During the first two weeks of our Lent sermon series looking at the final words of Jesus from the cross, we have encountered some of the participants who were at Golgotha on that fateful Friday afternoon. They are as much a part of the story of understanding Jesus’ final words as Jesus is himself.
The first week allowed us to look at some of the activity that took place during a crucifixion and how the Roman soldiers would cast lots for the criminal’s possessions. Last week, we looked at the interaction between Jesus and the two criminals who were placed on crosses with him, especially the one who repented of his actions. This week, we turn our attention to Jesus’ who have come to this horrifying place to watch Jesus die.
Among the supporters were a group of women who took the bold step of being with Jesus during his final moments. In our passage from John 19:25-27, John has says that three women were with Jesus at the cross. This gives us an opportunity to understand some of the dynamics of Jesus’ ministry. Women were among the biggest supporters of Jesus ministry, and in some cases provided support through finances and attending to basic needs. As well, Jesus broke the barriers that saw women as not having worth or value in the community. Throughout Jesus’ ministry women were given a place of honor and responsibility in sharing the Good News of Jesus, whether it was the woman in Samaria or Mary Magdalene in the moments following the resurrection. Women were important and a key aspect to Jesus’ ministry.
Now in his final moments, a group of three women gathered to support him through their physical and emotional presence. John tells us that they were Jesus’ mother, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. As we read through this list we immediately turn our focus to Jesus’ mother, Mary of Nazareth. We are struck with a sense of grief in sensing what Mary must have felt in those six hours that Jesus hung on the cross.
All of us in can feel some of what Mary is feeling, because we all dealt with loss. We have all felt the sting of death and pain of losing a loved one at an early age. Whether it was a friend, a family member, or even the most painful loss of a child, we can feel Mary’s grief, the absence she feels in her heart, and her worries about what would happen next. Reading her name brings out a sense of deep compassion and empathy for the one who gave birth to Jesus.
It is compassion and love that moves Jesus to speak his third word from the cross and the only one specifically addressed to his supporters. A compassion for his mother that is undeniable. Jesus expresses his compassion and love for Mary with the words that we see spoken to her and to the Beloved Disciple, whom we will take a look at in a moment. He says to Mary, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the Beloved Disciple, “Here is your mother.” Words of tender compassion and love.
Yet, we wonder what do these words say to us today? Understanding Jesus’ compassion for his mother and the reasoning for these words will allow us to see the compassion and love Jesus has for us
Jesus’ words are something like a will expressed from the cross. Among the words spoken by those being crucified were there last wishes. Something to the effect of making sure that their final desires were carried out, especially as it related to family members who were going to be left behind to live without them. This is why Jesus speaks. He wants to make sure Mary is cared for and protected after his death.
One of the primary reasons for Jesus’ compassion and concern is that Mary was likely a widow. The last mention we have of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, is in Luke 2 when Jesus is 12 years old and runs off to the temple. Nothing else is mentioned of Joseph and he is presumed to be dead. In Jesus’ time, a widow needed the provisions of family members in order to survive. The responsibility fell upon the oldest son to care for her and to provide for her needs. If the oldest son could not do so, then, the widow might have become destitute and left on her own.
With some of his final breaths, Jesus takes on the role of the oldest son and living into the words of honoring your mother and father from Exodus 20:12 in looking after her. His pain from the cross was not too much to care about the needs of others, especially Mary, in this moment. His love for his mother and making sure she was cared for was more important than his own pain.
Jesus needed someone to care for her. It is likely Jesus did not feel like he could go to his own brothers. Scripture tells us that Jesus’ family, including his brothers, wanted him to stop his ministry. They were not completely on board with Jesus’ life and teaching. Jesus could not trust that he could give Mary over to their care. Because of this he does the next best thing. Jesus turns to his best friend. He turns to the Beloved Disciple.
Exactly who this Beloved Disciple is has been a matter of much debate in the church. Without getting into much of the debate, I am inclined to believe the Beloved Disciple was one of Jesus’ inner core disciples – the group of Peter, James, and John – who were the most closely associated with him. Among that group, it is most likely that John the son of Zebedee is the Beloved Disciple. There is a friendship and deep kinship between Jesus and John, and so it is only natural that Jesus would turn to John for this important responsibility.
What he does is to ask John to consider Mary as part of his own family. He looks at the two of them and asks them to care for each other. Jesus provides care for his mother and makes sure her needs are met by asking his closest disciple to look after her and allow her to be part of his own family. Mary, as well, is asked by Jesus to accept this care and to see John as her very own son.
Consider the amount of love and trust that is implied in Jesus asking John to fulfill this task. You don’t ask someone to care for your parent unless you could trust them with your own life. By asking John to care for Mary it shows John’s loyalty towards Jesus and also gives a picture to what a true disciple of Jesus looks like. A true disciple or follower of Jesus is someone who is there for Jesus. Someone who stays by his side. Someone who has given their life over to the Lord. For this, John is asked to do something in response to his devotion.
There is something else going on with these words and this commitment that Jesus is asking John and Mary to make. These words provide a symbolic understanding of the kind of commitment that Jesus asks of us when it comes to our relationship with each other. Jesus asks us to care for one another with a deep sense of compassion and love.
Underlining Jesus’ words to Mary and John is his desire to care for his followers and the church that would be built following the resurrection. The same compassion for Mary that moved Jesus to action is apparent when we see how this type of care and compassion applies to how we are called to relate to each other today. These words allow us to see that the church is to be a place of community, friendship, and love where we are there for one another.
There are a lot of words and phrases that can define what the church should look like and what the church needs to do today. The church should be a place where the Word of God is proclaimed and lived out. The church needs to be a place that focuses on reaching out into the community. The church should be a place of teaching what it means to follow Christ. The church needs to be an authentic community. All of this is true and undeniable. What holds all of this together is how we daily live as a community of faith.
The church is the living witness and representation of Jesus Christ in the world every day. The one thing that has to be at the core of our identity is our offering of the same unconditional love, compassion, and care to each other that Jesus offers to each of us. We have to be there for one another, in the good times and bad. The church should be a place of love, strength, care, support, and compassion. This must be part of our DNA that defines much about who we are and what we seek to do as followers of Jesus Christ.
We should be a place of family relationships where we love each other as a “framily.” A “framily” is a combination of friends and family. It is a recognition that our family is not just those we are related to, but it also extends out into our community of relationships, our friends, who are not an extension of our family but a central part of it. The church is a true framily. We are a community of friends, family members, and neighbors, who come together to offer unconditional love and support to one another as we grow together in Christ’s love.
If there is anything that, I believe, can define us here at Claylick it is that we are a “framily.” We are a place where we come together – family, friends, and neighbors – to love and support one another as we grow closer to God. You are a blessing in so many ways by how you love and support one another.
Allow me, though, to encourage us to take our “framily” to the next step and to extend it out into our community. There are people in our community who need a “framily” to belong to. People who do not have a mother or father. People who do not have a sister or brother. People who do not have someone who will love them unconditionally and help them to grow in all aspects of life. People who do not have someone they can depend upon. They are people who are both known and unknown to us. How might we welcome them into our “framily” and provide care and support for those who need it the most?
Jesus calls us to offer compassion, care, love, and support to each other and to the people in our community. We are called to do that, together, as a “framily.” To bring people into our homes and lives, much like how John brought Mary into his family, and to love them, care for them, and to encourage them. May we be a “framily” of God that does just that!