Today’s Gospel passage is the source of some confusion. As Jesus speaks to the crowds, “his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him.”
Who are these brothers? There are three possible alternatives.
One is that Mary had other children after Jesus. That would make them his younger brothers.
Another is that something is lost in translation. Some have argued that the word for “brothers” here could also mean “cousins.” Others argue that the original Greek word used here, and especially in this context, does not support such a translation. The Greek word used is the same one that makes Philadelphia known as the city of brotherly love.
The third possibility is that these are Joseph’s sons from a previous marriage. That would make them older half-brothers of Jesus.
One key point is that younger Jewish brothers in the first century would not interrupt Jesus in this way. Nor would they try to dissuade him from his ministry as they appear to be doing here. It just would never happen. It was culturally unacceptable to do that.
Older brothers would definitely do that. They would not feel similarly constrained in speaking up in such a situation…in protecting a younger brother.
An understanding of these brothers as either older half-brothers (or even as cousins) would not be in conflict with longstanding Church teaching regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity.
1 Peter 3:15-16 tells us:
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”
Today’s Gospel passage is one that Protestants point to as part of an attempt to undermine our devotion to the Blessed Mother. It is helpful to have a response ready for their argument.
It is even more helpful to know our faith so that we are better equipped to share our faith. No, that does not mean that everyone must be a learned theologian. But it does mean that we cannot share what we do not have ourselves.
What steps are we taking to learn more about our faith? Are we committed to some level of continuing learning to become more effective evangelists? If someone asks why we are Catholic, can we give a compelling answer?