Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Holy Week, Day Three: The Last Words of Jesus
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:26-27)
My college chaplain used to say that he worried about the big things of life, while his wife worried about the little things. He worried about big things: the economy, war, social upheaval, and national politics. His wife worried about the little things: what they would eat, where they would live, how the bills would get paid. He thought that was a reasonable trade-off. He was, of course, joking.
Jesus dying on the cross was a big thing. It was big because first, he represented all of Israel in that place of death. He took within himself all the suffering and pain that Rome could dish out to a people that had lost their way. It was also big because, as Israel represented the entire world to God, so did Jesus die on behalf of the world. He took on the inevitability of human death that stalks all people of the world. And it was big because a real human life was being slowly snuffed out in a horrible, tortuous way.
While hanging on that cross, Jesus expressed concern about a little thing: His mother’s care. But why did he bother to do that, especially under those circumstances? Certainly Jesus had other family members who could care for her; why John, his close friend and disciple?
Maybe there is a clue in something else that Jesus said. He once looked at his followers and claimed them as his own family:
“Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:49b-50)
In his last words to Mary and John, Jesus seemed to be redefining what it meant to be a family in the present reality of God’s kingdom. His mother and his friend had faithfully followed him, even to the place of his death. In their solidarity with him they entered into a new relationship that was not boundaried by genetics or bloodlines, but rather by faith. Mary would not be a boarder in John’s house; she would be his mother. John would not be Mary’s landlord; he would be her son.
There is something potentially wonderful about families that are made up of parents and children. But life in the kingdom of God creates a new kind of family that binds us together in a way that transcends the hereditary. Rather than defining family as being grounded in a common DNA, family is now grounded in common faithfulness. This new family embraces its members not because there is genetic necessity, but because the glue that holds it together is God’s love.
It is also a risky family because it is one designed to take in and care for the stranger. The ethic of hospitality runs deeply through the shared life of the people of God, and it always shakes things up, taking the commonplace and predictable and turning them into the risky and questionable. Such is the life of this new family.
Were can this new family be found? Sometimes it is in churches, or at least in aspects of churches. Other times it is found more organically among people gathered in non-traditional settings. It isn’t usually found in contexts that are grounded in common interest or a comfortable chemistry. There is too much safety in those settings, and it’s too easy to violate the predictability of the environments to allow for hospitality. It can only be found when the common ground is the love of God.