We’ve all heard the cliché “blood is thicker than water.” Since the dawn of time, family has been the ones who keep us safe; who provide for us; who are there for us when the rest of the world turns its back. Family gives us our identity… for better or worse sometimes. As a pastor over the years, I’ve noticed that, even in the scrappiest of families, they’ll circle the wagons when an outside threat is perceived. Family is about loyalty.
Family was an even stronger bond in the ancient Middle Eastern world. And no family bond was as powerful as the one between mother and son. In that culture, couples didn’t fall in love and get married. Marriages were arranged. And the marriage wasn’t much about the bride and groom at all. It was about their families. Marriages forged family alliances. But, for the bride, it was – initially – a tenuous alliance because a woman was never really considered a part of her husband’s family until she gave birth to a son. A baby boy – so fragile and tiny, swaddled up in strips of cloth – held the power to guarantee security for the mother whose arms’ cradled him.
And so we should hardly be surprised that Jesus’ mother is standing there at the foot of his cross. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for her to see him like that? There he hung; stripped of his clothes, nearly as naked as the day he’d been born… and likely looking – to her, at least – just as delicate and vulnerable.
Nowadays families that are spread out across states come together, at the very least, for weddings and funerals. But, apparently, Jesus didn’t have it that lucky. His mother and one aunt; that was it. Joseph was likely deceased. But, the extended family must have surely been larger than mom and one aunt. Yet on the day that must have certainly been the hardest of his life, all the rest are a “no show.”
And so, Jesus, despite his own agony, is concerned for his mother’s future. She will need the security only family can give. In that culture, a woman without family had two options: begging or prostitution. So Jesus provides for her by inaugurating a new family. He redefines family when he entrusts her to one of his disciples; the one whom he loved… a rather odd description since he surely loved them all. But this one, in particular, was the only one to stick by Jesus to the bitter end. And so Jesus must have known he could be trusted to take care of mom; and scripture tells us he did.
The introduction to John’s gospel makes us a bold promise. By placing our trust in Jesus, we can become children of God… which has nothing to do with flesh and blood according to our gospel narrator.[i] But none of us is ever an only child. We come from a large family (called the Church) and hanging there from that cross, Jesus entrusted us to one another’s care.