Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

229. Women at the Cross (John 19:25-27)*

Apart from John's very indirect allusion to himself as present at the crucifixion, the gospels give no hint of the other apostles being there. Yet Peter was at Golgotha-"a witness of the sufferings of Christ" (1 Pet. 5 :1). Now, as he beheld his Master suffering alone, with what pangs of self-reproach he would think of the harrowing experiences of the previous night.

Possibly others of the apostolic band were there also, mingling as obscurely as possible with the crowd. But if they were there, the reference to them is veiled. Luke records that "all his acquaintance stood afar off beholding these things." That phrase seems to include the apostles. Is it then because of their desertion of him that they are not named as disciples?

This loneliness in suffering is another of the aspects of the Lord's sacrifice which is dwelt upon more than once in the prophecies of his rejection. "My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off" (Ps.38 ill). "Thou hast put mine acquaintance far from me; Lover and friend hast thou put far from me; mine acquaintance is darkness" (88:8,18). "Because of all mine adversaries I am become a reproach, yea, unto my neighbours exceedingly, and a fear to mine acquaintances: they that did see me without fled from me" (31 :11RV; note that verse 5 here was quoted by Jesus on the cross).

Some of the women seem to have taken courage to come right up to the cross. "Perfect love casteth out fear." Possibly, after a while, they were given permission by the centurion in charge. The expression: "when Jesus saw his mother," implies that they were not there close to the cross all the time. Along with Mary was her sister Salome (Mk.15 :40), the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John, and also Mary Magdalene and the other Mary the wife of Cleophas (Alphaeus), the mother of at least one of the Twelve (Study 42).

These were a few out of a larger group of women who had made it their special concern to see that Jesus was suitably and properly cared for as he travelled up to Jerusalem from Galilee. Probably from the earliest days of his ministry there were some who had devoted themselves to serving the Lord in this way. It is eloquent of their attachment to him that they were now prepared to stand by him in sympathy and grief, even though the horror of the scene harrowed their souls.

But this was no place for the Lord's mother—she had not only borne him, she had reared him, taught him, cooked and sewed and scrubbed for him. She had given him good counsel and been counselled by him. She had known his friendship and rejoiced in his love. From his earliest days it was foretold that because of him "a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also." That bitter experience had been Mary's already when she had found herself disowned by her best Son (Study 77).

As time passed., her faith in him had been reborn. But now, in a different sense, a sword pierced her soul as she found herself witnessing and sharing his agony. It was an experience from which he fain would save her.

So with moving economy of phrase, he said to her: "Behold thy son." The ambiguity of the words was immediately removed by the instruction to John: "Behold thy mother." This was the Lord's last will and testament. To his mother he bequeathed his beloved disciple as a son in his stead. To his disciple he bequeathed the care of his mother. And who more fitted to receive and care for Mary than he? Up to this time the rest of the Lord's family did not believe on him. But John understood and loved him more than almost any; and he was Jesus' cousin. So it was right that Mary should be in his care.

Here for all time the principle was enunciated, and given practical expression by the Lord himself, that the father or mother or brother or sister in Christ is a far closer relation than those of the same blood or the same roof who do not know the Lord. Mary was not left to the care of James or Joses or Simon or Judas or any of the sisters in that Nazareth family.

This trust: "Behold thy mother," involved a change of status for John. He was now accepted as brother of Jesus. Hitherto Jesus had referred to his followers as servants (Jn. 15 :15) and disciples, and at last as friends. But now here was the first hint of a higher relationship, brought into being through his own death. His word on the morning of resurrection: "Go. tell my brethren. . ." appropriately marked, by his first use of that word, the coming to birth of a New Family.

Rightly interpreting his instructions, John took Mary to his own home "from that hour." Doubtless accompanied by his own mother also, he promptly lead her away from Golgotha. All attempts at consolation would be ineffective by comparison with her own cherished memory of how once, years before, in Jerusalem at another Passover she had lost her Son, only to find him again "among his Father's men" on the third day!

When John knew that Mary was in good hands and comforted, he returned without loss of time to Golgotha. His love for his Lord would not allow him to stay away. And thus in later days he was able to write out of his own personal experience: "He that saw it bear record, and his record is true."

Previous Index Next