As I am wont to do in the Lenten season, I have been revisiting the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, particularly the seven sayings from the cross. Mark and Matthew report the same saying; Luke reports three different sayings; and John yet three more, making seven in all. Three are prayers, two are spoken to the crowd, one is spoken to a stranger and one is spoken to Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple.
In its way, Jesus’ word to his mother and the beloved disciple (John 19:26-27) is the most intriguing. The mother of Jesus makes only two appearances in the entire Gospel of John, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee in chapter 2 and here, at the cross. She brackets Jesus’ public ministry: she is there at the beginning and at the end. In neither instance is her name given — imagine: if we had only the Gospel of John, we wouldn’t know the name of Jesus’ mother! And in neither instance does Jesus address her as “mother” or “mama” or “mom.” Both times he addresses her as “woman” (2:4; 19:26), which is hard for me to reconcile with my own upbringing. I cannot imagine having walked into my mother’s kitchen and saying, “Woman, I want something to eat.” Had I done so, I’m fairly sure that I would have been taking all of my nutrition through a straw.
Unlike the saying from the cross, where Jesus initiates the dialogue, at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ mother initiates the dialogue. She comes to Jesus to tell him that they are out of wine. She apparently knows that Jesus has the power to do something about this problem, and she seems to expect him to do it. Jesus, on the other hand, seems less than happy with her expectation. When she says that they’re out of wine, he says, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me?!” (Not exactly the Bible verse you’d want to use in a Mother’s Day card.) Interestingly, though Jesus grouses at his mother, he honors her wish and does something about the wine situation. Apparently even the Messiah thought it a good policy to keep mama happy.
In this morning’s text, in a rather more profound way, Jesus is again thinking of his mother’s happiness. He knows how unhappy she will be after his death, so nodding toward his best friend, he says to his mother, “This is your son now”; and he says to his friend, “This is your mother now.” It’s as if Jesus gives the beloved disciple to his mother as a surrogate, someone to be the son he can no longer be. You see the dynamic: because Jesus is the Son of the Father, he can no longer be a son to his mother (because his mission from God necessitates his death). But even as he dies, he provides for her; and the text says that “from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
This episode is not the only thing that this disciple and Jesus’ mother have in common in the Gospel of John. Like her, he is never named. As she is always simply “the mother of Jesus,” he is always “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Isn’t that odd, that these two very important people would never be identified by name?
Well, maybe it’s not so odd when we consider how they are identified, namely, by their relationship to Jesus. That wouldn’t be bad, if we were remembered for our relationship with Jesus, the love we received from him and the love we gave to him in return. I wouldn’t mind that for an epitaph: “Here lies someone who loved Jesus . . . because Jesus first loved him.”