Did Jesus Renounce His Mother?
Responding to Anti-Catholicism on the Internet

Anti-Catholics often misunderstand or narrowly interpret passages so as to ridicule Catholic teachings. They are quite fond of doing this in regard to the Virgin Mary. A favorite such passage is Matthew 12:46-50.

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brethren were standing outside, seeking to speak to him. And someone said to him, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren are standing outside, seeking thee." But he answered and said to him who told him, "Who is my mother and who are my brethren?" And stretching forth his hand towards his disciples, he said, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother."

The anti-Catholic proponent will make many claims which run against the traditional understanding of this incident and which find little if any support from the text itself. He will suggest that these "brethren" are children of Mary, even though she is never called their mother and extended families of that time would usually include many cousins given the honor of being called a brother. Indeed, the linguistic limitations of these people would require such a designation. The critic will also contend that Mary and the family are aggravating Jesus by their attempted interruption. Instead, it seems that Jesus uses their appearance as a special opportunity to speak about a spiritual kinship which is superior to that of blood. Further, the religious bigot will suggest that Jesus is discounting the intercessory role and honor due to Mary. They will say that Jesus stretches forth his hand toward his disciples and not toward Mary, as if this supports their claim. What they fail to appreciate is the very real possibility that Mary and the brethren are counted among his many followers and/or disciples. Note that the crowd recognizes Mary and the brethren. They are familiar faces. Why have they come? They accompany Mary, who like any good mother is concerned about her Son. From Bethlehem to Calvary, she will not abandon him. Things are heating up. Not everyone is happy with Jesus. He has chastized his listeners as "an evil and adulterous generation" and the Pharisees for "blaspheming against the Holy Spirit." They will almost certainly seek to retaliate. She does not come to silence him, but to be in solidarity with him.

Those who hate the mother of Jesus will deny that Jesus is praising her. They refuse to understand that Mary was the first disciple of her Son. As the handmaid of the Lord, she affirmed the message of an angel and received the Savior into her womb. She is the precursor of all the disciples in hearing and doing God's will. Oddly enough, there is another passage which proves this point and yet it is also used by certain fundamentalists to belittle Mary, Luke 11:27-28:

Now it came to pass as he was saying these things, that a certain woman from the crowd lifted up her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the breasts that nursed thee." But he said, "Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."

Jesus does not mean to be demeaning of his Mary's maternity. Indeed, he is again elevating her status as the one in whom the Word has come to true fruition. It is in this regard that she is a model to others. If we receive the Good News, then we too can give birth to Jesus in each and every generation. Others will see him and know that his is really alive and meaningful through our discipleship. Also, note that as the fruit of Mary's womb, the ultimate honor that the woman is giving is directed toward Jesus. The humility of Christ will not allow himself any idle and empty admiration. During his mortal life, he will be lifted up, not by flattery, but by our sins-- and then upon a cross. He redirects their focus to his true meaning and reality, the living Word of God. He calls the crowd to receptivity and obedience.

Such questions as the relevance and role of Mary are often deliberately distorted in anti-Catholic Bible study. Stock answers are prepared to beguile gullible Catholics and ignorant Protestants. Despite the widespread re-emphasis upon the Scriptures under the Catholic auspices today, they will assert that such endeavors are not not serious or encouraged. This is one of their many deceits. Lacking any definite teaching authority, they reduce the meaning of bible passages to that of personal interpretation, contend that it should be obvious to all, and then bitterly fight with their fellow fundamentalists who, with the same sincerity, disagree with them on certain texts and doctrines-- so much for crystal clarity.

Lately, because of rumors that the Holy Father might declare Mary the co-redemptrix, anti-Catholic opponents have been particularly virulent. (By the way, it was revealed that the rumors had no foundation.) However, the truth of such a teaching, even without a formal definition, is improperly defined. She is defined by the foes of truth as an additional author of salvation. This is not the Catholic position. Rather, Mary's role is subservient to that of her Son. Because of her unique position as the one first touched by the redemptive power of Christ's cross, her sinless maternity resonates with the saving work of her Son. She offered herself to God as the vessel of our salvation. She surrenders her Son at Calvary. His pain is her pain. She was intimately united to her Son in faith, hope, and love. One could even contend that she died a kind of vicarious martyrdom at the crucifixion. The knife long prophesied, pierced her heart. Her participation in the saving work of her Son was quite unique. Further, she continues to perform a role as our spiritual mother, given to us through our emissary John at the cross. The mother of the redeemer became the mother of the redeemed. While on a different level, we are also called to participate in extending the message and work of Christ.

Prepared on Nov. 19, 1997

Return to INDEX