“Woman, Behold Your Son! … Behold Your Mother!”
(John 19:25-27 – Midweek Lent 3 – March 16, 2022)
John 19:25-27 – 25Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” 27Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.
Jesus, loving to the end
Her whose heart Thy sorrows rend,
And Thy dearest human friend:
Hear us, holy Jesus.
So we just prayed in the words of the hymn. As we hear Jesus’ third word from the cross, we behold Him who is love, loving to the very end. As Jesus looks upon His mother Mary, He sees her heart pierced with the unspeakable sorrow of a mother helplessly watching her Son suffer and die; and He thinks only of her needs. At the same time, Jesus looks upon His disciple, John, also filled with deep sorrow as a dearest human friend. In this time of bereavement, even in the midst His own intense suffering of body and soul, Jesus thinks only of how to provide for their human need. “He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!'” It is to this Savior, who loves His own to the end, that we pray: “Hear us, holy Jesus: In Your all-giving love, provide for us what we need most for body and soul, not only for this life, but unto eternal life.”
Just think of the pain it must have caused Mary to see her Son suffer. Scenes must have flashed through her mind of all that had happened up to this point. Mary could remember the angel’s announcement 33 years earlier that she was to become the mother of Jesus. She would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, who was coming into the world to save His people from their sin. But how could she ever have imagined that this was how it must come to pass? Long ago that night at Bethlehem, the shepherds had come to visit the newborn Babe in the manger, telling of the angelic host singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). But how could Mary have imagined then that the Baby Jesus would one day hang from nails on that accursed cross – as the necessary sacrifice to purchase that peace of forgiveness for sinners and win for us that goodwill of God?
Yet such heart-piercing anguish had been foretold from early on in Jesus’ life. Just 40 days after His birth, Mary and Joseph had gone to the temple to present Him. The aged Simeon had blessed them and said to Mary: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). They had not understood then. But now as Mary beheld her Son, pierced through in His hands and feet, and she heard the mocking cries of His enemies speaking against him, she felt that sword piercing her soul. How she must have wept with a mother’s unspeakable anguish. It would have hurt less if a Roman soldier had run a sword through her heart!
Should it not pierce our own heart and soul as well? For as we see the innocent Son of God and Son of Mary hanging from the accursed tree, do we not realize that He was pierced for our own transgressions (Isaiah 53:5)? Do we not realize that His sacrifice as the innocent Lamb of God was necessary to win for us the peace of forgiveness and the goodwill of God toward us?
Unlike the perfect Son of God and Son of Mary, we must confess with David in the psalm: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). From the beginning of life our sinful nature has shown, even from our earliest memories.
God in His Word has given us the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). In the Small Catechism we explain the meaning of this commandment: “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise our parents or superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love and esteem them.” But as children growing up in the home, can we not remember times when we despised our parents’ God-given authority? We were not always so ready to do the chores, to avoid bad influences they warned against, to be in by curfew. We did not always do as told, but snuck our own way behind their back. And later in life, after leaving home, we have not always shown honor and love to our parents, by staying in contact and being there for them. We have gotten too busy to care as we ought for those through whom God has given us life and shown love and care to us.
This only addresses one of many commandments God has given, all of which we have broken by our lack of love to Him above all, and lack of love to those He puts around us. If this was the life we had to present before God to find His peace and goodwill, where would we be?
But thanks be to God – this was the very reason He sent His Son to be born of Mary! As our Brother in the flesh, Jesus took our place under the Law of God as the perfectly obedient Son. We see this from early on in His life. Mary could recall the time when Jesus was 12 years old, when she and Joseph had taken Him along to Jerusalem for the Passover. Unknown to them, when they left Jerusalem Jesus stayed behind. When they returned and finally found Him in the temple, speaking to the teachers of the Law, Mary had exclaimed: “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” Then Jesus had responded with those innocent and unforgettable words:“Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” They had not fully understood at the time, but we are told that the 12-year-old Jesus had returned with them to Nazareth, and was subject to them (Luke 2:48-51).
