In this liturgical year that we tend to hear mostly from St. Mark’s Gospel on Sundays. It’s commonly believed to be the oldest of the four Gospels and reached its completed form sometime between the years 60 and 70. A man named Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis (present day Turkey) who died in the year 130, tells us that Mark was not a direct witness to Jesus, but instead was a translator and interpreter for the Apostle Peter, and it was that experience that provided him with the details and accounts to provide and preserve a solid snapshot of Jesus (Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, 3.39.14-16).
Each Evangelist has his own style of writing. A couple of things that characterize St. Mark’s style is that it’s very direct, and to the point. It’s been said that it seems as though he’s in a hurry to tell the story of Jesus, choppily jumping from one account to the next, rather than smooth segues. We see this in the choppy narrative of today’s Gospel.
So, I’d like to comment on two aspects of today’s Gospel that likely make our ears perk-up and possibly even arouse confusion.
The first is in reference to Jesus’ relatives that had come to see him. St. Mark specifically refers to them as his mother and his brothers. Brothers? Wasn’t Mary ever-virgin? How could Jesus have brothers? And that’s not the only passage that makes us ask that. In another part of the Gospels, we hear the question: “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joseph (or Joses) and Judas and Simon?” (Mk 6:3 and Mt 13:55-56).
The word ‘brother/brethren’—adelphoi, in Greek—has a broader meaning than just siblings. In Hebrew there was no distinct word for ‘cousin’ or other distant relatives, and thus ‘brother’ was used. Continuing the Old Testament tradition, the New Testament uses the word ‘brother’ in a broad sense.
Also, we should understand that these ‘brothers’ are never referred to as ‘children of Mary the Mother of Jesus’. Investigation in the larger context of the Gospels, reveals that these brothers, James and Joseph, are Jesus’ close relatives, but also sons of another woman named Mary (Mk 15:40), a woman whom St. Matthew simply calls "the other Mary" (Mt 27:56).
The fact is, if Jesus had brothers and sisters as we commonly understand those terms, he would not have entrusted his mother Mary to the care of the Apostle John, as he did from the cross: “Behold, your mother” (Jn 19:27).
So why do we declare Mary, ever-virgin? It was believed by many of the early Christians: Augustine, Jerome, Cyril of Alexandria, and Athanasius. On this weekend when we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, this long-held belief gives emphasis to the unique beauty of Mary’s call and mission: she had a role like no other, bearing God within her body, and one of the signs of her uniqueness is her purity, her perpetual virginity—she whom we lovingly call Virgin most pure, the incorruptible Ark.
The second point from today’s Gospel is Jesus’ mention that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin." What exactly is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and why would God never forgive us of it?
Jesus, who showed us the depths of the Father’s mercy, offers this warning against declaring that the power and the good work of the Holy Spirit is instead the power and work of Satan. And from the verses in the Gospel that precede this warning—the Scribes suggesting that Jesus’ power and authority came from the prince of demons—that we can extrapolate that it’s when we close our minds to the work of God, his mercy, revealed in the workings of the Holy Spirit, that it becomes impossible for one to obtain forgiveness. It’s not that God withholds; it’s that we are indisposed to receive. You can call it willful blindness or willful ignorance. Like a person who knows they’re sick and yet refuses the help of a doctor: they won’t heal. For those who deny God’s mercy, as Jesus says,“(they) will never have forgiveness” and it remains “an everlasting sin."
So, in what way are we closed to the work of the Holy Spirit, especially in our lives, and how God wishes to affect transformation in us, to leave sin behind. I suspect that for many of us it’s the sin of presumption of God’s mercy—persisting in our sins, knowing it’s sin. In what way does God want to offer you forgiveness...to restore your Sacred Heart, your Immaculate heart, your purity?—and yet He cannot, because you resist His gift of mercy. Do not doubt His mercy, open yourself to it.