“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’”
(John 19:26-27).

Only those who have watched a loved one die can understand what it means for Mary to be near the cross on that fateful day.  As the hours pass and the agony increases she looks at her son, just a shell of the man he used to be, beaten almost beyond recognition, writhing in pain. And the crowd loving it, cheering, laughing, mocking as her son dies in agony.

Sometime during the first three hours comes another cry from the cross. It is totally unexpected. Jesus looking down sees his mother Mary and sees John standing next to her and cries out, “Woman, behold your son.” (speaking of John) and to John, “Behold your mother."  The Bible says that when Jesus said those words from the cross, immediately, from that very hour, John took Mary into his own home.

We wouldn’t understand at first reading the significance of those words.  But in Jewish thought the instructions of a dying man were of the same sort as if they were written on a piece of paper.  So when Jesus cried out, “Woman, behold your son” and “Son, behold your mother", it is as if Jesus were writing his own last will and testament and executing it right there.  Jesus was saying to Mary, “Mother, I’m leaving you now and I’m not going to be able to take care of you after I’m gone. There’s nothing else I can do for you. But do not worry. John will be to you as I was to you.  He will be the son you need."  “John, do you see my mother?  Take care of her after I’m gone.  Do for her what I would do if I were still alive.”

But why in the midst of all his agony would Jesus say something like this?  It is because even though he is dying in terrible, agonizing torture upon the cross, he is fulfilling the most basic responsibility and the most sacred obligation that any son ever had.  He is making sure that his mother is cared for.

When Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son,” he was gasping for breath, fighting for life while staring death in the face. Soon the struggle would be over. We may wonder why he called Mary “Woman” instead of “Mother.” No doubt the answer lies in the fact that when he hung on the cross, he was there not simply as her son (though that was true by physical birth) but in a much greater way as the Redeemer of the world. And beyond that, we can add that he was hanging on the cross as Mary’s redeemer too. By calling her “Woman,” Jesus was signifying that what he would accomplish on the cross would include her too. And by calling her “Dear woman” he indicated that though his earthly ties were broken, he still loved her and would make sure she was cared for after he was gone.

Jesus died as he had lived–thinking of others. 

Great Heavenly Father, we thank you that your Son was a family man. Even in death, he remembered his mother. I am glad that by virtue of his death and resurrection, I too am a member of his family, and now he remembers me in heaven. Amen. 

You can reach the author at ray@keepbelieving.com. Click here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.