Last Words of Christ: Family

March 04, 2013

Last Words of Christ: Family

7 Cover Art Week 3

When I say the word, “Family,” what image appears in your mind? Do you see a happy memory of a vacation or time around the dinner table or a holiday? Maybe you see that Aunt or Uncle who really wasn’t an Aunt or Uncle. You were so close to them that you considered them as family. Maybe you’re holding on to a difficult memory of a family member who has passed away? Maybe it is a politically divisive word for you. Maybe the word, “family” is a painful word.

FamilyOn the cross, when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Jesus is making a new family. There’s more to this unification than Jesus wanting to make sure that someone would take care of his mother. Jesus had brothers and sisters. Especially when reading the Gospel of John, it is important to take a second look at the text . . . or a third look or fourth look. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ mother is never named. We only know her as the “mother of Jesus.” The mother of Jesus appears in the Gospel twice, once at Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana where she says, “They have run out of wine,” to which Jesus replies, “Woman, it is not yet my time.” Her second appearance is when Jesus’ time had come, at the cross. Likewise the beloved disciple is never given a proper name. We know this disciple as simply the disciple whom Jesus loved. Because these two characters are never named, so to speak, we are invited by the Holy Spirit to spend some extra time meditating on what the Gospel of John is revealing. There at the foot of the cross is the mother of Jesus, the one who gave birth to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Also there is the beloved disciple, the faithful one who will soon see an empty tomb and believe. The one who gave birth to Jesus and the faithful follower are being united, or to put it another way, through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God—the one who gave Jesus life, is united to the church—the faithful followers of resurrection. This is the definition of the Christian family; those who have been called into communion with God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is preaching to the crowds when his family comes to collect him because many thought Jesus had either gone crazy or was possessed. When Jesus hears that his family is there, he looks at the gathering of followers and says, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Some hear this as a means of Jesus separating himself from his family. Some hear this as an exclusive element of faith. I wonder how those who were with Jesus heard this? I wonder how outcasts hear this? I wonder how outsiders hear this? I wonder how the orphaned and the forgotten hear this. Jesus isn’t necessarily saying that we should divorce ourselves from our families; rather Jesus is re-narrating the very definition of family. Those who do the will of my Father are my family. To the outcast and forgotten, the oppressed and orphaned; you are my brothers and sisters. You are welcome and you have a place at the table. Jesus’ family is not progeny; Jesus’ family is born through obedience.

The angel Gabriel came to a young girl from a poor family and said, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” Mary said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Jesus’ family is born from obedience.

Jesus has many names in scripture: Wonder Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is understood as a second Adam, a new Moses, the ancestor of David. Someone with whom Jesus is never compared is Abraham because Mary is the new Abraham. As Abraham said time and time again to God, so too Mary says, “Here I am, Lord.” To Abraham the Lord says that he will be blessed with a son and he will lead a great nation. To Mary, the angel says that she, too, will be blessed with a son and his reign will have no end. The Lord asks Abraham to take his son, his only beloved son up to the mountain to be sacrificed, but as the knife is drawn, the angel swoops down and says, “Abraham, Abraham, do not lay your hand on the boy.” When Mary is in the Temple for Jesus’ dedication, Simeon says to her, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel . . . and a sword will pierce your soul,” for the knife was not stayed for her son. The angel said to Abraham, “Because you have been obedient, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven.” To his mother, Jesus says, “Behold, your son.” Behold the church. Behold how your obedience will transform the lives of many. Behold your new family, a citizenship of heaven.

You are loved. You are welcome. You were promised. Behold each other as a promise of God, and may you be obedient to that promise of love. When I say “Family,” what image appears in your mind? I pray that this moment, these people, and those whom we have yet to meet will be on your mind. Amen and Amen.