“Behold Your Son… Your Mother” – John 19:26,27
1. The Third Word – Mary and John
There is a story about a cross eyed judge who looked at the three defendants in the dock and said to the first one, “So how do you plead?”
“Not guilty” said the second defendant.
“I wasn’t talking to you” the judge replied.
“I never said a word” responded the third defendant.
“I never said a word,” was virtually true of Jesus during his trials before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, and before Herod. However, on the cross, Jesus spoke seven times. Today we look at the third in our series of Jesus’ ‘Cross-Words’: “Dear woman, here is your son… here is your mother.” And these are our crossword words: “Mother” and “Son.”
Who was Jesus talking to? Well, one of the persons is obvious because the verse states explicitly that “he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’” Yes, Jesus’ own mother, Mary, was standing there at the foot of the cross along with some other women who had diligently followed Jesus during His ministry.
The other person, the one to whom He said, “Here is your mother,” is simply identified as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ This term is used only in the Gospel of John, but it is used several times in that Gospel. Nowhere is the term explicitly explained. Nowhere is the identity of ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ explicitly revealed. Only at the very end of the Gospel are we given a hint. There Jesus is speaking with Peter about the kind of death by which Peter would die. Peter referred to this anonymous ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ and asks Jesus about his fate. When Jesus gave an unclear answer a rumor spread that this disciple would not die. Then, in the second last verse of the Gospel of John it says, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.” So, we understand that this ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ is none other than the Gospel writer, John, himself, the son of Zebedee and Salome, the brother of James. Referring to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ was John’s secret, anonymous and humble way of including himself in the story without specifically mentioning His own name.
The name of the disciple John is conspicuous by its absence in the Gospel of John. The only mention of the name John in the entire Gospel is in reference to John the Baptist. However, John the disciple was one of the inner circle of disciples along with his brother James, and Peter. These three accompanied Jesus on a number of special occasions. They were the three who went up the Mt. of Transfiguration with Jesus. They were the three who went up with Jesus to the room where the dead daughter of Jairus lay. They were the three who went farther into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus when He was praying on Maundy Thursday just before He was arrested.
It was of this John that Jesus said to Mary, “Behold your Son.” It was to this John that Jesus said, referring to Mary, “Behold your mother.” What significance is there in this ‘Cross-Word?’
2. Honour your Father and Mother
First of all, Jesus is saying something here about the Fourth Commandment, “Honour your father and your mother.” Do you remember how Martin Luther explains this commandment?? He says, “We should fear and love God that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
You young people here today, this is probably one of your favourite commandments to break, isn’t it? It’s acceptable behaviour among your peers to defy parents (and teachers, too, but let’s concentrate on parents). It’s fair game, it seems, to openly disobey your parents, to speak against them among your friends (maybe even to their face), to belittle your parents, making them appear to be fools. Although you may not altogether enjoy it, although as a Christian your conscience may twinge and at least a little bit of guilt may well up when you do it, you are ‘forced’ into breaking the commandment in order to be a part of the crowd. We may never really learn, know or understand why, at age 12 or 13 or 14, a person begins to think that he/she knows everything, especially knows more than parents who have had 25, 30 or 35 years more experience at living.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he included a couple of verses about this commandment. He wrote: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” This is a reference to the Fourth Commandment stated in Deuteronomy 5:16. God’s command is to ‘honour’ parents, and his promise is long life. I often thought about this in reference to my great grandmother who died when I was in my late 20’s, and when she was 98 ¾. I thought… she must have honoured her parents. Her son, my grandfather, just lived to 98 ½, but God blessed him with long life, too, for honouring his parents. God’s command is to honour; Luther includes the concepts of serving, obeying, and loving and cherishing. It’s very hard to do, isn’t it? It’s impossible, I guess. We have all failed to honour our parents. We have broken God’s standard. We have sinned.
Now, the question might be asked, “How long am I supposed to honour, serve and obey my parents? Until what age?” A reasonable answer might be: “as long as you are living in the home of your parents.” But really, the answer is “all your life.” When you are on your own, when you have your own place, when you get married and have your own family, there are probably fewer opportunities to obey your parents because you become responsible for your own life and decisions, and your contact with your parents becomes less. But the honour and respect and love for those through whom God has given you life ought never die. I have lived far away from my parents for the past 42 years, but when I retire in a few months, because they are still alive, I will have the opportunity to be near to them again and to show love and respect to them in their old age. Oh, and they still give good advice. When we go to parents for advice, for counsel, they can see an issue objectively, with maturity, and without the blinders that we might wear because we are involved in the issue.
Our love and respect and honour for our parents is properly extended even to their old age. At that time, when they become more dependent, they do not deserve neglect, but they need our love and care even more. Whereas years ago families would care for aging parents or grandparents in their own home, now there are difficult choices to consider when the health of elderly family members make it hard, impossible to care for them at home. What kind of care home is needed? What place would still preserve grandma’s dignity in her failing health? How do we pay for all this? In the midst of considering all these decisions, we must remember that there are a lot of lonely people in care homes, and our responsibility to honour, love, respect and visit our parents does not end when they are being cared for full-time. In the picture of the final judgement Jesus commends those who visited and cared for the sick. How much more so our own parents! And yet we fail, and we fail so miserably.
Jesus, however, kept the fourth commandment perfectly for us. He remembered His duties to His mother, even as He hung on the cross. We need to make two assumptions here: one, Joseph was dead and Mary needed caring for; two, Jesus could not commit Mary to His half-brothers for some reason, perhaps because they didn’t yet believe in Him. So, on the cross, Jesus’ love and concern for His mother led Him to give Mary to John and John to Mary to comfort and care for each other in the days ahead. In Jesus’ words you can almost hear an echo of that Fourth Commandment, “Honour your father and your mother.”
