Meditations on the Cross, 7
John alone in his Gospel tells us that Jesus' mother was standing there at the cross as her Son was being crucified. "And there were standing by the cross, His mother, His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene." (John 19:25)
Though John only mentions these four women at the cross the other Gospel writers mention a number of others. But Mary is the only one that we're told Jesus actually spoke to from the cross. The account continues, "Jesus then, when He saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing there, says to His mother, 'Woman - look at your Son!'" (John 19:26)
As a parent, I have often tried to put myself in Mary's place, to in some way enter into her pain. I know many parents who have lost children. As a pastor and as a hospital chaplain, I have stood at the side of those whose children had passed or were passing away: from stillborn babies, to crib deaths, to teenagers, to grown adults. It's never been easy, and though I have shed tears with many, the fact that I have been spared their experiences means that I can't ever completely understand what these mothers and fathers are going through. (And to be truthful, I hope I never have to.)
Yet Mary's experience, though duplicated in many lives of many parents, was unique to her. After all, she was the only mother who was told that her Son was going to save His people from their sins, that He was going to reign forever as the King of His people Israel. She was the only mother who had given birth without "knowing" a man.
She had raised Jesus from childhood; she had seen His strange actions as a precocious child and as a man. By this time Joseph her husband had left the scene, apparently having died an early death. Jesus as the first born would have been responsible for caring for His widowed mother, but she must have felt some rejection as He drew away from her even while He seemed to be stepping more and more into His role as Messiah.
And here she was standing and watching as her Son was suffering a horrible criminal's death. And now he tells her - demands (?) that she look on that beaten, wounded naked body. Perhaps she took some comfort in His next words. "Then He says to the disciple, 'Look at your mother!'" And John continues, "And from that hour that disciple took her to his own." (John 19:27)
Perhaps she took some comfort, but I doubt if she took much. Her concern as a mother would not have been for her own care, but for her dying Son. She had been told long before, when her Son was a baby, that a sword would pierce her soul because of Him. She must now have been feeling the full thrust of the sword.
But whether or not we can in some ways imagine Mary's pain, I find it impossible to feel the pain that Jesus felt. I can suppose that there have been many others who have suffered physically in the same way; there were in fact at that time two other men hanging on crosses, one on either side. Yes it must have been horrible; besides the physical pain, the shame of His nakedness must have brought to His mind the shame of that original pair so many thousands of years earlier. But more than all this, He was bearing the cup - the full force of the punishment we all deserve and that He did not.
And yet He thought of the needs of His mother.