April 8, 2020
Seven Last Words of Christ – “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” [John 19:26-27]
This interchange is perhaps the most humanizing and sentimentally endearing of all the last words of Jesus on the cross. It speaks to us on a most basic level: as a loving human son, Jesus is concerned for His mother’s well-being. Who among us can fail to be moved by such a scene? No doubt there is this merely human act going on in this moment, but there is much more for us to understand, by which we can and should be even more deeply moved.
George Beasley-Murray reminds us that the act of Jesus at this moment is not completely unique. “A crucified man has the right to make testamentary dispositions, even from the cross. Jesus now makes use of this right, and with the official formula of the old Jewish family law he places his mother under the protection of the apostle John.” This undertaking by the Lord is, however, unique in another sense when we consider a different account from Matthew 12:46-50 and Mark 3:31-35. Here Jesus’ “mother and brothers” arrive at the place where Jesus is disrupting things by His ministry and “are seeking Him.” No matter what we think about who these brothers of Jesus are – the children of Joseph from a previous marriage (as Roman Catholics insist) or the subsequent children of Mary and Joseph – the implications are clear: there was a family structure already in place to care for Mary after the death of Jesus. So, Jesus is not meeting a need for his mother’s future care that otherwise would not have been met.
There is a very deep Christological (theology about Christ) implication that is involved in Jesus’ directive. He is not making a recommendation but is proclaiming the new reality that His life and sacrifice make possible. Now, because of Him, relationships are to be defined in relation to Him. Mary, the woman through whom God gave His Son to the world – the mother of God Incarnate – will be the responsibility of the disciple of Jesus – the disciple whom he loved. In the same way, John is to now see Mary as his own mother, because she is the one by whom Christ – the Lord of John – came into the world. On the cross, by giving this “testamentary disposition,” Jesus is declaring His Lordship over the lives of all those who have believed in Him. Mary has believed from the first, and John was among the first of the Twelve. In Christ, relationships are to be defined and established in a brand new focus.
How might this episode relate to us and challenge us? Here, the words of St. Paul in II Corinthians 5:14-16 can be a helpful guide.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised. So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…”
Jesus, no doubt, loved His mother. The disciple Jesus calls to see her as mother is described as “the disciple whom he loved.” The love of Christ on a human level is clear. And yet, there is more going on here than simple human adoration, affection, and caring. An expression of a new kind of love is involved. It is the love of Jesus the God-Man, Jesus the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus the atoning divinely given sacrifice for the world. In Him a new focus of love is now commanded, not just love for our families or our acquaintances or those we know well enough to appreciate. We are called to see everyone as more than our fellow human beings or even our fellow believers. Rather, we are called to see everyone – and especially those who belong to Jesus Christ by faith – “no longer from a worldly point of view,” but only in light of the reality of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord.
The person you cannot get along with in Church – here is a person you are to see in Christ.
The person who has offended you and hurt you – here is a person you are to see in Christ.
The person on the street who is homeless –here is a person you are to see in Christ.
The person you don’t know in the midst of the virus panic –here is a person you are to see in Christ.
The person who comes from a different race – here is a person you are to see in Christ.
The person to whom you are married – here is a person you are to see in Christ.
The person who is your parent or your child – here is a person you are to see in Christ.
The person who hates you, who gossips about you, who tries to turn others against you –here is a person you are to see in Christ.
Everyone you meet is either a brother, sister, mother, or father of yours in Jesus because of their confession of Him. Or each individual you meet is someone who Christ desires to be part of His family who you are to see in that light.
In Holy Week, we must recall that Christ gave His life for us all, Christ intends to reclaim all our fallen lives, and Christ will ultimately bring renewal to all of God’s Creation. To contemplate His suffering is not to focus upon our individual benefit (as wondrous as that is), but it is to remember that by His self-giving sacrifice He is creating a New Humanity a New Reality a New Family of God.
So, because we live in Him and see life through His eyes, when we see others, let us hear Him say –“here is your. . . .”