The first word of Jesus from the cross was a prayer to God, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The second word was an offer of forgiveness to a sinner, one of the criminals who was condemned to die with Jesus. To him he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The third word is now directed toward Jesus family and friends. As Jesus looks down from the cross he sees some of the people he loves the most and some of the people he knows love him the most. There is his mother Mary, her sister or more likely her sister in law, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ disciple John.
As we look at this little group it is confusing to understand who they all are because besides John there are three women all named Mary. The first Mary mentioned is Jesus’ mother and it’s obvious that she loves her son and as any mother would be, she is heart broken and devastated by watching him be crucified. The third Mary mentioned is also someone we hear about in the gospels and that is Mary Magdalene. She was a woman who was healed by Jesus when he drove out of her seven demons. Mary Magdalene showed her love and devotion to Jesus in many ways and there are many who think of this Mary as more of a disciple of Jesus than just a friend. The third Mary is not someone we know very much about. She is described as Mary, the wife of Clopas who is also the sister of Mary. I have to be honest and say that I have never really thought about this woman and why she is there, but as we begin to understand her story we begin understand more of what Jesus is saying in this word from the cross.
John 19:25b says that this Mary was the wife of Clopas and the sister of Mary. It would probably be more accurate to say she was Mary’s sister in law because early church tradition tells us that Clopas was Joseph’s brother. We actually know very little about what happened to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. He was obviously there when Jesus was born and he was there when they returned from Egypt and settled in Nazareth and there is also a story of Mary and Joseph still together when Jesus is a young boy, but there is no mention of Joseph at all once Jesus enters into ministry as an adult. What most people believe is that Joseph died at some point when Jesus was young and if that was the case then it would have been the responsibility of Joseph’s brothers to help care for Mary and her children.
If Clopas was Joseph’s brother, then he and his wife Mary would have taken Mary and her children under their care and helped provide for them after Joseph died. So it makes sense that during this time of pain and sorrow for both Mary and Jesus that she would be present with them. She would not only have been Jesus’ aunt, but also a second mother, a woman who loved Jesus and helped raise him. So when Jesus looks down from the cross what he sees is his family, but he doesn’t just see his biological family he sees his spiritual family as well because standing with Mary and Mary is Jesus’ disciple John and Mary Magdalene. Jesus loved these two people deeply, maybe more than any other, and he is concerned about them in this moment as well. When Jesus sees his closest friends and family in so much pain, and remember Jesus can see their pain because he is close enough to look deep into their eyes, he has compassion on them and he does all he can in this moment to help them by calling them to love and care for one another.
That’s what these words of Jesus really mean. When Jesus looks at his mother and says about John, “behold your son,” she wants Mary to accept the help and support John might give her. Jesus wants his mother to know that he is not going to abandon her but that through John he will continue to provide for her in the years to come. I think he also wants Mary to see John as her own son and reach out to love and support him because what he is going through right now is also painful. And when he looks at John and says about his mother Mary, “behold your mother” Jesus is saying to John that Mary is now going to be his responsibility. Jesus wants John to care for Mary as if she was his own mother and help her in very real and practical ways. Jesus knows that what these people are about to face is going to be difficult and so he wants them to be there for one another, not just in thought or word, but in action.
Now the level of love and commitment that Jesus calls them to have for one another is the deepest there can be because he calls them to actually care for each other as a mother and son, or a parent and child. To understand just how serious a commitment this is, we need to think back to the 10 Commandments. There is only one commandments that comes with a blessing and that is – Honor your father & mother. Look at Deuteronomy 5:16. That it is set apart as the only commandment that comes with a blessing tells us that it is important.
What is important to know that this commandment is that it was not given to young children in order to get them to obey their parents, this commandment was given to adult children who were being called to honor or actually physically care for their parents in their old age. Children were to physically, emotionally and financially support and provide for their parents as they got older. They were to work to make sure their parents had food and shelter and clothing and that they were protected under the law. So when Jesus looks down from the cross, this word creates a new family. Jesus is not calling them into some kind of superficial relationship of being nice to one another. It’s not about offering words of support, it’s not about sending cards on mother’s day or birthdays, this was to be a relationship of mutual responsibility and care. They were to be there for each other and take care of each other for the rest of their lives. There is a tradition tells us that this is exactly what happened and that John built Mary a home in Ephesus and that she lived out the rest of her life there.
What I think is so powerful about this word is that Jesus isn’t just concerned about his mother – it’s not just making sure she is cared for, which was his responsibility under the law, he is also concerned about his friend John. Jesus can look into John’s eyes and see his fear and grief and pain and he wants to do something to help take of him. So in compassion and love for John Jesus says to his mother Mary, “behold your son”. Jesus wants Mary to take her love and share it with John who will need of some love and support in the days to come.
Jesus wants these two people to take care of each other as if they are a real family and I think that is still God’s word for all of us today.
