Friday, February 15, 2019

Jesus' Family (John 19)

This is probably my third or fourth post on this topic. I was engaged with it over the Lunar New Year as for a first time in many years, I did not celebrate it with my family in Kota Kinabalu but decided to go to Singapore instead. In fact, I did celebrate as when my brother found out I was going to Singapore, he invited me over to his place and we had a reunion dinner two days before the actual date. Everyone was there gathered together except my youngest brother who was in Australia with his son who had just enrolled at a Sydney High School. Last year at Chinese New Year I remember having 5 or 6 lunches and dinners in a row over 4 days. The last one was at my place and without a helper/maid it was tough getting dinner ready for about 20 people. But the question of family has occupied me for a while as my last four years were spent in Ranau, a rural town two hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu with the Bible College another 20 minutes away from Ranau. I have always considered my church as my true family as Jesus clearly taught in the Gospels and also the apostles' teachings in the epistles. Even though in most churches we can't find that family atmosphere but God's Word remains true and it is up to the church leaders to create that vision of Jesus' family among his disciples. Speaking of Jesus' family, I will now discuss the text of John 19 where Jesus commits his mother to the care of his disciple. It is extremely interesting on several accounts.
Earlier in John's Gospel (John 2 & 7), we find that Jesus had brothers and they travelled with him from time to time along with their mother (John 2). In John 7, we have an episode where there was a discussion among siblings whether Jesus should go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles. "If you want to be known openly, go and show yourself" so said the brothers to Jesus. It is interesting to note that for Jesus' brothers, Jesus' works were done in secret and Jesus behaved in such a way as to not attract attention to himself. I learned this lesson a long time ago. Often people asked me in Sabah - "Do you get invitations to speak in Singapore anymore?" and when I am in Singapore, "Did any churches invite you to preach?" I often marvelled at these questions or queries about my schedule of ministry. I care not for invitations from local churches or overseas. In fact, I get stressed every time I receive an invitation to preach whether to a group of 50 or 500 people. When I am in Sabah, and in Ranau as such, I do not want to travel to KK (2.5 hours drive) and then fly to Kuala Lumpur (2.5 hours' flight) or Singapore (2 hours plus) just to preach one Sunday or conduct a day-long seminar. Twice last year, I rejected invitations from a KL church to travel there to conduct a short course and preach over the weekend. I have my hands full just travelling and speaking in Sabah without the trouble of more travel across the South China Sea. Sometimes, I marvel that 50 or 100 people a day read my blog from all over the world. I don't promote myself or tell anyone to go read my blog. When I started my Instagram 19 months ago, I had 2 followers for almost a year before getting to over 160 within the last 6 months or so. And  I followed no one. Likewise in Linkedin (108 followers) I get invitations to connect but I don't initiate contacts. No matter what I know I need to get the message out and I need to learn to be more savvy on social media to do that.

So in John 19 when Jesus was hanging on the cross, He committed his mother to the care of his beloved disciple, John. Why did Jesus do that? Why did Mary agree to Jesus' proposal that she went to John's home instead? Did not Mary have other sons to look after her? I believe this text especially coming from Jesus in his last hour on earth is critical to our understanding of Jesus' conception of His family. By now, it is clear Mary has become a follower of His son, Jesus. Perhaps initially Mary had her doubts and in vain tried to show his motherly instinct without knowing Jesus was now a full grown up with the Father's mission as his primary focus (Luke 2 & John 2).

The Three Marys were seen at the foot of the cross. Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary, Jesus' aunt, and Mary Magdalene. In the midst of these three Marys, John his disciple was also there at the foot of the cross. The three Marys were there as Jesus' disciples first and foremost. Perhaps maternal and familial concerns play a large part in them being present but I want to suggest that they were at Jesus' cross as Jesus' disciples. Jesus' brothers were conspicuously absent. Why was that? It is because at that time they were not believers and not included in the circle of Jesus' disciples. Mary by now knows Her Son's mission is to create a new community based on Jesus Himself as the core and centre. Jesus' teaching of "loving one another as I have loved you" in John 13 is directed to his disciples for only His disciples know the extent of Jesus' love and not the world. As the eldest son, Jesus felt the responsibility of caring for His mother beyond His earthly life. Who was Jesus' true brother? His natural brothers did not believe in Him but it was John who was closest to Jesus and was Jesus' true brother. So by telling Mary, "behold your son" as referring to John was no surprise because to Jesus, John, unrelated to him in flesh and blood was the true sibling and that His mother as a follower, should be committed to the care of Jesus' true family, his disciples. Conversely, Jesus said to John, "behold your mother". Is it because Mary being Jesus' mother had a claim over others for John's care? No, it is because Mary is also a disciple like John for Jesus had earlier spoken that "he/she who does the will of God is my brother, sister and my mother." For John, Mary is his mother because the mother of Jesus, being Jesus' disciple is also his (John's) mother and it is John's responsibility to take care of his spiritual mother or sister as part of Jesus' family. One final remark is that did not Jesus' actual brothers had claim on their mother? I believe that it was Mary's choice not to go with her other sons since they did not believe in Jesus. Mary is now reborn (John 3) and she understands that Jesus' teaching that Jesus' true family is made up of his disciples of whom John and Mary, the mother of Jesus are now part of.

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