1. A Human Story
What stands out to you??
This is one of the most emotional, heart-tugging, gut-wrenching, yet inspiring scenes of scripture.
Jesus is in torturous agony – dying an innocent death with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
At the same time there is our view (and also Jesus’ view) of the Roman soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothes and gambling over his tunic.
At the conclusion we hear Jesus’ say, “It is finished”. There is of course more to this than just the end of a human life – this also speaks of the accomplishment of a mission i.e. the creation of an open door of forgiveness for all those who will humble themselves and believe.
But what else is there? There is yet a stunning reference to the ongoing human story.
Standing near the cross were the four women closest to Jesus. One of these was Jesus’ mother. The disciple John was also there with the women.
We could only begin to wonder how Jesus’ mother would be feeling; no doubt distraught for the situation her son was in.
The anguish and terror of Jesus’ mother at the sight of his crucifixion must have been indescribable.
We have recently seen scenes of how distraught was the mother of Myuran Sukumuran as the time moved closer to his execution … unimaginable anxiety.
Jesus’ mother was no doubt in great need of support and care. She knew who Jesus was … that her son Jesus was actually God’s Son, and that there was a higher purpose behind his death. But that didn’t change the human reality of the moment. That you have some knowledge that this was likely to happen, in no way lessens the pain when it does.
Just because we realise or understand the higher purpose of some particular suffering, this does NOT lessen the human tragedy.
Jesus could have said “toughen up Mum” … but he didn’t; or Jesus could’ve reminded her that he would rise again (which he had spoken about a few times earlier) … but he didn’t!
Rather, Jesus entered into this solemn moment of human suffering, and brought about a tender response.
The tender concern that Jesus showed for his mother, in his own hour of mortality, illuminates Jesus’ true humanity and compassion.
The disciple John would be struggling too. Even though we often see Peter as the leader of the disciples, John and his brother James were often shown to be part of the inner circle. John was clearly very close to Jesus, referring to himself as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
John would need someone to support and care for him as well going forward.
So Jesus, despite his agony, in compassion, reaches out to his mother and to his best friend, and says, “Woman, here is your son”, and to John, “Here is your mother”. Here is love and gratitude, expressed toward both a dedicated mother and a devoted friend. Don’t you just love Jesus!!
Mary was now 33 years older than when Jesus was born, perhaps now in her late forties. Not particularly old, but she’d had more sons, and probably Joseph her husband would have died by now; and she’d had to endure all the criticism, rejection and opposition that Jesus had encountered.
Where were her other sons? Would they not care for her … well not necessarily. We know that they had difficulty accepting and believing who their brother Jesus really was, and just wanted Jesus to pull his head in and just be normal. This possibly had put them at odds with their mother. So they may not have been in the best position to offer good care and support, even if they had wanted to. Mary needed a ‘son’ who understood, and felt the same way she did.
Mary and John were clearly best suited together as mutual carers, because they had both lost so much. John, to his great credit, then follows through, and takes Mary to his home. Here were two faith-filled people necessarily caring for one another, as no one else could care for them (in such a deeply spiritual way).
John, with his brother James, had left the Zebedee family home three years ago, and had followed Jesus everywhere he went. John was now ready to step up into whatever ministry Jesus had for him (without looking back). As we begin to read the book of Acts, we see that taking Mary into his home, did not hold John back from further adventurous ministry. We might imagine how Mary was cheering John on, as he perpetuated Jesus’ ministry in the post-resurrection and early-Church development period. John was good for Mary and Mary was good for John.
Jesus, from the cross, extends into the future Christian community, the pastoral care he lived out in his earthly life.
We could see this simply as the oldest son making provision for his mother, but an oldest son would have been more likely to enlist the second-oldest son. This has far more to it … here was God (in Jesus) initiating and encouraging caring spiritual community.
2. What does this say to us?
(a) Care & support
Part of our response to Jesus (and what he has done for us) is to care for others. And there may be very particular specific others who we are called to care for and support. Very naturally, there will be our parents, there will be our wife or husband, there will be our children. The ideal would be that such caring relationships as these, although primary, would not hold us back from the wider ministry work of Jesus. The ideal in fact would be that these primary relationships would actually fuel us for more and broader relationships. These relationships within the family circle become the training ground and the source of encouragement for more relationships. In mind here are not only brothers and sisters in the Christian community, but also, and importantly, neighbours, friends and acquaintances in the wider community. And anyway, the way for our family (and our church) to grow in well-being and harmony, is for us to also give attention to the broader human dynamic around us. People are hurting with a developing propensity toward depression and destructive behaviour. Maybe some care and support for these and others will not only be personally helpful, but also community-building.
It has to be said that some of our family relationships aren’t in the best shape, for a great variety of reasons. Even when we sincerely try to repair these, it doesn’t necessarily go well. Who knows what Mary’s relationship was like with her other sons! Who knows how close the brothers John and James really were, or what the relationship with their parents was like (having left the family business behind just to follow an itinerant prophet)! But in the following of Jesus, we will have ample opportunities to invest ourselves into the lives and needs of many others. “Woman, here is your son … John … here is your mother”. Who is Jesus asking us to care for and support – to take into our inner family circle?
(b) Mutuality – interdependence
In our formation, God has given us both limitations and responsibility. This is the possibility of making gross mistakes, while retaining great responsibility in caring for God’s world. We are limited on our own and thus need each other. At the same time we have responsibility for the welfare of others. So both our limitations and our responsibility lead us into relationships of mutual care. “Limitations are a sign pointing to your need of the other; while responsibility reveals the other’s need of you” (refer to “The New Parish” page 73).
Sometimes we are ready to care, but are not so open to others caring for us. This is something we need to get our heads around … being open to others caring for us.
Many of us want to serve God. But to do this well and maintain this desire is quite challenging. Jesus committed the care of his mother to the one who was closest to him. This might suggest to us again, that if we want to serve Jesus well, into the lives of others, then we have to be close to him i.e. Jesus. Larry Richards wrote, “The closer we are to the Lord, the more likely He is to commit precious things and precious people to our care”. We need to get to know Jesus as well as we can, so that his heart of compassion, understanding and care can rub off on us.
What do we do when we become overwhelmed by the evil and violence in the world? What do we do while our prayers are in the process of being answered?? Follow in the Jesus way: care and service – believing that this will indeed make a difference!
3. Conclusion: Reversals (in a good way)
Today I selected for the closing song at church “Let the weak say I am strong” for the following reason. The one who has felt weak or poor because of life’s disappointments can be made to feel strong and rich, when embraced by a personal ministry of Jesus through another human traveller. The work of Jesus on the cross is NOT yet complete without it being lived out by us in the service of others. Jesus’ work of salvation is complete, but it still needs to be lived, seen, experienced and felt in the general human environment, especially if it’s going to catch on.
When we sing the third verse, which begins “I will rise from waters deep into the saving arms of God”, can we picture this as happening together, on mass, the whole lot of us, and more; not only because we have been saved by Jesus, but also because we have been ministered to by others (in the name of Jesus).