When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
I think these words from John are some of the most precious in Scripture. I think they give account of Jesus coming and flipping the conventional way of doing things on its head. In these two verses I think we’re told, “You have this idea of what family is, but I’m dying and changing the way things work, and your idea of how family works now needs to get a whole lot bigger.”
It was not uncommon for blood-relations to take in those who were widowed or whose sons had died, and after Jesus’ death common practice would have been for Mary to live with a relative. From the cross, however, Jesus tells John, “the disciple whom He loved” to care for His mother. To the people of His time, this was radical – because John wasn’t family. But, to Jesus John had become family, adopted in as God’s Son because John followed Him. And this trumped any connection shared by blood or marriage.
It’s no wonder I love these verses so much. I know what it’s like to be not-family family. I know what it’s like to have house keys to home’s where mail doesn’t come addressed to me. I know what it’s like to be invited to birthday dinners for parents who aren’t mine, and I know what it’s like to have Christmas stockings at houses that I didn’t open Christmas presents at as a kid. I know what it’s like to have a triple chocolate amaretto cake made especially for me every year on my birthday, by the hands of someone who really loves that I was born. I know what it’s like to be called “aunt” to kids whose moms have walked me through some of the ugliest and most beautiful parts of life. And at the end of the day, I think this is the stuff that “family” is made of.
But, it’s not a message that I often hear in Church, and this is frustrating to me. I hear sermons from the pulpit about marriage and raising kids, and about how God is honored in a special way when you’re a good partner to someone and a good mom to someone else. I never hear messages about how to be single well. I’ve been taught about Ephesians 5, about how husbands are to love their wives and wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, but those ideas all fall a little flat when I’m aware that 1 Corinthians 7 says that it’s good to remain single, but I’m not hearing one word about that. I’ve heard sermons about parenting and the joys that come with raising kids, and I may quit going to Church all together if one more person says to me, “Shame on you!” when I don’t volunteer to help with VBS again. When these things happen, when I’m chastised for not plugging into children’s ministry or when I’m hearing sermons that put one way of living on pedestal (marriage) and ignore altogether the goodness of doing life another way (single), what I’m being taught by the evangelical church is that being married and having kids is the key to a “good” Christian life. What I’m being taught is the conventional ideas of “family” are paramount, and I’m marginalized because I don’t fit.
Here’s the thing, though. When I stop listening to the pastors and the preachers, and I start listening to THE CHURCH – the people who sit in the pews next to me and who serve alongside me in youth ministry and who have committed to doing life with me – I’m being told I fit. In fact, I’m being told I’m family.
Jesus’ charge to John, I think, is echoed by Paul in his letters to the churches in Rome and Ephesus. In Romans 8 and Ephesians 1, Paul highlights the places Christians hold in God’s family as adopted sons, as heirs to the Kingdom. And when Jesus tells John to take care of His mother, He’s emphasizing this importance. When it came time for someone to take over care of His mother, Jesus picks someone who’s an adopted son, not someone who’s a blood-relation to Mary. He picks someone who He knows will love Mary well, because He knows that John is filled up with the love of God. He makes an unconventional choice.
I think this is how the Church needs to get back to operating, like John taking Mary into his house hold, like my friends giving me keys to their homes. We need to operate like even though we’re not all blood-related, we’re all adopted sons and daughters, and because of this we are family. We are family, and we love each other.