Hear the word of God and act on it

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The good news this morning comes from Luke 8:19-21.

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.”

This can be a troublesome passage for many Catholics who revere Mary to a greater degree than many other Christians.  This isn’t the only instance in the gospels that raises questions.  Mark told us that his relatives tried to seize him thinking that Jesus was out of his mind.  They were alarmed that he had gone off the deep end.  Jesus himself said in Matthew’s gospel, “one’s enemies will be those of his household.”  Then, of course, there is the issue of the reference to Jesus’ brothers.

Over the centuries a huge body of thought has developed termed Mariology. Church Fathers have held Mary’s perpetual virginity as a central doctrine since the fourth century and by the seventh century several ecumenical councils had endorsed it.  This doctrine or dogma is now considered by the Church to be de fide, an essential part of Catholic faith.  A tremendous amount of speculation has been formed on the basis of very little information in the gospels.  However, we are expected to believe it.  Yet, I just don’t see how it impacts the teachings of Jesus, the word made flesh.  Is it central to the fact of Jesus’ life and his divine nature as the Son of God?

Focusing on these issues seems to me to obscure Jesus’ teaching here. Discipleship, belief in and acting upon his teachings, was not based on anything other than obedience to the word of God.  It was not dependent on whether his hearers were Jews or Gentiles, on whether they were blood kin or strangers, whether they were male or female.  The customary relationships to one another in this life did not matter.  The only thing that mattered was whether they were ready and willing to “hear the word of God and act on it.”

We are all children of God and we are all brothers and sisters in Jesus.  Jesus taught in several passages that loyalty to God overrode loyalty to family.  As John Sanford wrote in The Kingdom Within, Jesus taught that it was important to “understand what it means to be part of the human family under a common heavenly Father….[C]oming into real relationships with people….[R]espond[ing] to all persons, of all kinds and types.”

In the hearing of God’s word and acting upon it, the followers of Jesus became brothers and sisters to one another; they entered into communion with God standing shoulder to shoulder with one another, loving one another as He commanded.  They worked as brothers and sisters, as the family of God, to bring about the kingdom of God among themselves and among people of all nations. Sanford continued, “Being a disciple of the kingdom means putting our loyalty to the kingdom first and sacrificing all other loyalties in life to this one.”

Sometimes that means sacrificing adherence to dogma.  If I let something like whether Jesus had brothers distract me from his teachings and allow it to divide me from his followers, I am putting my loyalty to an institution before my loyalty to the kingdom of God.  When I do so, I think Jesus is telling me that I am standing outside his circle of disciples even though I wish to see him.  It’s troubling for me not to go along to get along.  But I’m unable to ignore Jesus’ words,  “My brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

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