Summary: Through his life, Christ draws together his followers as a single family. We must understand our role as family to look past the things that divide us and to work together serving Christ in the world.
By relative standards, I’m still considered a newlywed, even though Ken and I have been married about two and a half years now. Whether you consider that really newlywed or not, it’s still new enough to merit the question every now and again from a friend, “So how’s married life?” I got asked that very question just this week, and as I responded, “It’s good!” I chuckled. On my mind was the fact that as joyful and wonderful married life is, it’s not all wine and roses. Really, that’s just a fact of family life. If you live with someone for long enough, you’re bound to disagree eventually, or perhaps even regularly! Families fight. It’s simply a fact of life. We see it most often in sibling rivalries and arguments over toys, but if we’re all honest, we will admit that we get mad at our family members sometimes. It could be as complicated as an ideological debate, or as simple as deciding which channel to put the TV on. Really, there’s nothing wrong with arguing and fighting with your family; in fact, it can even be healthy sometimes. It’s when that fighting causes permanent rifts in relationships that there is cause for concern.
As we come again this morning to Jesus’ final words as he hung on the cross, we focus in with Jesus on a family issue. Hanging on the cross, Jesus is surrounded not only by Roman soldiers and mocking crowds, but also the people who love him most; his mother, his aunt, the beloved disciple, and his friend Mary Magdalene. Seeing what was sure to have been a pained expression on his mother’s face, Jesus turned to her and said, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he turned to the beloved disciple and said to him, “Here is your mother.” Now remember, as Jesus hung on the cross, it would have been incredibly painful for him to speak. So he says in these final hours is vitally important.
Popular tradition holds that in this instance, Jesus was simply looking out for his mother’s well-being. We haven’t heard anything of Joseph since Jesus’ time in the Temple when he was twelve, and it’s probably safe to assume that Joseph had died sometime before Jesus began his public ministry. Jesus knows that with his father gone, and him gone, there would be no one left to care for his mother. And so he turns to the beloved disciple and declares that he is now the “son” of this woman, and she his mother. People say this is Jesus honoring the fifth commandment to “honor your father and mother.” And I think this is a fair assessment, but I also think there is more going on in this interaction with Mary and John than just holding up the fifth commandment and looking out for his mother’s well-being.
You see, Jesus’ death on the cross was all about redemption. At the very moment Jesus was, through his suffering, repairing and redeeming the brokenness of human existence—our broken relationship with God, with ourselves, with one another, and with creation—Jesus was also repairing the specific brokenness that existed between his birth family and his disciples; his old family and his new family.
It is very telling, I believe, that Jesus did not appear to choose anyone from the first thirty years of his life to be a part of his public ministry team. Almost all of his disciples seem to have been chosen after Jesus’ encounter with John the Baptist. And none of Jesus’ disciples were from Nazareth. Perhaps you’ve never given it much thought, but doesn’t that seem kind of strange? I mean, think back to those old playground games. When you got chosen to be a captain, you wanted the people on your team who were you friends, and the ones you knew would play well and help you win. But Jesus doesn’t pick the people he knows. He finds others. Either Jesus lived a life of complete solitude until his public ministry began, or he had no friends left.
We can sense Jesus’ problems with his family most obviously in his anti-family statements. Early on in his ministry, the gospels tell us that Jesus’ family came to find him and stop his “crazy” preaching and teaching. As he taught, his family appeared and sent word to him. “Look,” the people said, “Your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.” Jesus responded in this way, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And it didn’t even stop there. Do you remember what happened when Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth with his disciples? People in his own hometown refused to recognize Jesus for who he was. They even deemed his claims crazy, and some wanted to conduct an honor killing in order to protect the reputation of their town. Jesus’ family and friends didn’t like these things he was teaching and doing around Galilee, and so this rift developed between Jesus’ birth family and friends and his new family—his disciples and followers.