Posted by: Fr Chris | March 29, 2010

Seven Last Words: #3

Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s

sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus

saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so

he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he

said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that

time the disciple took her to live in his home.

Let us review the setting from last week: soldiers at the foot of the Cross, the Jewish leadership passing back and forth mocking Jesus, and the “crowd” of people observing from a distance. Included in this is the large group of women, and of this group there is the smallest group of his disciples: Mary his Mother, assorted women who are relatives and disciples, and John – they are not near the cross as is shown in paintings – the soldiers would keep them away until death, so now He must push Himself up and shout from his dry throat to them. They are HIS OWN. We are HIS OWN as result of this Word.

Two-fold action in this word:

1. Mary is a widow without children; Jesus is dying and so He makes a testament statement giving her to the care of John. Of all the apostles, John is the one. So it is a buttress to the tradition that Mary had no other children, as obviously there is no one around to take her into their homes after the death of her Son

2. Why does this happen? St John’s gospel never names Mary and the Beloved Disciple – they are historical persons, but their importance is in their titles: Mother and Disciple.

He is the youngest, son of Zebedee along with James the Greater, a youngster of great emotion since Jesus called him and his brother “sons of thunder”, and the one who truly loves Jesus and whom Jesus can love. He is shown beardless always to emphasize his age – much younger than James the Greater and the last of the apostles to die, sometime around 90 AD.  Galilean men were known to be devout, industrious, physically tough, brave,  and valiant defenders of the Jewish nation. We see this when James and John want Jesus to call down lightning to destroy the Samaritan towns that reject the gospel, and when they want J to punish a man using Jesus’ name to cast out devils: they most certainly are zealous for the Lord! Their mother prompts the request to Jesus, in true motherly intercession, that they be allowed to sit at Jesus’ right and left in glory: to be his closest warriors and servants.

The other apostles were generally mature men in their 40s and had their own businesses. James and John are younger, and left their father  Zebedee and his business: they are the prototypes of youth who ready to go into action for God as is shown in all four gospels.  They are the ones who accompany Jesus at the most special moments along with Peter who is equally brave and emotional and strong. This James is called the greater which actually means the taller – the James who was the relative of the Lord and became first bishop of Jerusalem is the James who I mentioned last week, who in his martyrdom forgave his killers just as Jesus did. This James and John and Peter were there at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, at the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and were the ones closest to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Of the three, John is the one who sticks it out – he who is the beloved. Jesus warned him and his brother when they asked to be seated with Jesus in his kingdom that they must drink of the same bath of pain, and young John has done so. He is the only apostle on Calvary. Now he is the one who Jesus will trust with his most precious possession- his Mother.

A common interpretation to this Word is that a Jewish woman had few rights, and the Mother of the Lord is a widow whose son has been killed in the most horrible way known to mankind at that time, and he is a failed prophet. She needs to be taken into some man’s house. But Jesus, and St John in his Gospel, have far bigger concerns than that, and so does Mary: they are now the best examples of discipleship. Mary is the one who has pondered and meditated in her heart (St Luke), she is the one who knew that Jesus was ready to begin his signs of his public ministry at Cana, she is the faithful one who will be in the center of the company during the nine days of prayer waiting for the Holy Spirit (Acts).

All you who are young here tonight – there is a reason that John is the beloved disciple! This is the model for every Christian! We should love Christ so much that if he were to appear here, we would be absolutely comfortable putting our heads on his chest, listening to the beat of his heart, and letting his arm enfold us. We would absolutely set aside all things of the world and follow him wherever he goes. This is the radical discipleship of John.

Notice that the others were not jealous of John notice. Rather, they wished that they could love Jesus with that much single-minded devotion and could follow Jesus absolutely as John does. All who are young – develop now your love for Jesus, stoke it in a furnace of pure love and self giving. All you who are young – keep the fervor you have now for God and maintain it all your lives. All of us who are older – set aside the stuff that clutters our minds and thoughts and prayers and retrieve the enthusiasm of this Galilean teenager, his love for God, his passion for what is right, his devotion to truth, so that others can say of us when we go home to God – truly he was God’s disciple.

In the Synoptic Gospels, Mary shows up unnamed during Jesus’ adult ministry, as his mother along with his “brothers” who either come to take him home or come to see him, but Jesus declares, in violation of all Jewish tradition, that his family consists of those who hear the word of God and act upon it or keep it in their hearts. “Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister to me” – a radical break from the Jewish family and Israelite family.

In Mark and Matthew, the disciples and the family are separated. In Luke’s gospel the mother and brothers take on the model of discipleship. This is what John does now with Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple – who are never named since every one knew their names in John’s community. Now, the natural family (mother) comes into the realm of discipleship (John). She knew better than Jesus at Cana that it was time for him to start preaching, but now is the hour come – the hour in which Jesus embarks on a cataclysmic battle against the forces of darkness and sin in order to wrest the souls of all mankind from the broken world of sin and bring us into the healed world of redemption. And the disciple – if Mary is now his mother, then what is he to Jesus? Brother.

Let us ponder the awesomeness of this: the eternal God, maker of all things, calls us brother and sister thru our relationship to him in Mary. We say it casually but it is more than what it sounds like: a whole new family, united by His humanity, sustained by the Holy Spirit, at great cost to Jesus, and totally as a gift.

From that moment, he took her to his own – not just James and their mother and their father Zebedee – no, far far more! John takes Mary along with himself as part of the radical discipleship of the Beloved. The discipleship is going to grow to include people from all backgrounds. It indeed includes us.  Mary becomes the New Eve, the mother of us who are his disciples. She now becomes mother of the church and the new Zion. She who is in mourning on Friday becomes the Mother of all.

And here is IMPORTANT NOTE: many medieval pictures show Mary collapsing in grief  at the Cross into the arms of John and the holy women. All of these were ultimately banned by the Church. The Catholic Church ruled against the so-called “swooning of Mary” because as the perfect disciple, though her heart is torn by grief, she does not despair, and she trusts in her Son –  the message of the angel will be fulfilled even in this most awful piercing of her heart by another sword of sorrow. He will save His people – Mary grieves, but not without hope. In the Eastern traditions of Good Friday,  Jesus speaks silently to His mother while she is putting Him in the tomb: “do not weep O Mother”.  In the Gospel, she STANDS at the Cross, and this is how she is always shown in icons, as is St John. They stand! They give strength to Jesus as they do so, they stand as legal witnesses of the sacrifice, they stand as eternal signs to all Christians, they stand in absolute faith and fidelity at this, the most terrible hour of all the hours. They do not swoon, this widow and teenager. They stand – so must we, for Christ, for His faith, for the Church, for the gift entrusted to us by our divine brother can never be snatched away by any force on earth.

Let us again remember the closing words of that Carpathian hymn: This You suffered willingly, this You suffered just for me.

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