A Word Of Love


"Woman, behold, your son!" "Behold, your mother!"
(John 19:26b, 27b)

Shortly after the soldiers divided up Jesus's garments (Matthew 27:35-36, John 19:23-25a), Jesus said His third recorded statement from the cross.

John's Gospel describes the scene:

"Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene."
(John 19:25).

Matthew writes that these women were ministering to Jesus while He was on the cross (Matthew 27:55). The Roman guards apparently allowed sympathizers to help ease the sufferings of their victims on the cross. Sympathizers could only lighten the pain of the victims. They could not remove it or rescue them. It was likely more of a show of compassion than tangible physical relief.

John may have listed these four women in order of their relationship to Jesus.

The first woman John mentioned standing by the cross of Jesus was Jesus's mother.

The mother of Jesus was named Mary (Matthew 1:18, 24-25, Luke 1:26-56, 2:4-7, 19). As Jesus's mother, it would have been natural for Mary to be by her Son's side as He was crucified, even as His agony and humiliation would have been terrible for her to witness. She overcame these horrors and endured them because she loved her Son. His mother's presence during this torturously deadly ordeal likely gave Jesus a measure of inner comfort on the cross.

The second woman John mentioned standing by the cross of Jesus was His mother's sister.

This made her Jesus's aunt by blood-relation. Mark says her name was Salome (Mark 15:40). Matthew identifies her as "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" (Matthew 27:56). The comparison of these three parallel scriptures indicates that she was the mother of James and John—two of Jesus's closest disciples. This comparison also indicates that James and John were Jesus's blood-cousins. As His mother's sister, Salome was there to both comfort her sister as she watched her son die a terrible death, and to minister to her nephew—whom she loved and believed was the Messiah (Matthew 20:20-21, 27:55).

The third woman John mentioned standing by the cross of Jesus was Mary, the wife of Clopas.

John says her name was also Mary. The early church taught that Clopas was the brother of Joseph, Jesus's earthly father (Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, III.112). If this report is true, then "Mary, the wife of Clopas" would have been Jesus's aunt by marriage. Mark adds that she was the mother of "James the less and Joses" (Mark 15:40, see also Matthew 27:56). "James the less" is a description of another of Jesus's twelve disciples, named James. He was referred to as "James the less" to differentiate him from Jesus's disciple, "James, the son of Zebedee" who is more prominently mentioned in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Lesser James is named as one of the twelve disciples by Matthew, Mark and Luke, where he is described as "James, the son of Alphaeus" (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15). Apparently, Alphaeus and Clopas were the same person. This disciple would have been related to Jesus as a cousin by marriage.

Once again, if Mary the wife of Clopas was Jesus's aunt by marriage as the early church claimed, then her motives for being present at the cross would have been similar to Salome's. She was there to support Mary, Jesus's mother, and to show compassion for her nephew. Mary, the wife of Clopas was also a believer and follower of Jesus (Matthew 27:55).

The fourth woman John mentioned standing by the cross of Jesus was Mary Magdalene.

This Mary was not related to Jesus. But she was a devoted follower of His from His Galilean ministry. Mary was from the town of Magdala, and this is where she got her name. Magdala was located on the western shore of the sea. Luke identified Mary Magdalene as one of the women who followed Him and supported His ministry (Luke 8:2-3). In this account, Luke also reveals that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. It is generally believed that Mary was the woman who anointed Jesus's feet with an alabaster vial, wiping them with her hair and tears in the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).

As Jesus hung on the cross, He "saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby" (John 19:26a).

Despite His own sufferings, Jesus's thoughts turned toward His mother's future welfare.

Mary was likely a widow at this point in her life. The Gospels make no mention of Joseph, her husband, at any point after Jesus's childhood. Joseph is last referenced when Jesus was twelve years old and left behind in the temple (Luke 2:41-51). The Gospels' silence indicates that Joseph, Mary's husband, had passed away, leaving Jesus's mother a widow. In Jewish culture, it would fall to the oldest son to be the caretaker and provider for any unmarried women in the family. This would have been Jesus's responsibility.

But now Jesus was dying and would no longer be able to provide for His mother. Earlier in his Gospel account, John pointed out that none of His brothers believed in Him at this time (John 7:5). Jesus placed the responsibility of looking after His mother into the hands of a trusted disciple instead of letting this important responsibility fall to his unbelieving brothers.

He communicated this and transferred this important obligation and responsibility with His third statement from the cross.

Jesus said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!'"
(John 19:26b).

He addresses Mary as "Woman," a term that may sound unusual to modern ears but was a sign of respect and affection in that cultural context. Jesus said to Mary, "behold, your son!" The expression "your son" was in reference to His disciple, John, who was standing beside her. He was telling His mother that from now on John would succeed Him as her legal protector and provider.

This was the first part of Jesus's third statement from the cross.

The second part of Jesus's third statement was directed to John.

"Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!'"
(John 19:27a).

Jesus said this to ensure that John understood his responsibility to provide and look after Jesus's mother as though she was his own. He was asking John to fulfill the earthly responsibility that He could no longer perform once He was gone.

John understood this and obeyed His Lord. He wrote: "From that hour the disciple took her into his own household" (John 19:27b).

Altogether, this shows how Jesus, even though He was suffering unimaginable agony on the cross, was still seeking others' best. He was actively serving His mother by transferring her care to John. This short remark was a personal and powerful act of love.

And in saying these things, Jesus set an example for His disciples to follow in seeking to provide for the welfare of their vulnerable family members, be they children or aging parents. Jesus's action was in alignment with His teaching that it is honoring to God to take care of our family members when they are unable to take care of themselves (Mark 7:9-13).

"Woman, behold, your son!" "Behold, your mother!"
(John 19:26b, 27b)

Read about Jesus's fourth final word from the cross here: "4: A Word of Desolation."

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