Can you imagine the anguish of Jesus’ mother as she watched her son dying on the cross? As a mother myself, I can’t even bear it when one of my children gets hurt. The sight of their blood makes me queasy. Imagine, then, Mary standing there watching her innocent son beaten, mocked, and crucified for the sins of the whole world. She watched him suffer there for three long hours, blood streaming from his head, his hands, his feet, and she couldn’t do a thing to stop it or make it better. I can’t even imagine. Yet even in the midst of Jesus’ own excruciating agony, He sees His mother’s pain and takes the time to lovingly provide for her earthly future.
When Jesus 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!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (John 19:26-27).
Now, in order to understand this exchange, we need to know a bit about the culture of the day. You see, women in Jesus’ day weren’t likely to have jobs outside the home. The daily work of keeping a household running required more work than we in the 21st century can comprehend. Multiple times a day women had to lug heavy (probably 40 lb) buckets of water from the well to their homes to use for washing, cleaning, and drinking. The physical duties of running a household were far more demanding than ones we have today. They baked bread from scratch, even down to grinding their own flour. These women were busy. And thus, there was really no way they could take paying jobs as well. That was the job of their husbands. The husbands provided for their families financially. In Mary and Joseph’s case, Joseph was a carpenter. It was a humble profession, one that didn’t bring in big bucks, but Joseph was able to provide for his family nonetheless. But tradition has it that Joseph had died somewhere in Jesus’ teenage or early adult years. In such a case, Mary’s earthly care would fall to her eldest son, Jesus. And now Jesus was dying.
Now what was Mary to do? Well, her care would fall to her next son or closest male relative. In this case, the expected choice would be James or Jude, Jesus’ brothers (or cousins, as some have translated it). So why doesn’t Jesus leave it at that? Why change things up? Well, you see, neither James nor Jude yet believed in Jesus. Yes, by God’s grace, they came to saving faith later, after Jesus’ resurrection. James came to lead the Jerusalem churches, and historian Josephus tells us he was stoned to death by the Sadducees. Both James and Jude went on to author New Testament books, so thankfully they did come to believe in Jesus. But at this exact moment, when Jesus is dying on the cross, his brothers were nowhere to be found. Jesus would not entrust his mother’s care to those who would not also care for her spiritually. So he changes the order of things and gives Mary’s care over to His disciple, John.
While this tender exchange between Jesus, Mary, and John may seem like a sweet gesture on Jesus’ part, there’s another more important meaning behind all of this. Jesus is setting a precedent here. Yes, God places us in earthly families, and hopefully many of us have strong family bonds where we share the gift of saving faith with our loved ones. But not everyone has this advantage. Some families are estranged from one another. Some family members have fallen away from the faith, or never believed in the first place. If that is the case for you, dear one, take heart. Jesus is reordering the family. He is showing us that the spiritual family of believers supersedes the blood bonds between families. This is not to diminish the importance of earthly families. Not at all. But Jesus is expanding the definition of “family.” All believers are part of a much larger family, for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. As a Lutheran homiletician notes, “Baptismal water is thicker than blood.” The waters of Holy Baptism have united us with the whole church of heaven and earth. Look around you on any given Sunday. Your fellow congregants are your family. You will spend eternity with them.
Dear one, no matter what the makeup of your earthly family, know this: Jesus has placed you into a supportive, loving Christian family united not by DNA, but by saving faith through Jesus’ blood and the waters of baptism. We share meals together at the communion rail. We recall family history every time we read the Bible and tell the salvation story. We sing together. We support each other and care for fellow family members who are hurting or in need. God is our Father and Jesus Himself is our brother. And we have the rest of eternity to spend with our wonderful extended family.
April 4, 2014 at 8:33 pm
Hello! I have a great ‘family’ story. I was adopted. I always thought she must have given me up so I could have a life she could not provide with two parents. God gave her to me a couple of years ago (that is an awesome story, too). We are best friends and just like family. I can’t imagine giving up a child, like God did. Watching me be whisked away without being able to hold me must have broken her heart. She blessed my parents greatly! Her sacrifice blessed my whole family. Just like God’s sacrifice blessed the whole world. I choose to love her and begin a relationship. I so wish many would do that with Jesus. Blessings!
April 11, 2014 at 1:04 pm
Do you have any explanation how we know that Psalm 69 is a prophecy, and not, you know, a lament written by someone who was in trouble?
Read the whole psalm in context if you haven’t already and tell me what you think.
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold,” the psalmist says. “I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.”
If this is a prophecy, why didn’t Jesus drown? This sounds like it’s about drowning. To me it sounds like the psalmist was in trouble and used the image of sinking in deep waters as a poetic description of his trouble.
“Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters,” he says. This is clearly a prayer that God will rescue him, not a prophecy that someone else will be in trouble someday.
“You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
The new testament says this is a prophecy, but it’s just one more line in the psalmist’s poem, about what his enemies were doing to him. And as you point out, Jesus said “I thirst” because he had been badly beaten and lost a lot of blood, so he was dehydrated. He wasn’t saying it to fulfill a prophecy. Does everyone who gets thirsty fulfill prophecy? I fulfilled prophecy a dozen times just this week!
April 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm
You bring up a good point as to how we know Jesus fulfilled that prophecy, and it’s good to consider the subject. There are other times in the Bible where there are two fulfillments of the same passage. For example, the famous prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” In the context of Isaiah’s day, he was talking to King Ahaz, assuring him that the Lord would deliver them from Assyria. Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused, so Isaiah gave him a sign from God anyhow. On the one hand, God was promising deliverance in short order- in less than the time required for pregnancy and weaning, God would have delivered Judah from the two kings threatening them. This was the immediate fulfillment of the sign. But the second fulfillment was the birth of Jesus, “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us,” who was born of a virgin. How do we know this? We let Scripture interpret Scripture, and Matthew 1:22-23 clearly links the prophecy in Isaiah with Jesus’ birth. The same holds true for Psalm 69 (and other psalms, as well). Indeed, David wrote the psalm describing himself under great distress, so much so that he felt he was drowning in his afflictions, as verses 1 and 2 point out. In his Gospel account, John points out that Jesus was fulfilling Scripture in saying “I thirst.” He’s the one who makes the connection. John actually references Psalm 69 two other times in his Gospel account. When Jesus cleanses the temple in John 2:13-17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me'” (John 2:17). That is from Psalm 69:9. Then when Jesus was talking to His disciples the night before He was crucified, He tells them that the world will hate them as it had hated Him. Jesus Himself says, “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: They hated me without a cause” (John 17:25). Psalm 69:4 says, “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause.” When it comes right down to it, it’s amazing how many references there are to Jesus in the Old Testament, and even more amazing is that He fulfilled every single prophecy made about Him. This wasn’t some coincidence. God’s Word is very deliberate in showing that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.