During Lent, we remember Jesus: his words and ministry. Lent ends in Holy Week, the week Jesus died. One of the last things he said while he hung on the cross communicated his identity and heart. He said to his mother and closest disciple, “‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (John 19:26, ESV).
Why did he say that? What son calls his mom, “woman”? At first glance, it sounds out of place and downright rude. Yet, Jesus’s ministry began with him calling his mother, “woman”, in John 2. He disagrees with her. However, he does what she asks. A few chapters later, he used the term to speak to a Samaritan woman at a well. He calls her out but offers dignity and hope uncharacteristic of the religious, gender, and class disparity. Neither woman reacted to these addresses by being put off. Nor did anyone around them. Why? Because the cultural meaning is different. The term in Greek does not sound like it does to our twenty-first-century sensitivities. It was not a cold unkind address, but rather part of a compassionate consolation. The New Living Translation interprets the word “woman” as “Dear woman” (NLT). That must be closer to what these women heard.
What about the rest of what Jesus said? What was that about?
On that Good Friday, Mary’s son’s life was ebbing away. As a child, she had held him. Her hugs and love would be instinctual to a mom. Her baby must have laughed, cried, and chattered. He would learn to crawl, walk, speak, grow, and develop as children do. She witnessed it all. Mary would have cared for him and nurtured him until he became a man.
On his first visit to Jerusalem with his mother, a stranger approached, an old man known for being righteous and devout. The man prayed for this moment to come. He dreamed to see the Messiah, the Promised One, the Son of God, the Lord’s Christ. He spotted Mary. They met. He spoke a prophetic word: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also)” (Luke 2:34–35). The rising and falling and piercing. Mary was used to pronouncements. Angelic encounters, a virgin birth, expensive gifts from wise men—she knew Jesus was no ordinary child. But what did Simeon mean? Sword?
I am sure she remembered and felt that blade as Jesus died. The sharp edge of reality ripped through her soul as the Pharisees and Romans murdered her son when he had done nothing wrong. The weeping and tears must have blinded her and run dry in her heartache. Her son did not deserve this. She could only watch and weep and pray. He suffered among criminals. This was not a “Good Friday” for Mary.
His life drained before her eyes. As time passed, he moved closer and closer and closer to death. Unbelievably, he prayed for God to forgive his tormentors. Then he promised paradise to a criminal. Now he turned to her and his disciple. What did he say? “Woman, behold, your son” (John 19:26). He acknowledged her and gave her a gift. He consoled her with words that meant something in a male-dominated society. He knew what she needed and he offered comfort. John may provide financially or offer the emotional support of a son to an aging parent. Jesus couldn’t take away the searing pain of having to watch him die, but he could help as her firstborn son. Consolation.
What consolation do you need? What pain do you carry? You and I suffer. Life and trials go hand and hand. Jesus saw it and experienced it. He knew tribulation. He saw his own difficulty and yours. He knew his mother’s weakness. He was not consumed with himself when we could be, but looked out and offered comfort to others, to those distant and close. (Excerpted from Last Words: Seven Sayings From the Heart of Christ on the Cross, p. 26–27)
These words communicate Jesus’s heart of compassion to all who will listen. Those words and actions are consistent with God’s character and message. The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We can look at the cross and see Jesus’s heart on display. We can hear his dying breath and dying words as words spoken to us and for us. He was thinking not of revenge, vindication, payback, escape, but you, me, and those who believe. Jesus said to a seeker late one night years before his death, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus died in love to forgive our sins. He paid for them all with his life. If you turn from your sin and trust in him, eternal life is yours by faith.
He loves you.
Picture it. Hear it. Believe it. Receive It.
Guest Author: Robert J. Nash, MDiv, serves as a pastor at Sawyer Highlands Church in Southwest Michigan and is the author of Last Words: Seven Sayings from the Heart of Christ on the Cross. He is married with six kids and enjoys teaching, reading, running, and traveling with his family. Learn more at robertjnash.com.