“Here is your son” (v. 26), Jesus said to His mother. In contrast to Pilate’s abdication of his responsibility to Jesus and justice (“Here is the man” – v. 5, “Here is your king” – v. 14), Christ took control regarding His mother’s care. It’s an interesting situation we don’t know as much about as we’d like, but it’s worth exploring.
Crucifixions were ghastly, horrid executions performed in open air so they could be in full view of family, friends, and everyone else. It was Rome thrusting its chest out to say this is what happens if you have the audacity to oppose us. There were plenty of ways to take a person’s life, but this was the ultimate in cruelty, shame, and humiliation.
Christ had earlier made the choice not to drink the wine and gall (Matthew 27:34)—the first century equivalent of general anesthesia and it enabled Him to remain alert and lucid. Still, it’s remarkable that in the midst of His pain and suffering He was able to focus on His mother’s care. But then again, it’s so in line with who He was and the way He lived that at another level it doesn’t surprise us.
As for Mary, the aged Simeon had told her over three decades before regarding Jesus that a sword would pierce her soul (Luke 2:35). Whether she had experienced this before is debatable (Mark 3:20-21,31-35); whether she experienced this at the cross is indisputable. No parent is supposed to see their child die—much less in this manner. We can only imagine what she was going through. But this is what happens when you get involved in the redemption of the world (Colossians 1:24).
It’s apparent that Joseph has died. Although Jesus has at least half a dozen siblings (Mark 6:3), He does not leave Mary in their care. At this time, none of them are believers in Him (John 7: 5). By first century standards (or even 21st century standards), this is unusual and underscores that as important as fleshly ties might be, the bonds of faith are stronger and of greater importance.
Finally, there’s John. Jesus says to him, “Here is your mother” (v. 27). If it was unusual that Jesus entrusted Mary to John’s care rather than one of his siblings, it’s even more striking that he refers to Mary as his mother since John’s mother (Salome) was still very much alive (Matthew 20:20). She was there at the cross (Mark 15:40), and would be present at His tomb (Mark 16:1). She was one of a group of women who had come up from Galilee and “had followed Him and cared for His needs” (Mark 15:40-41).
But there’s more.
Salome appears to have been Mary’s sister (compare the accounts of the women at the cross in Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40 and John 19:25). This would make John and James cousins of Jesus. Things start to come together a little more now. Although Jesus’ siblings were bypassed for Mary’s care, by choosing John He stayed within the larger family.
This also helps us to understand what Jesus means when He speaks of them having a mother/son relationship. Mary is not replacing Salome as John’s mother any more than John is replacing Jesus as Mary’s son. However, Christ has chosen a trusted friend and follower from His extended (physical) family to take care of Mary. Furthermore, the time John has spent with Jesus and his consciousness of Christ’s love for him to the point that he identifies himself as “the disciple Jesus loved,” qualify him, perhaps uniquely so, to be “son” to the woman who has so much from Jesus’ earlier life to share with him.
Finally, all of this is put into further context by passages like 10:29-30 and 1 Timothy 5:1-2 which give us a look at how relationships in Christ become reordered. Most of us can think of godly men and women who been like fathers and mothers to us as well as younger people who’ve become like sons and daughters. To be in Christ is to be blessed with a family like no other!