Mary and Discipleship

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, someone tells Jesus his mother and brothers are outside looking for him. Jesus’ response is sometimes taken as a dis to Mary, for he replies, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then pointing to those around him, he says, “There are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Far from disparaging Mary, however, Jesus’ comment simply reveals that, in Jesus’ eyes, discipleship is more important than blood relationship. In a very real way, Mary was the first disciple. In his Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Mary is present in Cana of Galilee as Mother of Jesus, and in a significant way she contributes to the ‘beginning of the signs’ which reveal the messianic power of her Son…At Cana, thanks to the intercession of Mary and the obedience of the servants, Jesus begins ‘his hour.” At Cana, Mary appears as believing in Jesus. Her faith evokes his first ‘sign’ and helps to kindle the faith of the disciples.”

In Mary’s case, being a disciples meant that she agreed to give birth to Jesus, in spite of being unmarried, in spite of knowing the hardship this would entail and not knowing where it would lead. And we see in her words at Cana (“Do whatever he tells you”) that it meant believing in the reality of Jesus as God – and the reality that God could do anything – before there was any sign demonstrating that this would be the case. (This is in contrast with hte other disciples, who began to believe in Jesus after his first miracle.) Making the choice of discipleship is at the heart of Mary’s story.

Mary truly is “brother, and sister, and mother” of Jesus.