A Meditation on John 19:25-27: "Behold, Thy Mother"

Rogier van der WeydenCrucifixion Diptych (c. 1460)

The following is a meditation that I wrote for Biola's Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts. It was written specifically for their Lent Project. Each day of Lent they invite a different person to reflect on a relevant text which, in turn, has been matched to a poem, a piece of music and a work of visual art. It's quite a wonderful resource, thanks in no small part to the keen leadership of Barry Krammes.

How I came upon this opportunity is a bit of serendipity--or, more properly, a bit of providence. I was walking down Walnut Street on my way to Fuller's Guest House in Pasadena, California. I had bumped into my friend Bruce Herman. I was in town for the Brehm Center's Culture Care conference; Bruce was in town for art reasons. We were catching up on the day's activities when we crossed paths with Barry Krammes and a couple of his colleagues. One thing led to another and both Bruce and I were invited to contribute to CCCA's Lent Project. We both accepted on the spot.

You can find the original reflection here, on the Lent Project site. Here below is the text of my reflection on Jesus' words to his mother, Mary, and to the beloved disciple, John. His words represent, for the church's practice of Holy Week, one of the "Seven Last Words of Jesus."

Day 43: Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Text: John 19:25-27.
Title: Mary & John at the Foot of the Cross

“Woman, I bought a life insurance policy. It will take care of you from here on out. You will find the security information under the mattress at home.”

As best we can tell, Jesus did not speak these words. Nor did he say, “Woman, get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell.” Nor: “Woman, find a good nursing home and take care of yourself.” Nor: “Woman, stay with your sister, the other Mary. She’s family.”

No “Mother,” only “Woman.”

No “I love you,” only “Behold, your son.”

This is the last exchange that we see take place in the Gospel of John between Jesus and his mother. It is the official record of Jesus’ farewell to the mother who bore him, the Theotokos, the God-bearer, as the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD officially declared Mary. “Behold: your mother.” What exactly is Jesus on about?

Here, on the cross, as at the beginning of his earthly ministry and to the very end, Jesus is forming a new family. This is not a family bound by law; it is not a family linked by common religious heritage; it is not the family of the paterfamilias. It is the family of Jesus, the Body of Christ, formed by the crucified and resurrected body of Christ, comprised of every tongue, tribe and nation.

It is noteworthy that Jesus does not ask his mother, Mary, her opinion. He does not ask John for permission. He simply says, here’s your son; there’s your mother. It all seems rather presumptuous. With his last breaths, a desperate man impulsively makes arrangements for his disconsolate mother by presuming upon his beloved friend.

This is of course to take a cynical view of the “deathbed” exchange. It is quite the opposite. The exchange that takes place is a grace and a sign. When Jesus gives his mother to John, and vice versa, he enacts in this one instance what will become normative for the church throughout the ages. 

Families fractured by the sword shall find a new home in the family of Jesus. Families broken apart because of a betrayal by blood shall be placed in the household of God. Strangers shall become fellow citizens; the lonely shall be surrounded by brothers and sisters; the abandoned shall be adopted; the barren shall be comforted by sons and daughters by faith.

Whatever else Jesus intends with these words from the cross, he means to signal a hopeful future: with God as our Father, Jesus as our elder Brother and the Spirit as the One who unites the brokenhearted, like Mary and John and the rest of us, into a family that, by grace, becomes a foretaste of the home for which our hearts everlastingly yearn.

Oh Lord, you who put the lonely in homes and cause strangers to become friends, we pray that you would bless our church family so that we might become a place that embraces the lonely and welcomes the stranger, for the glory of your name. Amen.

Wojciech Piechowski, Crucifixion (1889)     


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