‘Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’ (John 19:25-27)
Jesus’ third word from the cross is a beautiful statement of relationship, in which, once again, he is less concerned with his own suffering, and more focused on those around him. It is a tender moment where Jesus cares for his biological mother, illustrating the importance of familial love.
But the words he uses are unusual. Whilst it is traditional to identify ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ as John, he is not specifically named in this passage. Furthermore, Jesus calls Mary ‘woman’, which sounds rude in English, but was a perfectly acceptable address in Jesus’ culture. It is the same word Jesus used when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:21). But it is not a typical address for your mother. Both of these points suggest that there is more going on than we might initially think.
This is actually the second time in John’s gospel when Jesus has addressed his mother in this manner. The first is in John 2 where, at the wedding at Cana, Mary asks Jesus to intervene when the wine runs out. Jesus replied:
‘“Woman, why do you involve me? … My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”’ (John 2:4-5)
Jesus instructs the disciples to fill stone jars with water, and serve it to the master of the banquet. As they do so, it is not water that flows forth, but the finest wine. This was the first sign, which revealed Jesus’ glory (John 2:11).
Three years later, Jesus is hanging on a cross, and again he speaks to his mother and a disciple. Only this interaction differs from the first, in a number of ways:
- At Cana, Jesus declares: “Woman, my hour has not come.” At Calvary, his hour has finally arrived.
- At Cana, Jesus instructs his disciples, and wine flows forth. At Calvary, Jesus instructs his disciple as his blood flows forth.
- At Cana, this was his first sign, through which his disciples saw his glory. At Calvary, this was his greatest sign, through which his glory was made known to all people.
Jesus’ third word from the cross was not just about Jesus caring for his mother in her hour of need. Rather, as Fleming Rutledge puts it: ‘The disciple and the woman… are symbolic: they represent the way that family ties are transcended in the church by the ties of the Spirit. That is why Jesus calls his mother “woman” in the Gospel of John. He is setting aside the blood relationship in order to create a much wider family.’
The relationship on offer through the cross is not just between one disciple and one woman, but between every disciple. And the quality of that relationship is intimate. It is familial. Social, gender and ethnic boundaries are torn down through the cross, such that now, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).
Through the shed blood of Jesus, a new family is being forged. We are given to one another as mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. As Hebrews 2 puts it, Jesus shared our humanity and our death in order to ‘bring many sons and daughters to glory… Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.’ (Hebrews 2:10-11)
Questions for Reflection
- Read Mark 3:31-35. What are the qualifications for being classed as Jesus’ family? How does this passage challenge you?
- To what extent do you think of other Christians as family? What would it look like to love your fellow disciple as a mother, father, son, daughter, brother or sister?
Thank you that you are not ashamed to call us your brother or sister.
May we also be unashamed.
Would you help me to treat my fellow Christian as family this day,
Preferring their needs to my own,
And laying down my life for them, as you did for us.
If you find yourself with extra time today, why not read some of the following verses and reflect on what they tell us about our relationship with God and one another: 1 John 3:1-3, 11-18; Hebrews 2:10-18; Galatians 3:26-29.
Or why not listen to sermons from last year’s Summer Series on 1 John.
You may want to join us for one of our services over Easter Weekend: