Who Is My Mother?

Intense discussions have arisen over whether there is a need to redefine the concept of family. I won’t engage the various arguments here. I will, however, note that Jesus himself redefined family.

Before I explain that, permit me to share a story from my own tangled family.

Mom at Christmas

“What was Mom like at Christmas?” is an odd question to ask your own sisters, but then again my entire situation is odd—although not unusual.

My sisters looked at each other, eyes widening. “Yeaaah,” one of them said, her voice drawn out as if to capture the brand-new recognition. “She kept really busy at Christmas. Every year!”

“She was compartmentalizing,” my other sister added.

The occasion of this strange question occurred during my second meeting with my American sisters, the daughters of my birthmom. The date of my birth is close to Christmas 1960. My mother gave me up for adoption just days later.

My birthmom passed away before I could meet her. But every Christmas for most of my life I wondered how she might be feeling, wherever she was. She had to think about the baby she brought into the world years ago. I wanted her to know I was okay, and grateful for life. She could, perhaps, find peace in her pain.

People who know of my adoption sometimes refer to my “real” mom (their word), and I know what they mean. They mean the one who raised me, and they’re not wrong.

But that’s an incomplete picture. The truth is, it’s all real. I have two mothers. I call my birthmother Mom, the same term of endearment I also use for, well, Mom—the woman who changed my diapers, stayed up late nights with me, raised me, and would later pull her hair out trying to understand what could possibly motivate her impossible teenager to do that. (Yeah, I was that kid.).

The reason for calling them both Mom is simple. I consider both women heroic and essential. I love them both. One gave life to me; the other gave me a chance in life. Few contributions are more significant, yet more quickly forgotten.

My birth father had wanted me aborted for the simple reason that I was inconveniently conceived two months after my older brother. In 1960 in Switzerland, an abortion could easily be arranged. My American expatriate mom would have none of it. Neither would her good friends, my Swiss aunties I would not know about let alone meet until nearly six decades later. They supported her, took long walks with her, cried with her. She lived with one of them. Eventually, they took her to the railway station, six months pregnant with me, to say goodbye. Rejected by her boyfriend, Mom chose to go home to what she knew would be strong disapproval. Although she was taking me out of Europe, she would courageously bring me into the world.

Having said all this in praise of motherhood, it’s interesting to take a look at something startling that Jesus said. Jesus often affirmed the notion of the traditional family. He upheld the commandment to honor father and mother, and in the Sermon on the Mount he noted his Father’s hatred of divorce. He pointed out that even earthly parents, who are inherently selfish, will naturally take care of their children. But at times he seemed to undercut the idea of family. What was he doing?

Consider this scene. Jesus was in a house, surrounded by a crowd, when someone informed him, “Your mother and your brothers are asking for you” (Mark 3:32).

Jesus’s answer might be construed as rude. “Who is my mother?” he asked. “Who are my brothers?” (v. 33).

As Jesus seemed to do with every one of his interactions, he turned the moment into a teaching point—one that would indeed redefine the concept of family. “He looked at those around him and said, ‘Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (vv. 34–35).

The context makes it clear that Jesus means everyone who does God’s will is a part of his family. But in another setting he seemed to elaborate on his rather inclusive assertion. And it begins to get . . . exclusive.

It happened like this:

“A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, ‘If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25–27).

It’s helpful to compare this passage with a similar one in Matthew 10:37, where Jesus said, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.”

We rightly make much of the blood-relationships and the marriage bonds we have. Jesus wasn’t dismantling the God-ordained institution of human family. But there is a stronger bond Jesus is pointing to. He expands and elevates his family to one that has an eternally cohesive bond. And he offers membership in this family to anyone who will listen. That’s what he’s getting at when he asks, “Who is my mother?”

Yet the notion of human family—especially his mother—would remain dear to Jesus, right to the very end. John the disciple, Jesus’s closest earthly friend, writes of the Christ’s last moments on the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved [John himself], he said to her, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’” And he said to this disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from then on this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26–27).

The moment holds extra meaning for me because, in a very real sense, Jesus is giving his best friend to his mom in adoption. And John, in turn, is to care for Jesus’s mother as his own. Turning to Jesus doesn’t mean a repudiation of family. It means an expansion of our family.

I said earlier that my birthmom returned to the United States to face “strong disapproval.” Yet it was not universal disapproval, and it was not complete rejection. She found love, grace, and acceptance from some, including her brother and sister-in-law. She stayed with them for her last few months of pregnancy. Even though I can’t remember the kindness of my Uncle Vic and Aunt Sally, they got to see me after I arrived in this world on the first day of winter, 1960. They showed my mom the kind of love Jesus shows us, no matter where we’ve been, no matter what we’ve done.

In loving my mother, they loved me as well. They loved me like family.


How do you define your own family? Who is included?

How do you react to Jesus’s statement that we must, “by comparison,” hate family if we are to follow him?

What other things might you love more than God?

In what ways, and to whom, can you show the kind of love Jesus shows to us?