Behold, Your Mother!

This afternoon, after Evening prayer I had the privileged of giving a reflection to all the guys on one of the 7 last words (or sayings) of Jesus.  This is something that we started doing for the first time this Lent, but both of talks that were before mine (last week and the first week of Lent) were phenomenal, so I guess it will be something that Brute continues to do in future Lents.  Of course, their doing such a great job on the first two - "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" and "Today you will be with me in paradise" - set the bar pretty high for the reflection that I was signed up to give, "Woman, behold your son... Behold your mother".  So, over the last few weeks I had been thinking about what I was going to say for the 5 minutes that was my allotment, and I finally started making some notes yesterday.  I'm glad that I didn't have too much to do between now and then because it took me several hours to get everything I wanted to together (and run through it a few times).  Anyway, this is - more or less - what I said.  Here's hoping that it makes your Lent a bit more holy.

"When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!"  Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!"  And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home." - John 19:26-27
Last week I went out with several you and we saw the movie, Mary of Nazareth, and one of the things that struck me about the film was the intense, beautiful, tender, loving relationship that was between Jesus and His mother, Mary.  Thinking about this fact, it struck me that their relationship was unprecedented.  Spiritually, it is between the Mary, called "full of grace" by Gabriel, and Jesus Christ, truly God and man.  Mary's relationship with God was the closest of any human before the incarnation, and after Our Lord became man within her, it certainly stayed that way.  However, humanly, the relationship between these two was also incredible, again, Mary is sinless - she must have been the best, most caring, most dedicated, most loving mother ever - and Jesus, was God-incarnate, there can't have ever been a better child.  Basically, their relationship was one of the most incredible love and devotion.

However, on the cross, Jesus simply calls her "woman".  To us this seems rude, disrespectful, demeaning, at the very least, unloving...  But, if we look back at the Old Testament, we find that this is exactly opposite of the truth.  After the fall God tells the serpent "I will put empty between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." - Genesis 3:15  Upon a cursory glance, the term "the woman" could be applied to Eve.  Actually, it is used throughout Genesis to refer to her and, as we know, eventually - after many generations - her seed will crush the head of Satan.  However, this interpretation is surpassed when we realize that Jesus' using the term "woman" on the cross indicates us that it is through her that God's plan of salvation is realized.  Through Mary's "yes" - her fiat, her obedience - she reverses Eve's "no", her disobedience, that had brought sin into the world so many millennia before. Thus, by using "woman" to refer to His mother, Jesus is doing anything but deprecate her, rather He is showing her to be the new Eve, through whom salvation enters the world.

The second half of Jesus' saying to Mary is "Behold, your son".  On first glance, this seems unnecessary.  If we put ourselves there at Calvary, wouldn't we find Mary gazing upon her son?  So, when Jesus says "woman, behold, your son", she could have answered that she already was, she already was beholding her son - in all his bloodiness, and agony.  Yet instead Jesus looks over at the "disciple whom He loved", and then Mary knows that she is being designated by Jesus to become this disciples mother, to take care of him as she ad taken care of Jesus.  But upon further reflection we find that that beloved disciple is us.   Throughout the gospel of John, the "disciple whom Jesus loved" is never named.  Of course, tradition tells us that he is John the Apostle/Evangelist, but the very fact that he has no name allows us to understand that he is taking our place, he is a stand-in for humanity.  This is further strengthened if we recall that Jesus says "whosoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother" - Matthew 12:50.  Thus, through obedience to the Father - the very definition of discipleship - Jesus says that we will become His brothers and sisters, and so, it is no surprise, when He gives His mother to us to be our mother too.  

This though, is no small gift.  Mary is the perfect mother - as mentioned before - and now she is in Heaven, body and soul, interceding for us, being that most-wonderful spiritual mother.  In the Old Testament it was the mother of the king who was the queen (Bathsheba is the queen of Solomon), not his wife.  This idea continues on with Jesus and Mary.  Jesus, of course, is the King - now glorious in heaven - but it is Mary who is the queen.  This is something that we remember every time we pray the rosary and meditate on the coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.  Is she somehow usurping Christ as our mediator, no, of course not, but it is He who chose her to be His mother and He who gives her to us as our mother.  The big deal: Mary, at this moment at the foot of the cross, is chosen to be the mediatrix of grace, through whom salvation continues to flow into the world.  Often writers talk about the grace acheived by Christ on the cross as flowing through Mary out into the world, and it is a beautiful image.  Mary, of course, was literally at the foot of the cross, and it becomes an even more beautiful image when we realize that it was at the foot of the cross that Jesus chose Mary to be out mother, the one who cares for us just like she cared for Our Lord, with the same tenderness, concern, and love as she had for Him.

And all of that leads up to what Jesus now tells the beloved disciple, us.  "Behold, your mother".  This again, seems a bit repetitive, if Mary was told that she was now our mother why tell us that she is our mother?  - To remind us that we need to have a relationship with her as our mother.  We must, like John, take her into our homes and our hearts.  We must try, to the best of our ability, to love her as Jesus did - protecting, following, learning from, and caring for her.  Being brothers and sisters of Our Lord means doing His will, which, pretty obviously here is to "behold" our "mother".  We shouldn't be afraid to love her, Jesus did.  Is this ignoring Christ? - no, it's following His will, and regardless, Mary will always take us to Jesus, to the foot of the cross, to the stream of grace that will cleanse, heal, and transform us.

In conclusion, rather than just listing off my points, I'd like to reconnect these points to Scripture, this time the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana:

"On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.  When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."  And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me?  My hour as not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."" - John 2:1-5
First point: Mary is the New Eve, the whose obedience to God allowed His salvation to enter the world and reverse the sin that the original Eve's (and Adam, let's not leave him out) disobedience brought into it.  Mary is the new "mother of all the living", now in a super-naturalized position of motherhood in heaven.  It is through her that salvation entered the world - in Jesus - and it is through her that salvation continues to enter the world - through the graces achieved by Jesus.

Second point: Mary intercedes for us, just as she did for the couple at the wedding feast.  She continues to go up to Jesus and say "the have no wine".  When we are broken, sinful, empty, tired, etc. - she continues to beg her son to fill us, renew us, and transform us.  She doesn't replace Jesus - as she didn't at the wedding feast - but she brings us to Him and prays that He would transform us.

Third point: As we look at Jesus on the cross, His hour has come, this is the moment of salvation, the pinnacle of everything that the Incarnation was meant to accomplish.  And what does Jesus tell us: "Behold, your mother".  Obedience, again, is the mark of discipleship, and the action that makes us brothers and sisters of Christ, and what does Mary tell us "Do whatever He tells you".  In Mary we not only have an intercessor with Christ and a loving mother, but we also have the perfect example of what it means to be a disciple.  Her obedience literally made her the mother of Jesus, let us emulate her, and love her tenderly like Jesus did, and take her into our hearts this Lent!

Wow, that only took a bit over 5 minutes when I said it...  So much longer when you write it out.