There are different ways of getting people’s attention, some ways better than others. George Phillips, who lives in the Gold Coast area of Australia, some years ago, was going to bed at his usual time when his wife remarked that he’d left the light on in the garden shed. The shed was visible from the bedroom window. George got dressed again and went out the back door but observed that there were strangers stealing things from the shed. So he quietly retraced his steps and went back into his home. He phoned the police who asked him: ‘Is someone in your home?’ on answering that the thieves were in his garden shed they informed him that he should lock his door securely and an officer would be along when one was available but all patrols were very busy and it could be some time. George said ‘Okay’ duly locked the house and counted to thirty. Then he phoned the police again: ‘Hello I just called you a few seconds ago because there were people stealing things from my shed. You said your patrols were busy. I wanted to let you know that you don’t have to worry anymore about them because I’ve shot them’. Then he hung up. Within five minutes three police cars, an armed response unit and an ambulance showed up at the Phillips residence and caught the burglars red-handed. One of the policemen said to George: ‘I thought you had shot them’. George said: ‘I thought you said there was nobody available to help’!!
All of us can smile at such a story because it speaks very clearly about priorities. All of us struggle with priorities if not all the time at least some of it. Fitting everything into the weekly schedule can be a challenging exercise sometimes. Our passage speaks about the priorities of Jesus on the cross and when put alongside Luke 23:40-43 which described Jesus’ concern for a dying criminal who wanted forgiveness for his sins and eternal life to whom Jesus spoke words of reassurance and grace reveals an astonishing compassion for the needs of other people. Even if Jesus had not spoken a word to anyone on earth from the cross He could not have been accused of sinning or wrong priorities –after all crucifixion was the most excruciating form of death devised on the planet yet in death as in life it was said of Jesus: No-one ever spoke the way this man does (John 7:46) declared the Temple guards when reporting back to the Chief Priests and Pharisees and explaining why they had not arrested Jesus. However we focus on some specific words of Jesus recorded in John 19:25-27: Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.26 When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing near by, He said to His mother, Dear Woman, here is your son, 27and to the disciple, Here is your mother. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
1. The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.33The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too. These words of Simeon’s seemed so out of place at an infant dedication. It was a celebration, a thanksgiving to God for a new life in a Jewish family. Yet here were words that must have caused a shudder through the bodies of every person who heard them. Our text has zoomed in and focussed on the people at the foot of this cross and in particular on the mother of our Lord and one of His closest disciples John. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother; For Mary though this was only the latest step of a journey that had begun when a teenage girl was stunned by the visit of the angel Gabriel, an event recorded in Luke chapter one. The greeting of the angel had implied that this child would be the promised One that devout Jewish women had longed to bear for generations and now this young girl was receiving that news for herself. Gabriel told her: You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father [ancestor] David and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; His kingdom will never end(Luke 1:31-33). After asking for clarification about how this could take place Mary declares her trust in the Lord (Luke 1:38): I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May it be to me as you have said. Yet within a year the young family had to flee to Egypt because Herod had ordered the killing of all children in the district of Bethlehem who were under two years old with the words of Simeon still fairly fresh in her ears. Had the old man spoken solely about the trauma of exile with Jesus as a young baby? No it was culminating here at the cross. Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus as a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering (Isa.53:3), yet Mary standing at the cross was going through agonies of heart watched her beloved Son endure the pains of crucifixion; hands that had carried out so many acts of kindness were impaled on a Roman cross. In the midst of mocking crowds who cried: So you who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself (Mark 15:29)! In earshot of religious leaders taunting Him: He saved others, they said, but He can’t save Himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down from the cross that we may see and believe (Mark 15:31-32). If that was not bad enough Mark records (15:32) Those crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him. In the midst of such hatred and disrespect we read:Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother; From Mary’s point of view could you visualise a situation so desperate, one in which you felt so helpless than this scene her at Calvary? She would have winced at the hammer blows as the nails went into His body; she would have flinched at the sight of His temples dripping blood from the jagged thorns that had pierced His head; Here a mother could see her son’s agonies and do nothing to relieve the pain; unable to quench His thirst, let alone embrace Him. The easiest thing in the world would have been to go away rather than sit or stand there for those awful hours, yet for the duration we read: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (John 19:25).
