Behold Your Son: The Humanity of Jesus (March 7, 2021)
John 19: 25-27
Behold Your Son: The Humanity of Jesus
Today we have the third of our lines from Jesus from the cross, our continuing sermon series on the last words of Jesus. And here we have our first foray into the Gospel of John. John paints for us a picture here of the foot of the cross. He records that John himself was actually at the foot of the cross, that he is the only disciple to actually get all the way to that point with Jesus. Now, it is only recorded here in his autobiographical gospel. But, I mean, Matthew, Mark, and Luke weren’t exactly at the foot of the cross be able to see if John was there or not, so maybe that’s true. But John here claims a first hand account of what happens at the foot of the cross. And what he pictures for us here is that with him are three women: Mary, Jesus‘s mother, Mary, Jesus‘s mother‘s sister (tradition actually says sister-in-law, so she’d be married to Joseph’s brother. We’ll get back that), and then Mary Magdalene. And they have pushed their way to the front of the crowd, and now they sit at Jesus‘s feet determined to stay with him and support him in love until the end.
Jesus looks down at them and he has compassion upon them. He tells Mary, “woman, behold your son.” And he tells John “Behold your mother.” And the Gospel of John records that from that moment on John took Mary the mother of Jesus into his own home, and treated her as if she were his own mother.
Now one thing that you have to remember is that in that time a woman struggled to make a living, struggled to be able to care for herself, if there was not a man involved. A daughter would be cared for by her father, or her brothers, or uncles until such time that she could find someone to wed, and then she would get married and she would be cared for by her husband. And when widowed, then she would be cared for by her sons. Only if she outlived all her sons and grandsons and there’s no man left that we do we start to have problems. We actually have seen that problem in the book of Ruth. If you remember all the way back to the Old Testament, Naomi and her husband and two sons go out into Moab because of the famine, and then Naomi‘s husband dies, and her son dies, and her other son dies. And now she is left with no one but her two daughter-in-laws. Orpah stays in Moab, but Ruth and Naomi come back to Israel. And remember when they get back to Israel they have to beg. Naomi goes to the city square to beg for food, and Ruth, because she’s young and more energetic, she goes out to glean. So she joins the other widows out on the farm to pick up what drops from the harvest, to take from the edges of the field. Women who had no men left in their life were forced to rely upon the goodness and kindness of others.
And so what it looks like here is that Jesus is looking down at his mother and recognizing that Joseph is gone, at some point between when Jesus was 12 years old in the Gospel of Luke getting lost in the temple were Joseph is alive, and Jesus being baptized the age of 30 when Joseph is dead; at some point in there Joseph passes away. Mary became a widow being cared for by her son, which is why she’s with Jesus on this journey in the first place. But now Jesus is going away too. That’s what this looks like, is that Jesus is looking down and trying to ensure that Mary doesn’t have to go beg like Naomi; that Mary doesn’t have to rely upon the goodness of strangers like Ruth did, but rather that Mary will be cared for. And then Jesus tells his “beloved disciple,” John, to care for his mother.
Except that’s not the case, or at least it shouldn’t be. Because there’s that other Mary there; there’s Mary‘s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas. So there’s a guy involved there. And if indeed, as church tradition holds, this is Mary’s sister-in-law, then that guy is a relative of Mary‘s former husband. Which, by Jewish law, means that should she wind up childless he is supposed to care for her as if he were Joseph. And he’s clearly still in the picture, because his wife is hanging out with Mary at the foot of the cross. So there’s still a blood family from Joseph through that person who could care for Mary. Mary is not left out in the snow.
But furthermore, we understand from other Scriptures that there’s brothers of Jesus. Most notably for our purposes we have James, the one who writes the book of James, one of the epistles in the back of the New Testament; and in that book we see James claims to be the brother of Jesus. And Church tradition holds that he is indeed the son of Joseph at the least. We do understand Jesus to have four half brothers, one of them is James who goes on to lead the Jerusalem church. Now we don’t actually know if he is following Jesus very closely before the cross, he’s not one of the 12, so we don’t know how close or trustworthy he is at the time of the crucifixion. But we do know that he’s hanging around, that he is converted relatively quickly there after if he’s not already converted, and then he becomes a leader in the church in Jerusalem, which means he’s pretty well off. Certainly well off enough to care for Mary.
