The Third Word
"Dear woman, here is your son."
The Seven Last Words of Christ for Holy Week
As Jesus was dying, his mother was among those who remained with him. Most of the male disciples had fled, with the exception of one whom the Fourth Gospel calls "the disciple he loved." We can't be exactly sure of the identity of this beloved disciple, though many interpreters believe he is John, who is also the one behind the writing of the Fourth Gospel. (Other scholars believe this disciple was Lazarus, who is described in John’s Gospel as someone Jesus especially loved. See John 11:5, 36.)
No matter who the beloved disciple was, it's clear that Jesus was forging a relationship between his mother and this disciple, one in which the disciple would take care of Mary financially and in other ways. Jesus wanted to make sure she would be in good hands after his death.
The presence of Mary at the cross adds both humanity and horror to the scene. We are reminded that Jesus was a real human being, a man who had once been a boy, a boy who had once been carried in the womb of his mother. Even as he was dying on the cross as the Savior of the world, Jesus was also a son, a role he didn't neglect in his last moments.
When we think of the crucifixion of Jesus from the perspective of his mother, our horror increases dramatically. The death of a child is one of the most painful experiences a parent can ever know. To watch one's beloved child experience the extreme torture of crucifixion must have been unimaginably terrible for Mary. We're reminded of the prophecy of Simeon shortly after Jesus' birth, when he said to her: "And a sword will pierce your very soul" (Luke 2:35). No doubt, Mary’s soul was painfully pierced as she witnessed her son’s passion.
This scene helps us not to overly spiritualize the crucifixion of Jesus, to make it something neat, tidy, and otherworldly. Jesus was a real man, true flesh and blood, a son of a mother. He was dying in unbearable agony. His pain was altogether real, and he took it on for you and for me.
Of course, the suffering of Jesus wasn’t only physical. Tomorrow’s “word” will help us consider the spiritual dimensions of the cross. For now, however, we are reminded of the full humanity of our Savior and the genuineness of his suffering for our sake, suffering highlighted by the presence of Jesus' mother at the cross.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What does Mary's presence at the cross evoke in you? Why do you think it was necessary for Jesus to suffer physical pain as he died?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, the presence of your mother at the cross engages my heart. You are no longer only the Savior dying for the sins of the world. You are also a fully human man, a son with a mother, a son who cares about his mother to the end.
O Lord, how can I begin to thank you for what you suffered? My words fall short. My thoughts seem superficial and vague. Nevertheless, I offer my sincere gratitude for your suffering. Thank you for bearing my sin on the cross. I give you my praise, my love, my heart . . . all that I am, because you have given me all that you are.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, fully God and fully human, Savior of the world . . . my Savior! Amen.
On Sunday morning, we wave our palms and sing Hosanna in the Highest. It is not hard to get caught up in the celebration and wonder if the stones are indeed crying out. Yet in the midst of this great joy there is a chilling stillness.
Thus begins the journey to the cross. A week of little deaths, that’s what Holy Week is for us.Celebration and mourning take turns to stir deep places.
During Holy Week at The High Calling, we invite you to focus solely on the story of our faith. May your eyes be opened to the truth: we cannot follow Christ and remain unchanged.
Image above courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation.