so. So what Jesus is rebuking is the idea that if you come from a holy family, you're set.

The Old Testament contains plenty of multi-generational blessings and curses, and some people appear to have reacted by deciding that they must enjoy God's favor, since they come from a good family.  Jesus rebukes this idea with stunning clarity in John 8:39.  When the people in the crowd boasted, “Our father is Abraham,” Jesus replied: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham,” and accuses them of having the devil for their father (John 8:44).

In other words, the most important fatherhood is spiritual, not biological.  That's true, whether we're talking about God's Fatherhood, or Abraham's, or even the devil's.  The same is true of motherhood and brotherhood.  This doesn't diminish the biological family at all, but draws it up into something more perfect.  Dads should be spiritual fathers to their kids, moms should be spiritual mothers to their kids, and children should treat one another as spiritual brethren.

Like I said, Jesus' emphasis on faith over bloodlines is an awesome invitation. You and I can't trace our bloodline to Jesus of Nazareth.  But Jesus' point is that this doesn't matter.  Mary, with of her unparalleled faith, become the biological Mother of God, and His most devoted follower.  We're not going to become His biological kin, but we can join His family through faith.

We see this throughout the New Testament.  God is our spiritual Father (Matthew 6:9), the Woman (an image of Mary and the Church) is depicted as our spiritual Mother (Revelation 12:7), and we're each others' spiritual brothers and sisters (1 Corinthians 7:15).

We can approach God Himself as if He were our biological Father, and so we're urged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). That's (literally) awesome.

9 comments:

  1. This is something good to reflect on:) wonderful piece sir...

    ReplyDelete
  2. i will pray on this in adoration today! amazing, passing on to my brother and sister who attend church!

    -cary

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Joe: "So what Jesus is rebuking is the idea that if you come from a holy family, you're set." It's sad that you think that's what is said. They (His half-siblings) came to rebuke Him (John 7:5; Mark 3:21). [And because Mary came with His brothers, maybe she was also about to rebuke Him. Although she could very well have been a mediator who doesn't pick sides as mothers tend to do.] Anyways, don't use Mary's prophecy of herself being called blessed by all generations and Elizabeth calling her blessed as examples of Luke 11 not being a rebuke. That is obtuse. While it wasn't necessarily a direct rebuke of her, it most certainly was against the coming Mary-worshipers. He didn't show his family any special attention when they came for Him. Why should we give Mary special attention? He didn't want to give the impression that His earthly mother should receive praise when He's right there. Why should we pray to her when He's right there? Shoot, He didn't even call her 'Mom' or 'Mother'. He called her 'woman'. While it's a given that she may very well be the most blessed woman to walk this earth, does that mean we should blaspheme our Lord? Mary would be devastated that she's worshiped. Show her some respect while she's at rest, and "hear the Word of God and obey it".

    ReplyDelete
  4. Michael,

    There's a lot to unpackage here, but I'll do my best.

    (1) If Jesus is saying, in Luke 11, that Mary is not blessed, then He's contradicting the Holy Spirit's testimony through both Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1. Obviously, that's not possible. So clearly, something different is going on. So your theory that Jesus is rebuking her is off to a bad start.

    (2) The idea that Catholics worship Mary is one that I think you know is false. If not, let me be clear: we don't worship Mary.

    (3) "Why should we give Mary special attention?" Mary says that all generations will honor her (Luke 1:48), while you say we should ignore her.

    We honor her because of her faith, and her obedience to Christ. We honor her because she's the most blessed among all women, the New Eve in Christ's Glorious Redemption. We honor her because she's the Mother of God, and the Mother of all Christians. And we honor her because the earliest Christians honored her.

    There are plenty of other reasons, but why isn't it good enough to simply say that Luke 1:48 says that all generations will call her Blessed? Who besides the Virgin Mary is promised a similar blessing of perpetual homage?

    (4) He didn't want to give the impression that His earthly mother should receive praise when He's right there. Not only is there literally nothing in the text supporting this, but the suggestion is gross. Is it wrong to say something nice about your neighbor? Or only wrong to say something nice about them if Jesus is there? Because either way, that's upside-down Christianity.

    The idea that Jesus couldn't stand to be around one person praising another one, if He wasn't the center of attention, runs contrary to even basic knowledge of Christ, and His utter humility. Think about what you're suggesting. You recklessly accuse Catholics of blasphemy, yet you're the one suggesting evil of our Lord.

    (5) Finally, when Jesus calls Mary "Woman," He's not being cold. In the context, He's equating her with Eve, whose name before the Fall was Woman (see Genesis 2:23; she isn't named "Eve" until Genesis 3:20, after the Fall).

    Irenaeus, in Against Heresies (from 180 A.D.), compared the two Women:

    "For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way the sin of the first created man (protoplasti) receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten, and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death."

    Now, if you're being consistent, you'll now have to claim that the very earliest followers of the Apostles were Mary-worshipers. But these same men were the ones who coin the term Trinity, bring us the Bible, and so forth. Are you really going to stick to your guns that they know less about the Gospel than you, and that they're heretics? Or can you concede that perhaps it's you who is misunderstanding the situation?

    God bless,

    Joe

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Joe: In response to your five statements:
    1) Wrong. I never said he was rebuking her. I said it was a possibility since she showed up with His half-siblings.
    2) Wrong. Offering prayers to the unseen is worship. Period! OK, look at this: A) If Mary is being offered prayer in China at the same time as she's being offered prayer in the US, then how could she hear it? Hearing multiple prayers at once is what makes God, God. B) The Torah says that we shouldn't contact the dead. Yet you say, "The saints are living." But what about someone deceased being offered up prayers who isn't yet declared 'blessed'? Since you don't even have to officially be declared 'venerable' for veneration anymore ('Veneration for a Venerable' on ewtn website), do you actually think nobody has ever offered up a prayer to someone in hell? The practice itself puts you in a position to sin by contacting the dead. And that's from a Catholic-reasoning perspective. Remember, God is NOT the author of confusion.
    3) Wrong. I never said that we should ignore her. Did I not say, "she may very well be the most blessed woman to walk this earth"? [On a side note, read the last part of answer 2.]
    4) Wrong. Why would she praise His mother when He is right there? [Again, on a side note, read the last part of answer 2.]
    5) I never said that He was being cold. You said that. On your other statements of comment five: That is pointless, unfounded, circle-talking. [Really, seriously, read the last part of answer 2. Even from a Catholic perspective, how could one possibly say that it isn't an opportunity for sin?]

    ReplyDelete
  6. Michael,

    (1) So are you saying it's a possibility or not? You seem to say “no” and then “maybe yes.”

    (2) You're making an incredibly broad accusation -- that almost every Christian in history was a pagan without even knowing it. How are you this comfortable in your assertions?

    A) Hearing multiple prayers at once is what makes God, God. This is what I mean by assertions. You just claim this: no Scriptural support, no logical reasoning, nothing. And it doesn’t even make sense. By that standard, if you hear two prayers while on an international conference call, you're God. That's crazy.

    B) If you're right, why didn’t the early Christians think that the Torah prohibited praying to Saints? Isn't it possible that "necromancy" isn’t the same thing as praying (at all)? Likewise, if you laid out a "forerunners in the faith" list (a la Hebrews 11), and included someone who turned out to be in Hell, would you be sinning, by your own logic?

    (3) You're skipping the part about honoring her. I'm saying it's Scriptural to do so.

    (4) "Wrong. Why would she praise His mother when He is right there? " I find this logic incredibly contorted. Jesus lived an earthly life for roughly 33 years. Is it honestly your position that no one could praise anyone else for anything around Jesus, because it was somehow a sin? If your daughter took her first steps, but Jesus was there, you couldn’t clap for her? I again don’t see any logical or Scriptural support for this belief.

    (5) Right, I'm saying it would be cold to refer to One's Mother in a purely impersonal way. But you're the one claiming that Jesus actually did that... a point you neglected to address.

    Then we get to your last comment: "On your other statements of comment five: That is pointless, unfounded, circle-talking." Why? How? Give me Scripture, logic, something.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Here’s the heart of the matter. I'm a sinner, and misunderstand things in the Gospel (despite my best intentions) much more frequently than I'd like to admit. But as a Catholic, I'm also in a blessed position. I can humbly concede that there are plenty of areas that I don't understand, and I drink deeply from the waters of those who went before me. I learn new stuff about the faith constantly from my spiritual betters, and feed off of two thousand years of spiritual insights from the greatest Christians to ever walk this planet. But (and this is just how it seems to me) you don't seem to really care what the last two thousand years of Christians had to say, or what the earliest disciples of the Apostles had to say. You’ve found a minuscule sliver of Christians, unknown to most of the world, non-existent throughout nearly all of Christian history, and you seem to have just concluded that they, and you, are right ... about everything. On every issue you comment on, you’re incredibly confident you’re right, but I can’t figure out why.

    Here, for example, you’ve made the radical claim that Catholics are Mary worshipers, and persist even after being corrected. As I said, by this logic, you'd have to say that the earliest Christians worshiped Mary, a point you waved it away by saying it was “pointless, unfounded, circle-talking.” You didn’t bother even addressing the actual argument, or showing why it was wrong.

    So let me try again: is it your position that the early Christians were (unbeknownst to even themselves) idolaters? And that virtually every Christian since then has been, too? Or is it okay when the early Church does it, but not the Church today?

    Perhaps more fundamentally, let’s say that a Buddhist wanted to become Christian, and wanted to know what the appropriate posture to take towards the Mother of God would be -- or any other doctrinal issue. How could he be expected to know that you’re the one with true Christianity, while most everyone else is really pagan?

    How would our Buddhist friend know that Michael Addison knows more about the Gospel than Irenaeus or Augustine or Benedict? How, for that matter, do you know this?

    God bless,

    Joe

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Joe: I have been logical. You're the one talking in circles, grabbing doctrine out of thin air just because some blasphemer claimed a distorted 'Apostolic Succession'. I don't respond to the issues, am not logical, don't use Scripture? Wow! Look who's talking! Borderline nothing at all from the RCC is Scriptural, logical, etc. Oh, and almost nobody has disagreed with Catholics? Then why has she murdered MILLIONS? "Get out of her."

    ReplyDelete
  9. Michael,

    First off, she didn't murder million. That's an absurd black legend. Second, read over what you've written, but do it from this perspective: try and put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn't already agree with you. Are you giving them any reason to change their minds?

    God bless,

    Joe

    ReplyDelete