John 19: 25-27 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
At the beginning of Lent this year, a girlfriend of mine sat amongst a table full of contraband she had just collected and said. “I have declared no sugar for anyone in my house for lent”. She has three children under the age of thirteen who think that sugar is one of the four food groups… the other being soda, chips and McDonald’s cheeseburgers. “Boy this ought to be a cheery household.” I said, popping a peanut M&M into my mouth. She looked at me almost appalled that I already refuted her mandate, but realizing that didn’t necessarily include guests she softened. And finally said earnestly as if she were second guessing her decision reflecting just how long six weeks actually was cried out “Why do we do this again? I mean…know it has something to do with Christ and all….. Sacrifice… blah blah blah. Oh …..You’re the Pastor… what is it really all about?”
This truly was a loaded question for a theology junkie. I wanted to come up with some really good theological treatise as to why we sacrifice during lent but all I could say was….well… to remember Christ sacrifice on the cross for us….we want to identify with him. I guess it is a bit like WWJD (what would Jesus do?) but it is sort of like J L J D (just like Jesus did)……
The very thought seemed almost absurd to me, that I just accepted that it had always been done, I could loosely frame it in sacrifice and leave it at the door…But for a moment, I was caught in my own apathy…. And how Lenten sacrifice often became a game of wills and conversations about what to give up thus revealing personal weaknesses…….So during this whole season I did not give up a thing….instead I decided to go on a journey of discovering, at least for my own benefit, to figure out exactly….. What was this really all about to me? Because somehow me not eating peanut m and m’s for six weeks hardly compared to what Christ suffered.
But isn’t that the point…. What can really compare? How do we identify with Christ and what he went through on the cross and even think that we can come remotely close to understanding his pain? How does our sacrifice of the small pleasures, sugar, TV , gossip, wine….how can that even tenuously evaluate our sacrifice? It doesn’t and it cannot and will not no matter how hard we try….but we still try… because on some level…… some mysterious level, we identify with Christ in his suffering…. because he identified with us in ours.
He traveled the same route to birth that each one of us made, he cut his teeth, learned to walk, He got acne, , He made friends, He made enemies (he was an expert at that) …. He listened to the stories his mother told him about distant relatives their journeys and there sacrifice to worship Yahweh…even though he knew them before there was time…..He was so much like us and then so much not…so in our limited comprehension…. we try and understand a fraction of what it must have been like to be him.
I am always drawn to the relationship that Jesus had with his mother. I am the mother of sons and I know there is a special bond that is hard to explain in words: Mothers have a special place in their hearts for sons….and as we try and identify with Jesus during his suffering, I am often drawn to Mary and to her reaction in the face of that suffering….At some level it is easier for me to identify with Mary who birthed divinity though still remained human….. It was Mary who was up all night with him when he cut his first teeth; Mary who picked him up dusted the sand from his chin when he tripped trying to walk. Mary who probably gave him a pep talk when his face broke out, who watched him befriend a motley crew of twelve guys…. Who was there when he delighted wedding guests with the heavenly wine and turned a boy’s lunch into food for a village….
And it was Mary who sobbed for him as he was beaten and tortured by the enemies that sought to kill her baby, to crucify… her boy…. Mary watched it all, stood back in silence knowing this was all a necessary part of that story the angel whispered into her heart 34 winters prior, before her hair grew gray and wrinkles creased the sides of her eyes when she laughed….but at that time it was some distant truth… so far away it was easy for her to push it back to the recesses of her memory. It must have seemed almost surreal to her… here she was at the cross, listening to the soldiers divide his clothes and then cast lots when it came to his tunic.
Perhaps it was the one she wove for him to wear during that year’s Passover, the one that he used to dry the disciples feet just the night before it was white, seamless, made from the lamb that had been chosen for the feast. She listened to the cackle of the soldiers laugh when they decided not to rip it because it would be a shame to waste good piece of wool as if wool were the only thing worth saving and hardly knowing that they were fulfilling prophecy spoken centuries before.
The word says, While the soldiers did this, standing nearby was Mary, when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved which we understand to be John… he looked at his mother and said. “Woman here is your son”. It really is a beautiful picture, and as I thought about this text and these words that Jesus spoke to mother I became aware that there were many levels of meaning in these words he spoke.
