“Woman, behold your son... behold your mother.”
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your Son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
According to the evangelist John, there are five people at the foot of the cross, of whom the most prominent are the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple, two figures whose names are never given. These two people are historical figures but it is clear that John is interested in them for symbolic and theological reasons. This beloved disciple who is venerated by John's community more than any disciple of Jesus, even Peter, leader of the twelve, is left nameless, because he is to serve as a model for all those whom Jesus loves.
John is particularly interested in Jesus' words to his Mother and to the beloved disciple. Is Jesus' filial concern the main theme of this profound moment in the Fourth Gospel? Are we dealing with a historical and logistical question pertaining to the immediate departure of both the beloved disciple and the Mother from Calvary even before Jesus died? Should we understand, “and from that hour” to mean that Jesus died on the cross with not one of his own with Him at the last moment? Or should we understand the expression, "and from that hour" as an indication of the perpetuity of the disciple's care for the Mother of Jesus? Why is the Mother only referred to as “woman”? Can we assume that she was well known among Christians and would not have to be named? Finally, why did Jesus wait until the last moment, when He could hardly speak, to provide for the future of his Mother and her care by his best friend?
The Beloved Disciple welcomed the Mother of Jesus among his own, into his own community, into his most precious possessions, because He was able to recognize in this woman her great dignity in the community of believers and in the story of salvation. He not only welcomed her as Mother, but she welcomed him as son. This beloved disciple therefore became a true brother of the one hanging on the cross.
This is the story of Holy Week: a story of human communities welcoming the Lord and Savior into their midst; a story of humanity and warmth, comfort and consolation in the midst of death, watching and waiting, hoping and praying, dying and rising, mercy and tenderness. How often do we strip our churches and structures of humanity, warmth and kindness because we fear these gestures and are afraid of one another. We allow ourselves to get caught up with perfection and heartless professionalism, details and rubrics, rather than with real human beings with all their weaknesses and inconsistencies. We forget that the very origin of the Church was Calvary, a true conception and birth in interpersonal communion, mutual acceptance, compassion and consolation which hold the community together. Nailed to the cross, Jesus is the revolutionary of kindness, tenderness, compassion, consolation, forgiveness and care for others. He is our “pontifex” to the heart of God.
Let us never forget that the community we call Church was born on Calvary, at Golgotha, a place of execution outside the gates of the City on a violent Friday afternoon over 2000 years ago. The whole poignant scene is built around this mutual welcoming, especially in the face of tragedy, despair and death. It causes us as a Church to ask about our own welcoming, our own acceptance of peoples, of strangers, of refugees, about our own humanity, compassion and quality of friendship that we manifest to one another and to the world.
This scene at the foot of the Cross teaches us what it means to live in communion with others. From the cross, Jesus turns us outward toward people to whom we are not physically related, identifying these people as our spiritual mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers. From the Cross, Jesus breaks down the barriers between people and creates this new family by the power that flows from his death for humanity. May we learn from the example of Jesus, the Beloved Disciple and the Mother of the Lord on Calvary, imitate their mutual welcome and become true brothers and sisters of the one hanging on the Cross.
Stabat Mater dolorosa iuxta Crucem lacrimosa dum pendebat Filius.
At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping close to Jesus to the last.
Jesus’s final words, as he lay dying on the cross, have become for us powerful expressions of the profound compassion and humanity of the one we call Christ.
In this beautifully written book, respected biblical scholar, lecturer and author, Thomas Rosica, reflects on the last words of Christ and their significance to our modern world. Interspersed with his commentary are the words and wisdom from Popes Francis, Benedict, and John Paul I, Mother Teresa, and Jewish writer on the Holocaust Yaffa Eliach.
Presented first as a series of homilies for the Tre Ore Celebration at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington on Good Friday, 2016, The Seven Last Words of Christ is an essential read for all Christians, as it invites us to ponder deeply our own frailties, fear of death, and thirst for justice.
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