John, the son of Zebedee, the disciple Yeshua loved, saw the three women standing near the foot of the cross.
The four Roman soldiers guarding the crosses seemed to pay the women no attention. John plucked up his courage and approached, taking his place beside Mary, the mother of the Master. The Master looked down and saw His beloved disciple standing with His beloved mother.
The Torah commands a son to honor his father and mother. The sages understood this to mean (at a minimum) providing for one’s parent’s physical needs, that is, to financially and physically assist his mother and father, especially in their latter years, if necessary.
As the Master faced His imminent death, His thoughts turned to the welfare of His mother—His last earthly responsibility. As the firstborn of the house, she had been His charge since the death of His father. He discharged that trust to His closest disciple, ensuring that His mother would be provided for and fulfilling one last, great mitzvah. He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:27) The last commandment Yeshua fulfilled before death came with a promise of long life: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12).
A crucified man had the right to make legal dispositions from the cross. For example, Jewish law says that if a crucified man indicated that he wanted to give his wife a certificate of divorce to free her from legal ramifications, they would write it out for him and hand it over to her, so long as he was still breathing.
Why did the Master charge one of His disciples with responsibility for His mother when that responsibility naturally fell to His younger brothers? James, the brother of the Master, should have become the provider and protector of their mother. Yeshua wanted to bring reconciliation to His two estranged families. At the foot of the cross, His mother and His aunt represented His natural family. His disciples Mary Magdalene and John the son of Zebedee represented His family of disciples.
His Davidic family from Nazareth resented His rejection of them and His adoption of a family of disciples. On one occasion, Mary and His brothers tried to forcibly remove Him from Capernaum and return Him to Nazareth. He did not even admit them into His presence. Instead, He replied, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” (Mark 3:33). Motioning to the disciples seated around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35).
At the cross, He sought to reconcile His natural family with His family of disciples by placing His mother (the matriarch of the Nazareth clan) under the care of His disciples. Henceforth His mother and the beloved disciple were to stand in relationship to one another as mother and son, with John taking Yeshua’s own place in the family.
Likewise, He left His disciples under the leadership and administration of James, His younger brother. Henceforth, His brother James occupied His role over His disciples. Neither the Gospels nor Acts narrate the appointment of James, but the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas reports the following:
The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “Wherever you are, you are to go to James the Righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”
The intertwining of relationships ensured the unification of the two families into one community.