The people in a family are much like a choir. In a choir you have four-part harmony. The voices of the sopranos or the tenors are OK alone, but the four voices together enrich one another. For a family – parents and children – to live in harmony, they don’t all have to be alike and act alike. In fact, if they did it would be rather boring, and people would get on each other’s nerves. Just like in a choir, personality differences in a family complement one another, and strengths are used to work together toward common goals.
Last week Friday, I had dinner in Calgary with Jim, one of my good friends from high school – a friend I hadn’t seen in 47 years. We talked a bit about the olden days, and I reminded him that I had skipped grades in school and caught up to my older brother, who was quite shy and didn’t talk a whole lot. Jim concluded that I skipped those grades so that I could speak for my shy and quiet brother. I thought that was an interesting reflection, but that’s what family members do… they complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses. With effort, by sharing joys and sorrows, through love, honour and respect, harmony in a family will exist, and lives will be enriched.
3. The Church – a New Family-ness
The second thing we can note from Jesus’ “Cross-Word” is that Jesus may also be referring to the new family-ness, the unity that He intends there to be in the church which He is creating. In the Old Testament, this family-ness was the result of a common nationality, being one of God’s chosen nation, the Jews. In and through Jesus, this family-ness is a result of the common loyalty of people with Jesus, Himself. Jesus bids Mary and John to find a new spiritual relationship with one another, not because they are blood relatives, not because both have Jewish roots, but by virtue of their common attachment, their common commitment to Him as Lord and Saviour. In Him, and in Him alone, is there a common bond, a unity of human beings one with another. Jesus creates this new fellowship of the redeemed right there under the cross. And that’s where the fellowship stays and belongs – under the cross. You see that bond that we have with one another is based on what happened on the cross. Our common attachment is that we all realize and believe that we are people for whom Jesus died, people who are forgiven because of the cross. We are drawn into this fellowship in Jesus’ name because we know to whom we belong. Jesus establishes this bond under the cross when He says, “Behold your son… behold your mother.”
Take note of the family-ness, the unity that is evident in some of the post-resurrection gatherings of believers. In Acts 1 it says that the disciples were staying together and that they all joined together in prayer. In Acts 2 we hear about the fellowship, the fact that the believers had everything in common, and that they would even sell their possessions to give to those in need. Again, in Acts 4 we hear the same thing – first of all that all the believers were one in heart and mind, and that no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but shared and even sold items to provide for the needy.
Jesus wants there to be that same kind of unity – unity of heart and mind and purpose – among believers today so that we might be able to say with all honesty and sincerity: “You’re a fellow believer, you’re a brother or sister in Christ, and that’s all it takes for me to love and care for you!”
4. Look Beyond Yourself to Care for Others
The last significant aspect of this ‘Cross-Word’ is Jesus’ own example for us of that kind of caring and love. How often, when we are embroiled in our own trials and troubles, when life is full of hurts for us, do we simply immerse ourselves in self-pity, never bothering to think about anyone else because we are hurting too much ourselves. Whether it’s sickness, family troubles, financial set-backs or whatever – we have difficulty getting out of ourselves. But look at what Jesus did. He was hanging from a wooden cross, with nails in His hands and feet, suffering and dying with the weight of the sins of the whole world on His shoulders, yours and mine included, and in the midst of His pain and struggle, He looked for His mother and the disciple whom He loved to extend His love and care outside of Himself. Of course, that’s the very nature of the Man, the man-God, but I believe that it’s an example for us, too. When we find ourselves up to our neck in trouble, in hurt, in pain, let us not forget our brothers and sisters in Christ, people who may themselves be experiencing trials, and who may very well need our concern and caring. When we look to extending that care and love to others, even though we ourselves are hurting, we take our gaze off of ourselves, we follow Jesus’ own example of loving amid our own struggles and trials, and in the process we may gain a more objective view of our own problems, and find that healing occurs in our lives.
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He hung there on the cross, and He didn’t wallow in self-pity over the blood streaming from His wrists, over the excruciating pain coming from pierced feet, over the gouges in His thorn-pierced scalp, over the laboured breathing that always accompanied crucifixion. Jesus didn’t think of Himself and His pain. He thought of you. He loved you. He knew that His pain meant your gain, His discomfort meant your comfort, His forsakenness meant your forgiveness, His death meant your life. So Jesus was happy to endure the cross. That’s what Hebrews 12 says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus… who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame…” The joy set before Him? What joy was there as Jesus hung on the cross? It was the joy of reconciling you to God, once and for all. His love, His care, His compassion for you were not deterred but rather heightened during His time on the cross. Paul said it clearly in Romans 5: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He went on to say that because Christ shed His blood, you are justified, reconciled and saved. And this is reason for rejoicing.
Jesus’ ‘Cross-Word’, “Behold your mother, behold your son,” is significant in that it shows us that Jesus kept the Fourth Commandment for us and it teaches us to follow the fourth Commandment. Jesus’ ‘Cross-Word’ establishes a principle of fellowship and unity among God’s people based on the cross. Jesus’ ‘Cross-Word’ teaches us to care for and love others, regardless of the struggles we are currently facing ourselves.
So I encourage you today: Look to your parents with the love, respect and honour that God expects; look at those around you as brothers and sister in faith, and find a unity with them by virtue of your common relationship with Jesus; finally, look to others, despite your own problems, for it was at the point of death that Jesus thought not of Himself, but of you and me, and by so doing He won for us the forgiveness of our sins, and the salvation of our souls. God bless you as you care for those around you. Amen.