Sermon: Receiving Mary

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the gospel of John. John 19, verses 26 and 27. John is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John 19, verses 26 and 27.

We have been listening together this lenten season to Jesus’ words from the cross – we have narrowed our focus for these last weeks on those few hours Jesus spent dying for the sins of the whole world. And this morning, we encounter a short scene between Jesus, his mother Mary, and the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Before we hear God’s word, I want to invite you to see yourself in the disciple whom Jesus loved. This disciple is likely John, the author, but John rarely calls himself by name in this gospel. Instead, he says ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ Was he Jesus’ favorite? Maybe, but I think John intentionally paints himself as a silhouette so that we might easily step in and hear Jesus addressing us, for we are disciples whom Jesus loved as well. So if you belong to Jesus, if the Holy Spirit has worked in your life and you have placed your trust in Jesus and pledged to follow him, you are the disciple in this passage. So see yourself in him as we listen to this passage. And ff you haven’t trusted in Christ, if you would not be counted as one of Jesus’ disciples, I earnestly pray that today, the Spirit would work in your heart and you would come to have faith in Christ – for Christ is the only hope for life and life eternal.

John 19:26-27, but before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me. 

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit, our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ, our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

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.” From that time on, the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Could you see yourself there? You, the disciple Jesus loved, standing at the foot of the cross. And as it turns out, you are standing there with Mary, the mother of Jesus. And then Jesus speaks to her, claiming that you are now to be treated as her child, and then to you, that you are now to treat her as if she were your own mother.

Then, at that moment, for John, Jesus calls for him to receive the literal Mary, the mother of Jesus, into his home and care for her as he would his mother. Jesus entrusts his mother to his disciple at the foot of the cross. And John obeys, from that time on, it says, he took her into his home.

But what about us? What all of us future disciples, how should we hear Jesus’ words to the disciple he loved? Is this simply a historical fact, showing that Jesus cared what happened to his mother after he died? I think not. I think something more is going on here, something that speaks to the very core of what it means to be the church. I want to suggest at least three ways we should hear these words of Jesus for us.

On a very literal level, Jesus calls for us, the disciples whom he loves, to welcome – to receive Mary, the mother of Jesus into our homes.

This is not an easy task for us. As Protestants, we don’t really know what to do with Mary. The Roman Catholic Church has elevated her, honored her to the point of praying to her, even calling her a coredemptrix – a co-redeemer with Christ, because in her accepting the role of mother of Jesus, she brought salvation into the world. For the catholic church, Mary is high and lifted up, almost right next to Jesus, and our spiritual fathers and mothers were right to be concerned.

Our ancestors at the Reformation looked back into the Bible and found no evidence to support much of the doctrine of Mary in the Catholic Church. Instead, they found salvation in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. They found one and only one mediator for our salvation – Jesus Christ. And so, they rejected all the forms of devotion to Mary, all the ways that she was elevated that placed her alongside Christ – praying to her, being devoted to her in any form.

I readily agree that there was much to be rejected and resisted in how Mary was seen and treated in previous generations, but, in light of our passage this morning, I wonder if we have not thrown out the baby with the bathwater. I wonder if we have not over-corrected to simply neglecting Mary or even downplaying her.

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.” From that time on, the disciple took her into his home.

Jesus calls for the disciple whom he loved to take Mary into his home and treat her as he would his own mother. Have we? Or have we left her sitting at the foot of the cross? I’m not suggesting a return to praying to Mary or putting statues to her anywhere. Far from it, but I am suggesting that she should be restored to a place of honor – the kind of honor and respect we give to the Peter, James, and John. I am suggesting that she be treated as one of the disciples, perhaps the first to believe that Jesus was the one to bring salvation. For it was Mary who believed the angel’s words and stored up all the words and deeds of Jesus in her heart. Perhaps, we too need to welcome Mary with the honor of a fellow disciple of Jesus.

That’s the first way we should hear Jesus’ words this morning – as a call to receive Mary herself. But we also see that at the foot of the cross, Jesus is redefining what it means to be family. Mary is not John’s mother. And yet, Jesus declares that she is. John is not Mary’s son. And yet, Jesus declares that he is.

A new sort of family is being created here at the foot of the cross. It is a family born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Jesus doesn’t entrust his mother to his unbelieving half-siblings, but to his believing disciple. This new family is defined by one’s relationship to Jesus.