All through His years, from infancy to adulthood, Jesus had been about His Father’s business as the perfectly subject Son, our Savior. Above all, He was obedient in all things to the will of His heavenly Father who sent Him. And in fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment, He honored His earthly parents in the highest way. By His perfect obedience, Jesus fulfilled all the Commandments for us – loving God above all, and loving those whom His Father had put in His life. He did it all for us, so that His perfect obedience now counts for us in the sight of God.
As the Son who took our place in perfect obedience, His love and honor did not fail even as He hung on the cross for us. Even there He looked on His human mother, thinking of her needs, providing for her. What would become of Mary now in her bereavement? She must have been a widow; for the last time anything was said about Joseph was when Jesus was 12 years old, subject to His earthly parents. Ever since then, even when Joseph had passed from this world, Jesus had fulfilled His place as the firstborn Son, seeing to it that Mary was cared for. But now what? Life would be difficult for an aging woman without a man to provide and care for her.
Yet even now, even as Jesus suffered excruciating physical pain, hanging from nails through hands and feet, struggling for each breath – even now, He thought of His mother’s needs and earthly comforts. Even now, as He suffered in His soul, drinking the unthinkable cup His heavenly Father had put to His lips, paying for the sins of the world – even now as the perfect Son, Jesus thought of His mother, loving and honoring her to end. “He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” Mary would be provided for; and John would be blessed, too, with Mary as part of his family. Both would be provided for by the Savior, who was working out all things for their good, not only in time but in eternity.
Is it not the same for us? Because of Jesus’ perfect life of Sonship lived in our place, because of His sacrificial death for us, now we live in that peace and goodwill of God toward us. He who hung on His cross loving us to the end, guarantees our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Moreover, He guarantees that we are cared for each and every day. For Jesus loves us as His own family.
Remember what Jesus said that time in Matthew 12:48-50: “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” He pointed to His disciples, those who believed in Him, and He said: “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Just like Mary and John, and all the rest of His disciples, Jesus has taken us to Himself as family. He has made us children of God by faith.
Therefore, just as He loved His own to the end, He will see to it that we are taken care of. As we bow before Him, crying out in our need, “Hear us, holy Jesus,” He does. He who died for us, and more than that has risen from the grave, is our ever-present Savior who cares for us.
He who once became “A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) for us, understands our sorrows and grief. He who was born for us and lived each day for us, understands what our life is like. As we cry out in our need, Jesus’ loving heart goes out to us with sympathy, promising to provide. Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” “What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!”
Just as He did for Mary, when we experience the separation of death in this world, when that which seems most necessary is taken from us, Jesus Himself offers to fill the void. When we lose a spouse, the heavenly Bridegroom of the soul draws near with eternal love, assuring us: “I am with you always”; “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). When children lose parents, our Father in heaven comforts us with eternal love that we may say: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10). When parents lose children, our Good Shepherd comforts us with His eternal love, knowing that He gathers the little ones in His arms in heavenly joys (Isaiah 40:11). To each and every one of us, Jesus is keeping His promise to love and care for each us as His family, as the children of God, assuring us: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
Though we do not see Him now, Jesus gives us to one another to share His love. We are children of God, born of His Spirit in Holy Baptism. Therefore look around you and behold your brother, your sister, and your family. Jesus puts us together as children of His heavenly Father, here for one another to share His love.
Jesus gave His mother to John to care for. Years later, John reflected on this truth in his First Epistle, when he said to all the family of God in Christ: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7-11).
And the love of God in Christ that led Him to give Himself unto death for us, loving us to the end, is a love that will never end. For just as surely as Jesus died and rose again for us, we will experience that love that is stronger than death (Song of Solomon 8:6). For when we are raised up with our Savior to the joys of eternal life, we will share His perfect love forever.
Therefore, as the blood-bought children of God in Christ, as we kneel together at the foot of His cross, we pray:
May we all Thy loved ones be,
All one holy family,
Loving for the love of Thee:
Hear us, holy Jesus. Amen.