“Behold Your Son … Behold Your Mother”

Posted: March 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

This is the third week of our sermon series drawn from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Final Words from the Cross”.  Some of the words of today’s message are mine and some are those of Rev. Hamilton, but the inspiration and credit go to him.  My hope is that you are blessed by these messages as the book has blessed me.

“I am Mary, wife of Clopas. I begged Mary, Jesus’ mother, not to follow as he was led away to be crucified. “Mary, it will be too hard. You don’t want to see this.” But she said to me, “I will not let my son die alone among these wolves.” And so we went, joined by only one of his disciples, the young John, and by Mary of Magdala.  Jesus’ mother was a strong and determined woman. And she loved her son. He was to her the joy of her life and the purpose of her existence. Jesus had sought to prepare her for what lay ahead in Jerusalem. Somehow she had always known he would die as a young man, giving his life to save the world. Mary was determined to stand near Jesus as he suffered. She would fight to hold back the tears, seeking to show her son strength and love. She would do all she could, standing there, to ease his pain and to give him hope. As the crowd hurled their insults, Mary slowly pushed her way through until she stood before him. They hung him naked, so as to humiliate him, and in wretched pain. Jesus’ feet were two feet off the ground, and from where Mary stood she could reach up and touch his chest, though the Roman guards forbade such things. As we stood there, Mary said to Jesus, “I love you, my son. Your Father will soon come for you. You are in his hands. I love you.” It was then that Jesus looked at his mother and spoke slowly and tenderly to her, “Dear woman, this now is your son.” He nodded his head toward John. And then, to John he said, “Here is your mother.” John placed his arm around Mary and held her as if to say to Jesus, “I understand, I will take care of her.””

Who are these people at the foot of the cross, watching Jesus die?  Tradition teaches us Mary the wife of Clopas was Mary’s sister-in-law, believed to be the wife of Joseph’s brothfinalwordser. Both women would have known everything about the life of Jesus. That’s why they followed him from his birth to the cross.

Mary of Magdala, more often referred to as Mary Magdalene was a close follower of Jesus.  The Bible referred to her as a “sinner”.  Luke 8:2 says, “The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out—and many others.”  She was forever grateful for her freedom and was a faithful disciple, devoted even to Calvary.

Jesus’ mother Mary was only a teenager when God came to her and asked her to give up her hopes and dreams. Instead, God was asking her to bear His own son, to take a risk, and trust that Joseph would believe she had conceived by the Holy Spirit. This was a lot to ask of a teenage mother. She was young, inexperienced, but she was faithful to God’s calling. Mary carried the baby Jesus in her womb. She changed his diapers…fed and nurtured him…she and Joseph took him to Egypt to insure his safety…returned to Israel and gave him an education in the Synagogue…and she followed his ministry…all the way to the cross. 

 The young disciple John is sometimes referred to as the beloved disciple. Jesus loved him and trusted him. At the time of his death, Jesus turned to John and asked him to care for his mother as if she were his own. There must have been a bond between these men that was tested by time. Their bond brought them as close to one another as though they were brothers. 

 Jesus loved his mother. He knew she had stood by him as an infant, as a child, at the time of his earthly father’s death, throughout his ministry, and even now…as he hung on the cross. I don’t think any of us can imagine being in this situation. What would it be like for a mother to stand at the feet of her son while he is being executed by the authorities? What would it be like for a son to look into his mother’s eyes as he felt his life slipping away?  Jesus loved her so much that he wanted her to receive John as her son. Trusting that they would love and care for each other. 

What lessons can we learn from this passage of scripture?  As you think about the boldness of these three women waiting at the foot of the cross, in the midst of a hostile crowd, it points to the role of women in the ministry of Jesus.  As outlined in the book, “It was the women who financially supported the work of Jesus and the disciples (Luke 8:1-3).  It was a woman who became the first missionary to the Samaritans (John 4:28-29).  It was a woman who anointed Jesus with oil in preparation for his death (Matthew 26:6-13).  It was three women who had the courage to stand by Jesus’ cross for six hours as he died (John 19:25).  It was women who first came to the tomb and found it empty on Easter morning (Mark 16:1-8).  It was a woman who first saw Christ raised from the dead and, in turn, a woman who became the first to proclaim the resurrection to others (John 20:11-18).  Jesus regularly showed compassion, mercy and love toward the women in the Gospels.”  This was all very unusual for that time period.  Women were usually thought of as property, or at least second-class citizens.  Thankfully, these cultural norms have changed, and today, the church is filled with women who are effective teachers, preachers and leaders.  “Their leadership is in a long tradition that began with these Biblical women who followed and supported the ministry of Jesus and who courageously stood with him during those final hours of his life.