So we have two options here for a blood relative who can care for Mary, one of whom may even be Mary’s own son; and yet Jesus looks down and tells his mother, “No, I want you to be with this guy.” Why?
One thing that I like to remember is that the gospel of John is the last one to be written. By the time the gospel of John is written, John is old, he has cared for Mary for the rest of Mary‘s life. And then John, having experienced all of that, also has experienced the church’s persecution. John is the last of the apostles to be alive. I don’t know how many were alive when he finally writes the gospel of John, but he was the last of the apostles to be alive. He gets to see or hear about Peter being crucified, Paul being martyred, Thomas dying in India. All murdered by the Roman empire. John witnesses the persecution. He witnesses the beginnings of what will lead to Christians being hoarded into coliseums to be devoured by lions, all in the name of their faith. He witnesses the beginnings of families disowning their children because they preach Christ, and for no other reason. There are stories of families going into jail cells, going up the widows, and begging their family members to recant Jesus so that they can be freed. That is the reality of Christians of the day when John is riding his gospel, in exile himself, in a house arrest on a small island south of Greece.
And I think John includes this passage, he includes this conversation between Jesus and him and Mary, as a way of comforting his readers. Even though there may be blood family, and even though you may have blood family sitting right next to you at the foot of the cross, it is OK to rely upon, turn to, and trust more in your spiritual family in Christ. Christ himself turned to Mary and said, “no, stick with the church. Stick with your spiritual family.” Sometimes the church can be more of a family then your blood family. And I think that Jesus is telling the disciples, he’s telling John, and he’s telling the future disciples of the church exactly that. And also, through John, telling us to not to forget to care for those in need around us. The Scriptures have a shorthand phrase for those in need around us: “the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan.” In the New Testament, Jesus uses the phrase “the least of these” in Matthew 25. But Jesus is also reminding us to care for the widow among us, the orphan among us, as if they were our own mother or own son.
But I think that this passage speaks to me so profoundly for another reason as well, and that is because this really shows the humanity of Jesus. We in the church understand Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine, and we don’t try to ever define how someone can be 200% of a being, right, 100% divine and 100% human. We don’t know how that works. But we know it to be true, that he’s not lacking in either of those. And then we go and we spent 52 weeks a year preaching a lot about the divinity of Jesus. And we should, because it is the divinity of Jesus that gives him the authority to teach us, to reprimand us; and that gives him the authority to be our rabbi, to be our teacher. That’s really important.
But we can’t lose sight of the humanity of Jesus. In fact, it is that humanity that is one of the things that draws me most fully to Jesus. Because when I get in trouble, when my emotions get the best of me, when I am crushed and regretting what I’ve done wishing I could go back and change it; I know that Jesus has been there, that Jesus has empathy for people, that he knows what it feels like to wish things could change. And if I go to him he’s not gonna be sitting in judgment. And it’s these moments where Jesus’s humanity shows through. On the cross, in this moment, he is not a God, he’s a human who is dying and who is looking at his mother and thinking “what is she going to do when I’m gone?” And he’s trying to make sure that she is taken care of and cared for because he loves her. And that she’ll be cared for by someone who loves her as much as he does. It’s those moments that the most tear at the veil, that tear at the curtain that separates God and the earth for me. I don’t want to lose that moment. I don’t want to lose that humanity as we look at that.
John listened to Jesus. He took Mary in and he loved her. And I think that John needed Mary. Because he had a tough road ahead of him too. And he got to go home every night to someone who knew Jesus, knew Jesus’s mission, and was going to help them out. And she would listen to him the way she listened to Jesus in his moments of need as he grew up. But I also think that Mary needed someone in the church, her drive and her passion at that point, having lost her husband and her son, was likely to keep working towards the goal that Jesus had of the coming of the kingdom of God. To honor him in that way. And, by the way, she played a pretty big part in that goal too! I think Jesus in that moment knew that they would need each other. And Jesus knows our needs as well. And one of those needs is the comfort, and care, and compassion of those around us. And we, like John, are called to care for those in need around us as if they were our own mother or our own son. This week, honor God, and honor Jesus, by caring for those around you. Amen.