A Stranger Unto My Brethren

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I am become a stranger unto my brethren,
and an alien unto my mother’s children.
Psalm 69, 8
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There is one curious passage many zealous Protestants often cite in their vain attempt to disprove Mary’s perpetual virginity and discredit the Catholic dogma. This is Psalm 69:8 which they use to demonstrate that the “brothers” of Jesus can’t be his cousins, or even three of them (James, Joses, and Simon) his apostles. But their reasoning just begs the question. They see this verse as being fulfilled in John 7:5: ‘For even his own brothers did not believe in him.’ The problem is the imposition of the modern English use of the word. They must first prove that the word “brothers” in the Gospel means biological brothers before they can arbitrarily single out and isolate this OT verse to connect it with the NT text in support of their preconceptions. If not, they are simply drawing their conclusion from what they have already concluded, that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus; she couldn’t have, so the reasoning goes, seeing that the gospels reveal he did in fact have ‘brothers.’ However, just because David had male siblings, it doesn’t mean that Jesus had to have them as well to be his ancestor’s royal anti-type. If that were the case, then Jesus may have had to be a sinner just like David was to exactly fit the bill.

In Semitic usage, the word “brother” (ach) can mean uterine male sibling, but the Hebrew/ Aramaic word can also extend to the broader circle of male family and tribal relations in Jewish culture. The word “brothers” can refer to other male relatives, Klansmen, and even all the Israelites. If we look further into the prophetic meaning of this Messianic Psalm, we should see that the word brethren refer to the Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah. Members of his extended family could still very well have disowned him and been anonymously counted among them as fellow Israelites, but they would not have been alone. Christ’s passion wasn’t part of a biological family affair.

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In the Psalm’s primary context, King David is referring to himself. And what we read about David’s relations with his brothers in this psalm does foretell what our Lord shall experience in his ministry, passion, and death. But taken in its secondary context, the psalm is not alluding to any uterine brothers of Jesus. Only the original context and its primary fulfilment literally concerns David’s relationship with his blood brothers which analogically points to our Lord’s rejection by the House of Israel. This verse finds its secondary fulfilment in the Gospel of John 1:11: ‘He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him.’

We are faced with the same double-standard found in the Protestant argument, that there’s no soteriological reason for Mary being ever-virgin, and so she couldn’t necessarily have remained a virgin after Jesus was born. But if this were so, then why assume that these brothers of David point to our Lord’s siblings? Certainly, if his own brothers had in fact denounced him and called him mad, their rejection of him wouldn’t have resulted in his passion and death. Jesus was betrayed by his disciple Judas, and then tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin who compelled Pilate to sentence him to death. The Jewish mob who resented Jesus for failing to live up to their messianic expectations added fuel to the flames.

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So, these brothers that are mentioned in the Psalm do not point to any offspring of Mary but the Israelites. In the Gospel, we have “his own” [neuter: literally his own possession] and “his own people” (the Israelites, who belonged to God as his own chosen possession). Meanwhile, Israel serves as a type of David’s mother. Figuratively speaking, it was Israel which gave birth to the Messiah, and our salvation does come from the Jews. We read in Psalm 87 (86): ‘And Zion shall be called mother, for all shall be her children.’

In the Old Testament, Messianic prophecies are concerned with the salvation of humanity and are related to blessings hoped for. So, even if Jesus did have uterine brothers who rejected him, there would be no reason to prophesy any rivalry between them, for it wouldn’t have resulted in our Lord’s passion and death and thus have any soteriological significance in the least. Psalm 69:8 finds its secondary fulfilment in the rejection of Christ by the Jews. In the same Gospel, we read: ‘And he said to the Jews, “Behold your king!” They cried out, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to be crucified’ (Jn 19:14-16). In other words, Jesus was no messianic and Davidic king of theirs. Our Lord was consumed as a sacrifice by the blind religious zeal of the elders of the Temple. ‘For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me’ (Ps 69, 9). The Psalm, therefore, does not refer to Joseph’s house but to the Temple in Jerusalem, the City of David (Lk 2:49). By rejecting the Son, the Jews had in fact rejected the Father (Lk 10:16).

“The friends of Christ do not tolerate hearing
that the Mother of God ever ceased to be a virgin”
St. Basil
Homily In Sanctum Christi generationem, 5
(ante A.D. 379)
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Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem
after the custom of the feast.
Luke 2, 41-42
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Salve Regina!

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