July 6 – Thursday of the Fifth Week after Pentecost Matthew 12:46-13:3
Jesus – Kinsman or King? Matthew 12:46-13:3, especially vs. 50: “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” At first glance this passage from Saint Matthew seems to show the Lord Jesus speaking harshly to His mother, contradicting the loving pattern characteristic of His relationship with her. Some non-Orthodox scholars even infer that the God-man Jesus is rebuking the Theotokos during this encounter!
Careful study of the text, however, does not support such a conjecture. Nor does the passage suggest that He considers Himself too important to spend time with His earthly relatives. Such a characterization does not fit the Lord Jesus, the King of heaven, who divests Himself of glory to become a kinsman to us all. Saint Paul confirms that “Christ Jesus . . . being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:5- 7).
To appreciate the essence of this exchange between the Theotokos and the Lord Jesus – her own Son after the flesh – let us consider the first chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel. Specifically, in the account of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38), we hear the Virgin respond to the Archangel Gabriel’s promise that she will conceive and bear a Son by the power of the Holy Spirit: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (vs. 38).
The term in the original Greek – rhema, translated here as “word” – implies a command, declaration, or mandate. Thus the noun could very well be translated as will (“according to your will”). And who among the fallen race of Adam more perfectly obeys God’s will than the Virgin Mother of God? She rightly sings in the Magnificat that believers in all generations shall call her blessed (vs. 1:48). Her response to the Archangel reveals what Saint Nikolai of Zicha calls “the readiest obedience and the most perfect humility,” a soul transformed and exalted in theosis.
The Lord Jesus does not reject the Theotokos, who is the icon of humility. Rather, He presents His mother as a unique example of perfect obedience to the will of God. She is a model for all who desire to be members of His holy and heavenly family.
“Jesus, wishing to reveal a new concept of family answered: ‘Who is My mother, or My brothers?’” writes Father Dennis Michelis. “And adds: ‘Whoever does the will of God is My brother, and sister, and mother.’ His point is that, besides the hitherto well-known biological family, the one united by blood relationships, there also is a spiritual family whose members, though not related by blood, are kin so long as they do the will of God who is the heavenly Father of all mankind” (The Virgin Mary, p. 108).
What about the brothers who are mentioned in today’s lesson? On the one hand, the Lord’s gesture indicates that all His obedient disciples are His kinsmen (Mt 12:49). However, the Lord also had earthly kinsmen, including his step-brother James, who would become Christ’s heavenly kinsman. Although at the time of today’s account he was not yet a believer, he affirmed Christ after the risen Lord appeared to him (I Cor 15:7). The apostles made him the first bishop of Jerusalem in recognition of his obedience and sanctity (Acts 12:17; 21:17- 18; Gal 1:18-19; 2:9). As hierarch, James presided over the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13).
James was a pious man. The Jews called him “the Just” and the “camel-kneed,” because his knees were calloused from prayer. He suffered as a martyr for Christ when he was thrown down from the Temple and clubbed to death. Like the Theotokos, we count him as a kinsman of the King – for he is one who kept the word of God.
O Mother of our God, and Brother of the Lord, James, as you obediently received the Gospel, intercede with Christ our God to grant us the grace of obedience and the Great Mercy. – Festal Hymn for Saint James