On Mary, Abraham, and John

26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to ahis own home. (John 19:26-27 ESV)

This is a great moment of compassion and reconciliation. At its most basic level, this saying of Jesus is not hard to understand. Jesus is trying to take care of his mother. They have not always had the best of relationships. You can imagine that it was not easy to be the mother of Jesus.

Mary is pregnant as a virgin before her marriage, but the community would not have believed that. She is forced to flee to Egypt as a young mother to save her son. Remember the incident in Luke 2 when Jesus is 12. Mary and Joseph think he is travelling with the family back from Jerusalem, but Jesus remains there to teach in the Temple. They look for him for 3 days. When they finally find him, he says, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

We know from John 7 that Jesus brothers do not believe. We also see this incident in Mark 3, that Mary and his brothers come to see Jesus, but he won’t see them, and he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus also says in Luke 14:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

These kinds of conversation would have been difficult to understand for Mary. And now, imagine this day for Mary. Now your son has been arrested, falsely accused, beaten, whipped. Was she in the crowd as those around her yelled to crucify him? Was she next to someone who asked for Barabbas to be spared?  Did she follow and see him stumble under the weight of the cross on the way to Golgotha?

We don’t know when she joined him, but we do know that she watches him on that cross. Can you now understand the healing and reconciling words these are from the cross? He is caring for his mother. He is trusting this disciple he was so close to with something so important as his own mother.

But we must also consider that these words are recorded in the book of John. John is not the historian or fact seeker that Luke is. John’s gospel is both theological and symbolic. For instance, he does not give a Christmas story, but instead talks about the Word becoming flesh.

John may have recorded these words to justify his care of Mary. They were certainly critical moments in his life, and perhaps the most honoring request he ever received. “John, take care of my mother as if she was your own.”

Yet I think this moment of compassion and care has symbolic significance. There is an interesting thing going on in the Greek. Most translations, including the one I read, say that from then on John took Mary into his own home. But the word home is not there in the Greek. It actually says that John took Mary into his own. That could mean home, but could also mean his own family, or as his own mother.

At times in church history, Mary has been called the second Eve. She is the mother of a new humanity through her son Jesus Christ. But Catholic priest Raniero Cantalamessa has pointed out something that I find very interesting. Mary actually has a number of interesting parallels with Abraham.

Abraham is called to leave his father’s house and go to a new land. Mary is called have a child, and ends up going to Bethlehem for a census, and Egypt to save her son. Abraham response to God in faith, just as Mary said “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Abraham has son miraculously when he and his wife are too old to get pregnant. Mary has a son before the possibility of pregnancy, while she is still a virgin. Abraham’s son is promised to be the first of a new nation, and kings of peoples will come from Abraham’s wife Sarah. Mary is promised that Jesus “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But now, on the cross, we see a significant distinction between Abraham and Mary. Abraham’s son is spared from being sacrificed. Remember the story, Abraham goes to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac, but God provides the ram instead. But Mary’s son is not spared. He is the ram that is provided for all of us.

And because of that sacrifice, a new covenant is written in his blood. A covenant that is bigger than Abraham’s covenant. Yes, Jesus taking care of his mother, but so much more is going on symbolically and theologically. A new nation, a new people is being born.

The author Dante called Mary “Virgin Mother, daughter of thy son.” Mary is, in this moment, not just being taken care of as the mother of Jesus, but she is also becoming a child of Jesus. And the family of Jesus—his followers—now take her as their own.

And this is great news for you and me. Perhaps you have lost your parents, or never had your parents. Perhaps you have lost a child. Perhaps you have lost yourself over the years.

Jesus takes you as his own. No matter what you have done or how difficult your life has been. You are now a son or daughter. You are Christ’s own. And because we are Christ’s own, we now one another’s. We take one another as our own. We are a family. The church. The faith. The followers of the Way.

Look around at one another today. Behold, your brothers, your sisters, your parents, your grandparents, your children, your grandchildren. These are your people.


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