In his final hours on the cross, Jesus spoke his “Last Seven Words.” Not simple words, but phrases rich and deep with meaning for those who proclaim him “Jesus, Savior, Redeemer and Lord.” We continue our exploration of these extraordinary words of our Lord.
The Third Word: “Woman, here is your son.” (John 19:26)
Naked and bleeding, our Lord Jesus looked down from his cross of suffering and saw his mother. The mother who carried him in her womb. The woman who took care of him as any loving mother would stood watching him die. She brought him into the world and was now watching him leave. Can you imagine her anguish? Mary may have been pondering Simeon’s prophecy when the infant Jesus was presented at the temple: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”’ (Luke 2:34-35, NRSV)
As the eldest son, Jesus had the responsibility of ensuring that his mother was taken care of when he was gone. We know that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses [Joseph] and Judas [Jude] and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, NRSV) So, then, why did Jesus commend the care of his mother to John?
Only the “disciple whom Jesus loved” was present at the Crucifixion. The others had fled in fear. No mention of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, is made after Jesus’ teaching in the temple at age twelve. The assumption is that between the temple event and the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Joseph had died. But where were Jesus’ brothers? A clue comes from the Gospel of John: “After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ (For not even his brothers believed in him.)” (John 7:1-5, NRSV) This shows us that with the exception of Mary, Jesus’ immediate family did not believe him to be the Messiah. At one point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ family goes out into the crowd that had gathered and tried to “restrain” him because the people were saying “he has gone out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)
Jesus’ concern for the future care of his mother reveals Jesus’ humanity. When we ponder the ministry, life, death and resurrection of our Lord, we tend to focus on the divinity of Jesus. On the Cross of Calvary, Jesus died as the Savior of the World, but to Mary, he was her first born child. With our focus on the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, sometimes we forget that our Lord was both fully human and fully divine. As we confess in the Athanasian Creed:
For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and man. He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother—existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body.
As a fully human son, Jesus’ chief concern was for the care of his earthly mother even as he was being crucified. He chose John, the disciple whom he loved, because Jesus knew John would be a good and faithful son to Mary and care for her until the end of her days. The reality of Jesus’ humanity brings us comfort and hope. He has felt pain, loneliness, and despair. He has walked in our shoes. He knows how we feel when times are dark and the world overwhelms us. He’s not some distant God looking down at us, having no clue what we go through when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He’s been there and knows how to comfort us and bring us hope for a brighter day.
We can also see in Jesus’ choice of John the necessity of having a “spiritual” family (the faith community). Since no mention is made of Jesus’ brothers’ being at the cross, we assume that they still did not believe their brother Jesus to be the Messiah, but John did. Jesus wanted his mother cared for by a member of the faith community. It wasn’t until the resurrection that Jesus’ family came to believe. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Acts 1:14, NRSV) Later, James became the leader of church in Jerusalem and was eventually martyred for his faith. Like Mary, we need our “spiritual” family (the church). We are created to be in community.
In awe of my Lord’s humanity,