If, like me, you have ever lived a decent distance from your parents, it can be tempting to say in conversation, “I don’t really have much family around here.” I catch myself saying it all the time. It’s natural. We normally define our family by relationships of blood – parents, siblings, aunts, uncles – or by relationships based upon promises, on the covenant of marriage – spouse, in-laws. This is what most the world – Christian and pagan – means by family. But at the foot of the cross, Jesus gives us a different definition, he draws a different circle.

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.” From that time on, the disciple took her into his home.

Jesus defines family by those who belong to him, who believe in him and trust in his name. Earlier, when Jesus was confronted about his siblings coming to take him home,

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus defines family by who is in relationship with him. Mary had no blood ties to John, but both believed in Jesus and because of that, they were now family. This is why Christians for centuries have called one another “brother” and “sister.”

No matter where I go, no matter how far my biological parents are from me, I am with family every time I gather with fellow Christians.

Believers in Jesus have a new family at the foot of the cross. Jesus is not only our Lord and Savior, but now our brother. And we are now family.

In Christian circles we use the language of “brother and sister in Christ’ so frequently and casually that it is easy to forgot how incredible it is. Because of Christ, because those who have faith in Christ are in Christ, we are all now brothers and sisters. We are bound with the spiritual bonds of siblinghood.

And Jesus indicates that these relationships are even more significant than the ones we have with our biological family. Remember, Jesus did not entrust Mary to his unbelieving half-siblings, but to his believing disciple. Christianity has always supported and sought to strengthen the nuclear family – to have strong, godly marriage, raise children in the Lord that trust in him and seek to follow him daily, to create systems and institutions that support the nurture of husband and wife, parent and child.

But the Christian faith has also always placed our relationship with Christ as more central and significant than our relationship to our family. Your relationship with Christ is the single most defining relationship in your life. Knowing him or not knowing him changes everything, and here on the cross, Jesus indicates that it changes our relationship status with everyone else. We are family, all of us, those who are related by blood and those who are not. This is our truest family.

I’m hoping you are beginning to feel how incredible and powerful this is. The early church certainly did. In fact, they were repeatedly critiqued by conservative Roman scholars who believed that Christianity was actually against “family values.” Christians were suspected of undermining the family because they believed that Jesus made them all brothers and sisters. Christians were seen as against “the family” because they believed God had created a new family when he died on the cross for us.

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.” From that time on, the disciple took her into his home.

At the foot of the cross, Jesus created a new family defined by our relationship to Jesus. That’s the second way we can hear this passage, as the beginning of this new family in Jesus, the church. But there is at least one more way we should hear these words from Jesus.

Mary was vulnerable. She was a widow. Joseph disappears from the story before Jesus begins his ministry, which leads many to believe he died some time earlier. Mary is a widow. She is vulnerable in this society, alone and in need. And Jesus calls the disciple whom he loves to welcome her into his home. Not only is Mary Mary, the mother of Jesus, not only is Mary decidedly not related to John and therefore an indication of this newfound family in Jesus, but Mary is vulnerable woman received into the home of one of Jesus’ disciples.

Even on the cross, Jesus is showing his disciples what living at the foot of the cross looks like. And living as a disciple of Jesus includes caring for the widows and orphans, it includes welcoming the vulnerable, and it includes receiving them into our homes.

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.” From that time on, the disciple took her into his home.

The disciple whom Jesus loved – that silhouette that John draws so that we might find ourselves in the story as disciples of Jesus. The disciple whom Jesus loved took vulnerable, widow Mary into his home. Would we? Would the vulnerable, the foster child, the single mother, the drug addict, the widow, the depressed, the mentally ill, those with special needs, would those people who are vulnerable in our society find themselves welcome here? Would those people, who are both beautiful and broken, find themselves received into this family? Would we nurture, would we listen, would we love, would we learn from them? Would we encourage them to trust in Christ, would we be humble and compassionate enough to receive their gifts and sit with them in their struggles?

Would we take her into our homes?

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.” From that time on, the disciple took her into his home.

Would we receive the vulnerable that Jesus places in our lives, in our families, in our community of faith? If we can’t, we need to stop and do some soul-searching. Why not? What barriers keep us from following Jesus’ word here?

The disciple whom Jesus loved took Mary into his home – he took Mary the disciple, Mary the stranger, and Mary the vulnerable into his home and treated her as if she was his own. May we, the family of God, united in Christ Jesus as brothers and sisters, show the same kind of welcome.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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