Here is Your Mother

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of
Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple
whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your
son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this
disciple took her into his home.”

Is there a point to this passage beyond to show that Jesus cared for his mother and wanted to make sure she was cared for in his absence? There are probably several directions you could go from here. The key question I would start with is who is “the disciple whom he loved”?

The most common speculation is that this “beloved disciple” is the man whose name the gospel in which he is found bears—John (this argument hangs on John 21:24 which, some would say, is not as clear as we might be inclined to think it is). Others can argue rather convincingly that the disciple is Lazarus (John hints that it’s Lazarus because he is the only disciple whom the author tells us is loved by Jesus. In John 11:35 and 36 it says “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’”) But I am honestly not satisfied with either of these options. Why should something which is so cryptic be forced into solidity? Perhaps the beloved disciple is not any one historical character at all. Perhaps the beloved disciple is a device used by the author to draw speculation and to draw the reader into the story. Perhaps the beloved disciple is not John or Lazarus, but you and me. Could the beloved disciple be the sort of character in whose face we should see ourselves (or perhaps just the role to which we are called). This disciple is the one who reclines next to Jesus at the table of the Eucharist (John 13), this disciple outruns all the others to the empty tomb (John 20:2-4), this disciple sees and believes (John 20:8), this disciple recognizes Jesus in a body bearing the scars of crucifixion (John 21:7), and this disciple is the prophetic witness to the gospel (John 21:24). This disciple is there from crucifixion to resurrection. Because of the ambiguity of this character we might speculate that the point is not who it is but how, and thus how we might find ourselves in the story—by Jesus’ side at the meal and at his feet at the cross. The beloved disciple is us; it draws us into the story.

If this interpretation has any merit then what is this “Here is your mother” thing about? Jesus’ mother is the mother of a crucified man, an unwanted of the Roman Empire. She is the mother of the most subjugated and dehumanized of people and she is our mother. On the cross, Jesus brings the reader and the “least of these” together under the same mother. The commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” caries new meaning at the cross of Christ for my mother and my father are the mothers and fathers of those “others” about whom I could otherwise so easily forget.

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