2. The Example of the Son (John 19:26)
The relationship between Jesus and His mother throughout His earthly life has been reflected on in many a book and sermon in different sections of the Christian Church, but from a human point of view when the child born in your home is the Messiah, the Son of God, it must have been a challenge for Mary and Joseph to address given the other six or seven children in the family home. Likewise if you had created the Universe, had lived for eternity past, to be an obedient child to teenage parents with their limited life experience cannot have been easy. Yet Jesus obeyed God’s law in His life on earth including the fifth commandment: Honour your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12). This commandment for a Jewish child was lifelong filial devotion to show that love and affection while your parents were alive. It was not merely for the little people who had no other choice! Yet as He grew up Jesus had a consciousness that His position in the family was different to all the other children raised by Mary and Joseph. We have one window through which to view this fact in Luke 2:41-52 when Jesus had come of age and was welcomed aged twelve as a man into the Jewish community. 41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you. 49Why were you searching for me? he asked. Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
The occasion was the Passover feast in Jerusalem. The people from the tiny villages in Galilee went down as a group together for companionship and security. After all up to a million people might show up over the course of the feast and it would be easy to get separated from the group. Clearly the family did not expect the children to be in sight throughout each day as it was not until the day of departure that Mary and Joseph noticed that Jesus was missing. They turned back leaving the group to go forward without them in an attempt to find their apparently lost Son. Three days of searching drew a blank –only those of us as parents whose child has gone missing understands what it feels like- even when only a few minutes or a few hours –the panic, heartache and sheer fear of what might have happened pass through our minds. At last they go to the place where it might have been a good idea to have looked earlier, in the Temple listening to Bible / Jewish faith teaching and asking questions of the rabbis. They were astonished that a twelve year old boy could know so much about God and their faith –maybe had they realised who He was it might not have been such a surprise –yet He was and is truly human as well as divine and Luke 2:52 declares: Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men. The particular point to note here are the words of a clearly distressed Mary in v48: His mother said to Him, Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you (NIV) However anxiously searching is less than adequate for a translation of her words. The verb in question odunaomai carries the idea of ‘sorrowing or suffering torment’, and must have been included by Luke with the understanding that a clear reference is being made to the prophecy of Simeon (Howard Marshall Luke, p.128); Jesus’ reply is one of surprise that they had looked everywhere except the most obvious place in Jerusalem in the religious meetings in the Temple. Why were you searching for me? He asked. Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house? 50But they did not understand what He was saying to them. The passage then goes on to state that He returned with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them (v51). This state of affairs, honouring to God continued up to the day when Mary beheld her beloved Son on the cross. So it is not too surprising in some respects that Jesus despite the agonised cost of breathing in order to speak audible words addresses His mother as He saw her at the foot of His cross. It had been Jesus as the eldest boy in the household who had taken on the responsibility of providing for the family after Joseph’s early death, taking His earthly father’s place as head of the family until he entered his public ministry in His late 20s, by which time the other children would have reached adulthood.
