Homily for Sept. 20th, 2016: Luke 8:19-21.
Jesus’ mother and his brother come to visit him, our gospel tells us. His brothers? The word which Luke uses means “relatives” or “kinsmen.” From antiquity Catholics have believed that Mary had no other children but Jesus. Having given herself completely to God by responding to the angel’s message that she was to be mother of God’s son with the words, “Be it done to me according to your word,” it was inconceivable that Mary could give herself to another. This is why she is called “Mary ever virgin.”
Jesus’ mother and his other relatives were unable to get to him, we heard, “because of the crowd.” Those four words give us a glimpse of what life was like for the Lord on most days of his public ministry. He was constantly hemmed in by people: shoving, pushing, shouting, trying to get his attention. This explains why Jesus retreated, whenever he could, to what the gospels call “a deserted place” – somewhere where he could be alone with his heavenly Father.
When Jesus is told that his mother and other relatives are trying to get to him through the crowd, he responds with words that sound like a put-down: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” In reality the words are not dismissive. Can there be any doubt that Mary truly listened to God’s word and acted on it? Jesus’ words are extensive: they extend the limits of his family to anyone who truly listens to his teaching and acts on it – in other words, to us.
God’s word comes to us in many ways: through Holy Scripture, read out here in church, or pondered over as we read the Bible for ourselves. God’s word comes to us also through the teaching of his Church, and through the still, small, but powerful voice of conscience.
How better, then, could we respond to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel than with the simple prayer of the boy Samuel, when he heard his name being called as he was sleeping in the Temple: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).