We also learn about Mary, and how as the mother of Jesus, she is one of the most important human beings in history, and second only to Jesus in God’s plan to save mankind.  Rev. Hamilton says, “It was Mary who, when called to risk her life and give up all of her dreams in order to carry, deliver and raise the Messiah, replied, ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’  It was Mary who carried the Son of God in her womb, having supplied the human materials needed for the Incarnation; her body and blood nurtured and nourished God’s Word as it was becoming flesh.  No other human being has ever had such an intimate relationship to God.  This woman who stood by the cross seeking desperately to console and give hope to her dying son paid a great price for our salvation.”  Surely her soul was pierced that day.

Jesus loved his mother and even in his last moments he was concerned with her wellbeing.  He wanted to be sure that she would be taken care of after he was gone, so he asked John to take care of his mother and he asked Mary to accept John’s protection and care.  One of our church traditions tells us that Mary lived out the remainder of her life in Ephesus with John.  There is a house in existence there today that some believe is the house that John built for Mary.  The very beginning of John’s Gospel says that Jesus is God’s Word made flesh.  The things that Jesus did and said serve to amplify and exemplify the Bible.  As Rev. Hamilton says in the book, “In this tender conversation, we see the fifth commandment, God’s call for humanity to honor our mothers and our fathers.  To honor them is to ensure that they are cared for.” 

We can also view this scripture as going beyond the example of caring for our parents.  Author Fleming Rutledge says that “both the disciple and Mary represent the way that family ties are transcended in the church by the ties of the Spirit.”  In this example, John wants us to understand that as disciples of Christ, we are responsible for caring for one another, “even taking on the role of parent or child or brother or sister to another who needs us.”  We are expected to extend family-like love, compassion and kindness to others, even strangers.  The two commands Jesus gave us are, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  To further clarify the question “who is my neighbor?” Jesus told this parable: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  When we think of “neighbors” we think of those people close to us … family, friends, people we have lived near for a long time and share a bond with.  It’s natural to consider these people as brothers and sisters, but in this parable, Jesus teaches that everyone in need is our neighbor, deserving of our compassion, our care and our love.  Everyone is our neighbor, everyone is family. 

There is also a special bond within the church.  Mark 3:31-35 tells this story about Jesus:  “Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” .

There is also a special bond within the church.  Mark 3:31-35 tells this story about Jesus:  “Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  In response to his biological family, Jesus creates a whole new definition of family. Family is the new community of Jesus’ followers; those who strive to do God’s will are Jesus’ family. 

Early Christian communities represented a specific kind of group: they functioned as a family. Kinship language (brother, sister, Father, child, inheritance) can be found throughout the New Testament. Family is the dominant metaphor for the church in the writings of the church fathers. Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. If we’re really serious about spiritual formation, then we must become really serious about creating church communities that act like real families.

Think about it. If you’re an orphan, you don’t adopt parents; they adopt you. If your adoptive parents are named Smith, you now attend the Smith family dinners with the parents and all the children. You share a bedroom at night with the Smith siblings. When the teacher at school calls out attendance and says, “Smith?” you raise your hand like your older brother did before you and your younger sister will do after you. And you do this not because you decided to play the role of “Smith,” but because someone went to the orphanage and said, “You will be a Smith.” On that day, you became the child of someone and the sibling of others.

            We can also consider 2 Timothy 1. Paul speaks to Christians in families. Paul acknowledges the importance of Timothy’s biological grandmother Lois and mother Eunice in the development of Timothy’s faith. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul calls on natural sons and daughters to take care of their own widowed mothers. But later in that same chapter, Paul also speaks to Christians as family. Paul says for a widow who has no children, the church is to be her family and to be as responsible for her as if she was a biological parent. Jesus himself practiced this kind of first family. On the cross, Jesus asked a “beloved disciple” to take care of his mother and make her part of his own family. Christians in families are important but Christians as family is even more important.

            For the first few centuries, churches met in homes. In Acts 16, an out-of-town businesswoman named Lydia listens to Paul’s message. She accepts Christ and is baptized. She immediately invites Paul and his companions to stay at her house. By the end of Acts 16 it’s clear that a brand new Christian fellowship has begun meeting in Lydia’s home, and Paul goes there to encourage “the brothers and sisters” (Acts 16:40). In the church, “water is thicker than blood.” The waters of Christian baptism initiate us into Jesus’ new definition of family.

            Because of the difficulty in speaking during crucifixion, we can assume that these final words spoken from the cross by Jesus were critical.  There is much that he needed to say and that we needed to hear.  “In this scene and in these final words, we see the courage of the women who were a part of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We are reminded once more of the profound role that Mary played in God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ.  We recall Jesus’ witness and call to care for our parents.  We see a picture of what it means to be the church … Christians caring for those who are younger and those who are older, as though those in need were our children or our parents.  And we see in Mary one who, though favored by God, walked through this dark valley, but – as Jesus himself expected her to do – carried on Christ’s mission after he was gone.  Jesus’ words to “Behold your son” and “Behold your mother” remind us that this mission is ours as well – caring for those Jesus cares for as if they are our own family.”

As Jesus instructed us, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.…You are my friends if you do what I command you.…It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” Amen.

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