How does He address Mary? Woman is the rendering in some versions; dear woman in others such as the NIV. The full utterance: Dear woman here is your son (John 19:26). Why did He not call her ‘Mother’ or some similar term as we might have done in our culture? Was it recognition that He was bearing her sins as well as the sin of the unpleasant people around her? Did He continue a pattern evident in His earthly ministry of not giving preferential treatment to His earthly relatives? Mary could not presume that Jesus would have helped at the wedding of Cana in Galilee (John 2) or how on the occasion when in ministry Mary and the other children turned up at a meeting and asked to speak to Him and were required to wait in the line, recorded in Matthew 12:46-50: 46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.47 Someone told him, Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you. 48Here is my mother, and who are my brothers? 49Pointing to his disciples, he said, Here are my mother and my brothers. 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. It is clear that after Jesus entered public ministry that He never again called Mary mother, however the word He uses here was a term of great respect used to address a queen or woman of high standing implying honour and recognition of her position and support to Him (Marcus Dodds point cited by Drescher Testimony of Triumph, p. 44). In His hour of greatest need Jesus thought of Mary and her needs –what greater evidence could be provided of filial devotion than this incident before us?
3. The Provision by the Son (John 19:27)
Why did Jesus commit His mother into John’s care when He had four step brothers alive who could have taken this responsibility? The clue to answering this question comes earlier in John’s Gospel. John 7:5 states: For even His own brothers did not believe in Him. Statements like this giving an honest account of the facts confirms the reliability of the Gospel’s teaching when it is recorded that people believed in Jesus. Psalm 69: 8-9a states: I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for Your house consumes me. Jesus wanted to entrust His mother to a man who had recognised who He was and could be relied upon to take care of Mary. It was not too big a challenge for Mary, after all Salome John’s mother was her sister and Salome had accompanied Mary in her agonizing vigil at the cross. The words of Matthew 26:56 with reference to the time of Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane noted: Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled – this was a sad state of affairs. Thankfully it was not the final word. Peter and John returned to the fray-although Peter denied Him, at least he was making a limited effort. John went further and was found at the foot of the cross. In this context the apostle known as the ‘beloved disciple’ received this charge from Jesus concerning His mother. John 19:27 records: and to the disciple, Here is your mother. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. All Jesus’ earthly possessions had been taken by the soldiers there was nothing left for Him to bequeath to another person, but the care of His mother had been still outstanding until entrusted to John. It was this disciple who reclined at the table next to Jesus at the Last Supper. It was John who would recognise first, amongst the apostles, the significance of the resurrection at the garden tomb and John again was the follower who recognised Jesus when the disciples went fishing in Galilee, an event described in John 21. Even amongst the women who stood at the cross there were very different relationships with Jesus. Mary Magdalene out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons (Luke 8:2) and who would be one of the first at the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday morning and the first to meet with Him (Mark 16:9) was a picture of the redeeming love of God and a transformed life when her sins had been forgiven. Salome was delighted Jesus was the Messiah, but thought His earthly family ought to have a special status in God’s kingdom as a result. Matthew 20:20-28 details her audacious request for her two sons James and John to have the top two positions in God’s future kingdom. For a lady who valued power and status the sight before her on Calvary must have crushed her worldly expectations. Mary, Clopas’ wife, from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) like her husband were simple believers who followed Jesus but we in shock and total confusion at what was going on. Our passage records: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, a woman of faith who had been warned by Simeon of the painful experiences that lay ahead of her as she followed the life and ministry of her Son. It was more than maternal loyalty; it was a trust in the God who had called her to her vocation in life and who through the devotion of her Son, His Son, in the midst of His own suffering demonstrated His love for her and ultimately to us all. The challenge for us is to stop and ask: Who am I most like in this story? Or what can I learn from it? Mary Magdalene was someone who had made some big mistakes in the past but Jesus had changed her life and now nothing was too much for her to do for Him. Salome, Jesus’ mother’s sister, who was happy to follow Jesus, but wanted public recognition for her family in the coming kingdom of Jesus because of their commitment to the cause. There was also Mary, Clopas’ wife, whom Jesus would later meet on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection whose hopes had been shattered by this blow and who was struggling to keep going in her faith; alongside Mary, Jesus’ mother, whose quiet devotion to her Son had been so consistent and strong; at different times in our faith journey we may identify at that stage with different one, but may we prayerfully reflect on our devotion to Jesus as we renew afresh our commitment to His cause as we follow Him through another new week, Amen. e