Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27
On its most basic level, Jesus’ final words to his mother are a touching reminder of where one’s mind goes when death and danger are close at hand.
Having talked with soldiers returning from combat, I have learned that it isn’t always fear for their own safety that troubled them most. It their family’s well being that weighed most heavily on their spirits. “How would my family would cope with my death? What would my wife do? How could my son and daughter handle it? What hardships would my family face? Would they be OK if something happened to me?” These are the kinds of questions that occupied their thoughts.
Jesus loved his mother. In the last moments of his life, he thought of her. He used his last breaths to insure that she would be taken care of. There is more to this story, however, than the love of parent and child.
When I asked a group of Korean women this question, they all had the same answer: when a husband dies and leaves a widow with adult children, who is responsible for taking care of mother? With one voice they all immediately said, “The oldest son.” So it is in many cultures throughout history. Throughout the ages, there has been no social security program or retirement benefits for widows to draw upon. The vast majority of widows depend on their families to provide all the necessities of life, and the eldest son bears primary responsibility.
In Jesus’ adult years, Joseph has disappeared from the story. Presumably, he has died. As the oldest son, Jesus is responsible for his mother’s care. After his death, Jesus entrusted his mother’s care to the beloved disciple. He would take her into his household and care for her as his own mother.
Why, in fact, is this necessary? Jesus has brothers (and sisters)! Why aren’t they taking care of Mary?
The answer to that question is found in the effect that the gospel had on families – especially in the first generations of Christian faith. The gospel message often divided kin and introduced conflict into households. Even Jesus’ own family was divided. In response, Jesus offered believers a replacement family: the household of God. When the beloved disciple took Mary into his home, it was the first of many such acts to come. The church of the book of Acts eventually institutionalized the care of widows and others disowned by their families because of their faith. The principle, here, is one that should always remain basic to Christianity. We are truly are brothers and sisters in the household of God and the allegiance that we owe to each other is at least as strong as bonds of human kinship.
When Jesus died he didn’t have a brother to whom he could entrust his mother. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his brother James. James went on to lead the Jerusalem church. One of the New Testament epistles bears his name. Many Christians today still grieve for members of their family who have rejected the faith and – as a result – may reject them as well. From personal experience, I can tell you, don’t give up on family. God may yet work the miracle of faith in their lives.
References on Jesus’ Own Family
Matthew 13:55-56 – Jesus has brothers and sisters.
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
John 7:1-5 – Jesus’ brothers don’t believe in him and disingenuously suggest that he could do the most good where his life was most in danger.
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Luke 4:22-29- The people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth (which would have consisted mostly of extended family) want to kill him after he declines to be their personal, hometown miracle-man.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'” “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.
Mark 3:21 – Jesus’ family members think he is crazy.
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
1 Corinthians 15:7 – The risen Jesus appeared to his brother James.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
Galatians 1:19 – James went on to become a leader in the Jerusalem church.
I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.
References on the the Household of Faith
One of Jesus’ favorite terms for designating his followers is adelphoi (brothers and sisters). (Too many verses to cite)
Matthew 12:46-50 – Jesus says that his group of disciples constitutes his true family.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
Luke 18:28-30 – Those who must leave family for the sake of the kingdom will get a larger family (the body of believers) in this age
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
References on the Priority of the Kingdom of God
Matthew 10:21 – The gospel will cause deadly conflicts in families. Those who belong to Jesus must stand firm even in the face of family opposition.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.