During his entire life, Jesus worked to establish and strengthen relationships. Think about his birth, when Jesus was born he brought people together. Shepherds came to Bethlehem and they encouraged Mary and Joseph who were wondering if God’s word to them about this baby being the son of God was true. When those shepherds showed up and told Mary and Joseph that a host of angels told them that their baby was the Messiah – it had to encourage them. That little group gathered by the manger found support in their very brief but powerful relationship with one another.
When Jesus healed lepers he didn’t just cleanse them physically, he restored their relationships. Once these people were clean they were able to return to their families and communities. Jesus healed children and gave them back to their parents. He forgave sinners and restored them to their family and friends. He invited people to follow him and created a new community of love, trust and commitment – a spiritual family. Jesus’ entire life was spent building and strengthening relationships and calling people into a spiritual family, relationships of love and commitment and support and once again we see that Jesus is dying the way he lived. What was important to him his entire life is now one of his last acts, one of his final words from the cross. Behold your son and behold your mother are words that helped strengthen relationships and deepen love and commitment.
New relationships of love and commitment have always been part of the mission of the church. In the book of Acts we get a picture of what this looks like. Look at Acts 2:43-47. What we see here are people committed to caring for one another no matter what is going on. When anyone had a need, the church was there to help. When someone struggled, others were there to provide comfort and strength. What we see is a real family where people were willing to truly love one another where love is defined as a sacrificial action and not just a sentimental emotion.
I have to be honest and say that the kind of family dynamics that Jesus created from the cross is rare. People taking other’s into their homes and lives isn’t the norm for us, but I have seen some examples of it that have been a blessing and inspiration to me. In Altoona there were two families that were willing to reach out and take into their homes young teenagers who were basically homeless. These weren’t long term situations, but they gave us all a glimpse of what kind of relationships Jesus calls us to develop. In Lewisburg there was a couple who cared for two elderly women who didn’t have much family and they took care of them as if they were their own mothers. They physically, financially, and spiritually cared for these women until they died and they asked for nothing in return. Again, they provided all of us in the church a glimpse of what it means to be the family of God. And here at Faith Church I see people reaching out to care for one another in very real ways. There are some here who have gone the extra mile and sacrificed their time and energy to care for people they have grown to love and these relationships, these spiritual families, reveal to us a glimpse of what the true family of God looks like. It’s was what Jesus was seeking to creating in one of his final words from the cross.
I wish we would see more of this in the life of the church, but honestly, I think we are afraid to do it. We are afraid of getting hurt. We are afraid of being taken advantage of, and sometimes we are afraid of asking for the help we know we need. I wonder what kind of fear Mary and John must have experienced when they looked at each other after Jesus said this word. How well do the even know each other? Did they trust each other? Did they have any real connection with each other at this point in time? There is nothing in the Bible that tells us that they did – what united them was their love for Jesus and his love for them.
What Mary and John teach us is that we can’t be afraid to reach out and work to build healthy and supportive relationships with those around us. Whether they are younger people who might need guidance, love and encouragement or older people who need physical care, comfort and support – we need to ask God to show us the family we need to develop. Who is here today that we might need to reach out and love? What families do we know in our neighborhoods that need some extra support? What needs in the schools or the nursing homes need our special attention and support? What students need a mentor, what college students need a host family or pen pal, what shut-in needs an adopted child or grandchild to spend time with them? There are people all around us in need of love and support and if we will open our ears and hearts to Jesus – he may share a word with us that will help us see them.
So this is not just a compassionate word that Jesus has for Mary and John from the cross; this is a word of direction for the church. We are to become a family in very real and practical ways. We are to care for one another the way we would care for our children or our parents. We need to seek ways to deepen and develop relationships with those around us who might need a little extra love and attention. We need to be willing to sacrifice what we have for the real needs of others. In a final word from the cross Jesus created a family and his word for us today is still to be that family – his family.
Final Words from the Cross ~ Behold your mother. Behold your son.
At the foot of the cross Jesus honors his mother and creates a new family.
1. How might God be calling you to honor your father and mother? How do your parents need your physical, financial, spiritual or emotional support? What can you do this week to help them?
2. What older adults might need your loving support? With families scattered around the nation and world, what older adults in the church or community could use your physical, emotional or spiritual help? What practical ways can you help them this week?
3. What children or youth might need your loving support? The responsibility of caring for children and youth belongs to all of us in the church, so what ways can you help children, youth and their families? Can you build a relationship with a family whose extended family lives far away?
4. How can you help lead the church in ministries that help meet the needs of seniors or children in our community? What relationships can you help establish and nurture with daycares, schools and nursing homes?
5. Take some time to reflect on the picture of the early church found in Acts 2: 3-47. How did the people care for one another like a family? How can Faith Church begin to do these things today?