When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” After that time, the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)
Today, most churches in the United States are known for supporting “family values.” Many Christians work to strengthen the institution of marriage, raise and protect children, as well as promote virtue in the family unit. Entire political parties, as well as individual candidates, claim to be “pro-family” and use this position to curry favor with the church. The Christian church is often seen as a strong defender of the ‘nuclear family.’
This was not always the case.
In the first few centuries of its existence, the Christians faith was repeatedly challenged by Roman defenders of “family values.” The Church, it was believed, undermined the nuclear family and promoted the disintegration of society. This widespread belief about Christians resulted from Christians taking passages like Jesus’ words on the cross seriously.
With the words “Here is your son” and “Here is your mother,” Jesus redefines how disciples are to think about family relationships. Christians still rightly support marriage, children, education, justice, and virtue for individual families and the Christian family as a whole. But the nuclear family is no longer the primary relationship in the life of the Christian. Everything is redefined by one’s relationship to Christ.
Jesus does not entrust his mother to his (at that time) unbelieving siblings, but to his believing disciple. In doing so, Jesus places baptism into Christ over blood. It is the community of faith, of those who believe in Jesus that constitute our primary family.
Christianity was controversial in the first few centuries because it divided families and proclaimed that supreme loyalty to Christ trumped even one’s loyalty to their immediate family. Jesus still says “Here is your mother/sister/daughter” to the whole church every time a female is baptized. And Jesus still says “Here is your son/brother/father” to the whole church every time a male is baptized. We constitute a whole new family at the foot of the cross.