but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
This passage starts out with a vivid contrast. If we read a few verses of context, we would have noticed the Roman soldiers were casting lots and dividing up Jesus’ garments. This was to fulfill the prophecy about the Messiah in Psalm 22. But in contrast to the greedy gamblers fighting over Christ's belongings, there stood this group of four women.
Notice that there are four women, and not just two. There’s Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary’s sister Salom (I always want to call her Salome but it’s not pronounced that way), and Mary the wife or daughter of Clopas (the Greek could mean either wife or daughter), and then there’s Mary Magdalene—she’s the one who had several demons cast out of her.
These four women stood at the foot of Christ’s cross. And they were there with only one other disciple of Jesus, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The modest author of this Gospel, the cousin of Jesus and nephew of Mary, that John stood near the cross with these four women. He was the only disciple there, losing the one person he loved most in this world. And Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God—she was losing her son.
John makes no mention of the other women beyond saying they are there. He zooms in on Mary the mother of Jesus. Why does he do this? John Chrysostom, an ancient commentator, said he does this
to teach us to pay more than ordinary respect to our mothers. For as when parents oppose us on spiritual matters, we must not even own them, so when they do not hinder us, we ought to pay them all becoming respect, and to prefer them before others, because they begat us, because they bred us up, because they bare for us ten thousand terrible things.
Honor Your Father and Mother
Our Lord is teaching us by his example—by his perfect obedience even while hanging on the cross—to honor our Father and our mother. It’s the fifth commandment, and Jesus is honoring his mother. Here in these few words we learn so much about how to carry out our duty toward God and toward our neighbor. Think about this with me. Jesus does give his mother special attention, but he does this after he first obeyed God his Father.
He was already hanging on the cross when he paid special respect to his mother. This matters because it teaches us about priorities. Our ultimate allegiance is to God—not men. Once we have obeyed God, then it’s appropriate to think about our parents, our wife, our children—but in that order! God first, family second.
Depending on your familial circumstances, you could have a family that is opposed to the gospel. You could have an unbelieving spouse who never wants you to attend church. Whatever the circumstances, its God first and family second. Jesus cares for his mother, but this is after he is on the cross—having been sent there by the Father’s command.
Christianity Teaches Hate?
Remember Jesus’s difficult words, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me? (Matthew 10:37). Or Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Ouch. This sounds scary, what does Jesus mean?
Is Christianity now a religion of hate and violence? Some people have taught such things, but they miss the point! Jesus is using hyperbole—he is talking about priorities here. Usually we think of idols as statues and images—golden calf’s. But the most dangerous idols are good things that we have turned into gods. Family, children, SELF—oh that’s an easy one in our Selfie world. But the proper place is God—then others. Jesus demonstrates how do to this in our text. And so he obeys the Father, and he respects his mother.
“Woman, behold your son” (v. 26). Did you hear that? Woman. Seems kinda harsh right? Well, not at all. Many commentators have rightly pointed out that by using the word, Woman instead of Mother, Jesus is thinking of his mom’s emotional state. Her son is dying, she already knows that—every ounce of the mother in her aches—as any mother who has lost a child knows this searing pain—and so he gently and sensitively speaks to her in a way that doesn’t rub salt on the wound. But it also calls to mind something else.
"Woman" also refers to the seed of the woman—to Eve—the woman who begot the Savior. Jesus is referring to her honorable place in history as the theotokos—the "Mother of God." She begat the savior of the world! And he is even her savior! Mary needed Jesus to die more than she needed her son to live—because only through her son’s death could that ultimate promise of life come!
Turning to John, an adoption takes place when Jesus says, “Behold, your mother!” It’s as if he said “Since I am unable to care for my mother, I put this man in my place to take care of her.” At the darkest hour while the Son of God hung on a Roman cross, Jesus took the time to provide for his mother and give her a son in his place.
And so the promise of Jesus reigned true. In Matthew 19:29 Jesus said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” In other words, although she had lost a son, she gained another one in the Church.
The Gift of Motherhood
Take some time to remember the women in our lives who have mothered us in different ways. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 16:13 to greet Rufus, whose mother “has been a mother to me as well” (Rom. 16:13). It’s been ten years since I left my own mother to move down to San Diego. In the last decade, through Christ’s church I’ve been blessed to have several “spiritual mother’s”—who have taught me much about the Christian faith, mentored me, counseled me, and I am very grateful to the Lord for them.
No one can replace my birth mother. Thankfully she is also a devout Christian so I receive much spiritual wisdom from her—but it’s also nice to know that there are more mothers in this world who are willing and able to care for sons and daughters in the church. Who can you mother? Where do you see an opportunity from God to be “mom” to someone else in your life? There is so much brokenness in this world and there are a lot of hurting people. Not everyone has a perfect relationship with mom—some don’t have a mom anymore—or never had one. There might be an opportunity right in front of you.