I am grateful that God allows circumstances to reveal deeper spiritual truths and as I was pouring over this text it appeared to me that Jesus call from the cross revealed God’s intricate tapestry of meaning, And I love the way that this had never occurred to me before…It is almost like the way I can watch a really good movie and understand the plot and yet the second or third time I see it different nuances are revealed that were not evident the first time. They were always there, a background effect, the facial gesture of an actor, a line that had layered meanings. These shades of significance and intention planned by the precision of the director were always there and if I just watched it once I might have miss it, but upon closer scrutiny and familiarity it somehow becomes clearer, almost tangible….this is what I feel is going on with this text when it says “Woman here is your son.” Simple words but profound in their meaning. The mode of death during crucifixion was suffocation so..I am sure that Christ chose his words with great economy…. So why those words…why then … I think it was here that Christ looked to his mother, who watched the men divide his clothes and reached out to her in the most basic way and that was….Care for his mother’s earthly protection. As a woman with no husband she most likely would have been under the care of Jesus as the first born, by placing her in the care of the John, Jesus was providing for her to have her most basic needs met and that was her financial and earthly protection. Some scholars note even further that his address to her as “woman” as opposed to “mother” was twofold, one to spare her the grief of hearing her son call out to her as Mother and secondly to protect her anonymity further from the angry mob who was intent on killing the King they had welcomed just days before.
At first glance Christ care of his mother reminds me of Gods over arching grace Methodists call it provinient grace….…that he cares for creation, provides rain to the just and unjust alike, clothes the lilies and counts the hairs of our head….
But as we examine the text closer, meditate on its deeper meaning another nuance becomes evident. The dynamic of the mother son relationship was a bit problematic; there was a hierarchical positioning that occurred within that very dynamic. But at the cross Jesus could no longer be her son… he needed to be her savior.
There is a great scene in The Passion a movie that came out a few years back that depicts this scene so poignantly. While my explanation will not do the cinematography justice, this is an attempt to capture the scene…but I recommend that if you have never watched it…You must.
Mary is watching Jesus travel the road amidst the jeering crowd and brutalizing gaurds carrying the cross. She is at quite a distance and asks John to get her close to her son. But as she looks at Jesus from a shortened distance she gets a full view of how bloodied and bruised he actually is and her grief is almost too much to bear, she turns away in despair. But as a soldier trips him she is instantly reminded of a time years before and they show a flash back to Jesus as a young boy probably not yet five, and as he played he ran and tripped… Mary hears his fall and how he cries out…she runs to comfort him as a child and this prompts her to run and comfort him as he traveled to road that day flashing back and forth in slow motion is a mother crying out to rescue her son.
”Jesuah, Jesuah, I am here”. She picks him up as the child he lovingly looks into her eyes obviously comforted by her embrace, The scene flashes back from history to the present and she runs to Jesus struggling to get up and cries out “Jesuah, Jesuah I am here” he looks at her bloodied and bruised and instead of being comforted ….he comforts her and whispers “Behold Mother… I make all things new”
You see, Mary was his mother, his protector …but Jesus words from the cross gave her the necessary position and provision to let Christ become her savior instead of her son….her Lord who would make all things new, that day and for eternity
Which brings us to our final layer of meaning: At the cross of Jesus no one can remain the same. When we accept Christ’s worthiness for our own unworthiness, an eternal mystical transaction occurs; a transformation takes place that begins to make us something that we were not before…a new creation. Behold he makes all things new.
We cannot come to the cross earnestly understanding this sacrifice and not change, it is the work and power of God’s spirit and when there is authentic desire to know and love like Christ: God’s power wells up in our hearts and spills out all over the place onto people we, know, people we meet….This holy Spirit power is released and prompts change in us, transforms us. Though we will never be without sin this side of heaven, still we are never the same … we come to the cross as one person and leave as another, the things we once held dear and clung to become dim in comparison to what we experienced at the cross.
As young mother years before, Mary sat in a manger with her infant son and pondered these things in her heart., what was she thinking about then, perhaps in one way it all came down to this conversation, that despite the pain and the grief and the tremendous agony she knew here at the hill named Golgatha; it was not the end of something but the beginning of great things.
And so it is with us, if we come to the cross willingly, aware that we cannot relate to his pain but we want to know him despite our inadequacy. Jesus will provides us with the most basic of care, provision for the day…relationships to share, even Spring for the weary souls….. And if we dare to listen more intently we hear that call to salvation, that alone we cannot behave our way into the kingdom but that our perception of who we are must change if we are to let Jesus be our savior…. if we stay a while at the cross… we begin to realize that we leave differently than when we first came. We are no longer part of the world’s family but we are part of a greater inheritance that if our heart seeks Christ… we cannot remain SAME… that we cannot really listen to the words he spoke and he still speaks today and remain unchanged So listen to the words he spoke one of the last that he spoke before he died….. “Woman behold your son, son behold your mother.”