This is from a short homily I delivered regarding a few of the last words of Jesus.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour, the disciple received her as his own. - John 19:26-27, translation my own. Note below.
What if every time we left a vulnerable, grieving member of our family behind, we turned to another beloved and said, “Please, receive my family as your family.” But we are not taught to do this! Our culture has us holding our chin up! Standing on our own two feet! You should learn to be self-reliant!
Have you heard these messages? “You can do it if you try!”
Recently, as in Tuesday, I heard similar words come from a youth’s mouth. He is 15, from a marginalized area in Seattle, and struggling in detention. He and I were talking about what his next steps were and what his dreams of life were. He described a future where he could have a house that his family lived in—his mother and brothers and where he could have a game room and a workout room. Maybe, it would be a game room – slash – workout room—that was negotiable.
Taking that as his vision for his life, we talked about accomplishments that would enable him to achieve his vision of a cared for, stable, ordinary family and house. He expressed the thought that he should get a job now while his rent was free so he could save all his money and buy a house when he was 18. He could do it! All by himself! All he needed was a job at the Boys and Girls Club that pays $600 per month and he’s good. He can do it if he tries. It is all in his hands.
Never mind that he has a criminal record. Never mind that he can’t do math or science and probably will not be able to graduate high school. Never mind that he has nobody in his community to help him—I asked. None of that matters. He has bought the cultural ideal of independence and self-reliance.
The question is, what comes next? What will happen when this youth cannot get a bank loan, a full time job, or a GED? He will blame himself, not the systems that have failed him. And in blaming himself, he will be filled with shame and sadness.
In these words of Christ, we could hear not a nice moment of care-taking between beloved disciple and mother, but a command of how we should care for one another, especially those who are vulnerable. These words of Christ call out to us to receive our vulnerable youth, those affected by incarceration, gangs, and substance abuse.
What difference would it make to a vulnerable youth to have someone behold them! See them! Love them! Receive them!
Interestingly, another possibility examining the word for “receive” in Greek elaben is the word “catch.” Doesn’t that really bring a different feeling to this? We are not only being called to receive the vulnerable among us, but to catch them. Provide a safety net that will enable them to grow into all that they were created to be.
Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son—and you—behold your mother.”
What if we said, “Community, behold your children—and you—behold your community.”
What a difference it would make!
Translation note: Most translations include something along the lines that the disciple took the woman into his home. There is absolutely no textual evidence to support that. No word is present that represents home, house, household, or anything like it. It is not there. Also, many translations include that the beloved disciple was John. That is also without textual evidence. The only evidence we have is that there was a beloved disciple. Who that was is up for grabs. It most certainly was not the author of John as the author lived at least 60 years after the death of Jesus. Early timelines estimate the Gospel of John being written in about 90 CE to 120 CE.