Who Are My Mother and Brothers?

Written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.

Mark 3: 31-35 - His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. The crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. [For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

When we hear this gospel, it’s not uncommon to think that Jesus is being pretty tough on his poor Mom and relatives. It’s not a response we would expect from Jesus…in fact, it seems to our ears a bit harsh and insensitive.

Unfortunately, we just get this little section as our Gospel reading today. We need to put it in context to get its full meaning.

First of all, we’re only in the 3rd chapter of Mark, and already Jesus’ life has undergone significant changes. Imagine what Mary and Jesus’ family have observed of him:

  • For 30 years he lived a quiet family life, then suddenly he’s baptized and goes on a 40 day fast in the desert.
  • When he returned, he’s now a public preacher. He’s saying the kingdom is at hand and telling people to repent.
  • Unlikely fishermen are following him, driving out spirits & healing.
  • He’s spending time with unsavory characters like tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars.
  • Crowds follow him; he’s not eating or sleeping.

If you were his relative, wouldn’t you worry and wonder?

Secondly, they didn’t fully understand that Jesus has a mission, and that his message had an urgency about the reign of God and discipleship that transcended natural family bonds. So when Jesus says: “whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me”, it was not meant to be a rebuke, but rather an invitation for everyone to become part of Jesus’ family and be a follower.

Sr. Marianne Cope took those words of Jesus seriously and as a result became follower known as Mother Marianne of Moloka, the Hawaiian island where lepers were sent, or rather, banished.

Marianne was born in Germany in 1838, but her family moved to the States when she was 2. She became a member of the Sisters of St. Francis in New York and held many administrative positions, one being administrator of St. Joseph’s hospital. When an appeal was made by the king of Hawaii to help the victims of leprosy, Sr. Marianne responded: “I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned ‘lepers.”

She and 6 other Sisters went to Moloki and cared for the dying Father Damien, who was already known internationally for his work in the leper colony. The Sisters began to take over his burdens.

When Father Damien died on April 15, 1889, the government officially put Sr. Marianne in charge of the care of the people. She changed life on Molokai by introducing cleanliness, pride, and fun to the colony. Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women were part of her approach. Her congregation still ministers there. In fact, one of the Sisters in our Diocese from her community spent 3 months last year ministering to the people of Moloki. Mother Marianne died on August 9, 1918, was beatified in 2005, and canonized in 2012.

However we are following God’s will in our lives and whomever we are serving, may we have the faith and trust to know that when we do so, we are being brother, sister, and mother to Jesus Himself.