There is a natural grace and dignity in motherhood. Mothers give birth. They nurture. They care. But the gospel reveals an even deeper, broader scope of motherhood. When our Lord hung from the cross—in the very act of making atonement for our sins—he remembered his mother.
It was a violent and grisly scene. Jesus was impaled to wood. Calloused soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothing. In sharp contrast, Jesus speaks these words of astonishing care and tenderness:
“Woman, behold thy son!” Then he saith to the disciple [John], “Behold thy mother!”
Jesus cared immensely for his mother, and his words tell us that mothers are worth caring for.
But these words tell us something else as well. They tell us that, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, being a mother means more than having conceived a child. Because of Jesus’ death, bereaved “mothers can find sons and sons find mothers.” The disciple John now has a mother who had not given him birth. And the Mary, the mother bereft of the son to whom she had given birth, now has a son to whom she had not given birth. The gospel deepens and broadens what it means to be a mother.
But Mary had other sons besides Jesus. Why didn’t Jesus charge them to care for his mother? The fact that they weren’t present at the cross was beyond mere coincidence: it is only at the cross of Christ that family relationships find their true significance. This is what Jesus meant when, earlier in his life, “he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother’” (Matthew 12:49-50).
In following Jesus, then, childless parents find children, and parentless children find parents. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29).
Paul, himself a follower of Jesus, also understood the wider and deeper scope of motherhood. Near the end of his letter to the Romans, he sent greetings to another disciple, Rufus, and Rufus’s mother, whom Paul also claimed as his own mother: “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine” (Romans 16:13). In Christ, mothers find sons, and sons find mothers.
Jesus’ tender words from the cross affirm that mothers deserve honor. But his words also reveal that motherhood is much more than conceiving a child. From Jesus’ perspective, the most significant thing that a woman can share with someone is not her DNA, but her faith in Christ.