Today we read John’s account of the Crucifixion. Again, when reading John it is important to remember that his Gospel is written last and he has the added benefit of years and is writing, in part, to preserve certain specific details of the events. With that in mind, we see this exchange:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
John (who wrote this verse) is himself the disciple “whom he loved” and was standing at the foot of the cross (the only Apostle who had the courage to make it there). Why does John feel the need to record this fact? After all, he took Mary into his home after Jesus died. Surely all the other Apostles knew this. Everyone would have known this. What need does John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have to establish this fact in the Scripture?
More fundamentally, why did Jesus give his mother Mary to John?
First, we need to know a little about Jewish law. Scripture occasionally refers to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters”. However, Jewish law is very clear. If the eldest son dies, the next oldest son is responsible to take care of the parents, particularly the Mother, as Jewish women and no rights under Jewish law. If Jesus had natural brothers (i.e., other children of Mary) the responsibility to take care of their mother would have immediately passed to them upon Jesus’ death. This verse is therefore some of the best evidence we have that shows the Jesus had no blood siblings. If He did, there would be no need to make arrangements for the care of His mother after His death. The “brother and sisters” in scripture either refers to half-brothers (the children of Joseph) or cousins (as there was no term for cousin in the ancient languages).
However, there is a more fundamental spiritual reason why Jesus, while hanging from the cross, says these words. First, in referring to Mary as “Woman” Jesus again identifying Mary as the woman from Genesis and Revelation whose child will crush the head of the serpent. Second, when Jesus gives Mary to John and says, “Behold, your mother”, it has long been interpreted as John standing in for every one of us – all of Jesus disciples down through history. Jesus doesn’t just give Mary to John, He gives her to all of us. Mary, is quite literally, the Mother of the Church. If God is our Father and Jesus is our brother, then Mary is our Mother.
Furthermore, in ancient Israel, a king might have many wives. If a king has many wives who then is the queen? To solve this problem in Jewish royalty the mother of the king was considered to be the queen. In addition, the Mother of the King was the advocate for the people. If the people needed something from the King but were not high enough in status to gain an audience with him, they could go to his Mother. It is said that if the Mother brought something to the King he would not refuse her. And thus is Mary to us. She is our mother, there to make the King more accessible to us. Does Jesus need this help? Of course not, but it is his gift to us. To show us, how a lowly human creature can become immaculate with the grace of God.
Next, we see this important scene:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Three important things are learned from these verses. First, John includes the detail that the sour wine was given to Jesus by placing a sponge on the end of a hyssop branch. This harkens back to the Passover, when a hyssop branch was used to paint the blood of the lamb on the doorway to signal the angel of death should Passover that house. Here Jesus is the lamb and his blood paints the new door to eternal life, the cross. The hyssop branch completes the Passover picture.
Also, remember that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. Four cups of wine were drunk during the Passover service. We learned before that Jesus uses the third cup, the “cup of suffering”, to say, “This is my blood.” Then he stops the Passover meal and goes out into the Garden from where he will be arrested. At the garden he prays, “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me…” And he says, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until I do so with my Father in heaven.” Thus, when Jesus left the last supper the Passover service had not been finished and Jesus uses the references to the cup and the wine to indicate that to us. Now on the cross, Jesus drinks of the fourth cup. In the Passover service the fourth cup comes at the end and is known as the “cup of consummation”. Jesus sip of wine indicates the new Passover service in completed and Jesus declares, “It is finished.”
But exactly what is finished? In the first instance, the Last Supper (the new Passover) is finished. However, some people like to argue that Jesus’ declaration of “It is finished” means that the work of Salvation is finished and imply that nothing comes after. This is simply not the case. Jesus sacrifice on the cross is of infinite merit and is sufficient to redeem all sins, past, present and future but at His death the work of Salvation is not yet finished. For a sacrifice to be effective it must be (a) made, (b) offered and (c) accepted. Thus, the making of the sacrifice is finished, but the offering and acceptance is still necessary. As Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:
14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
Jesus told us what would be finished in John 17:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
What is finished on the cross is Christ’s human work, his divine work continues. Resurrection and Ascension are still to come and are necessary to complete the work of salvation. The book of Hebrews says that Christ lives in heaven to forever make intercession for us. Thus, the offering and acceptance of the infinite sacrifice are eternal.
In addition, notice that Jesus “gives up his spirit.” Even at the last moment of life, Jesus’ sacrifice is voluntary. No one takes his life from him, he lays it down voluntarily.
There is one very dramatic image that should also be emphasized. John tells us three times that these events take place on “…the day of Preparation…”. The day of Preparation is the day that the lambs were sacrificed at the temple. Estimates vary but some say as many as 1 to 1.5 million Jews came to Jerusalem for the Passover. This means that it is likely that between 100k and 500k lambs were sacrificed. When the lamb was sacrificed its internal organs were burned, the body of the lamb was laid out and tied by its front legs to two sticks that had been formed into the shape of a cross. The Jewish men would put the cross over their shoulder and carry the lamb home. Thus, during these events, everywhere you looked the Jews of Jerusalem would have filing out of the temple each one walking around carrying a crucified lamb over his shoulder. Can you image the scene as it would have appeared to Jesus in the years leading up to the crucifixion and on that day? Can you image the disciples looking back on that scene and understanding the great prophetic symbolism? Amazing.
There is one last thing to point out. At the end of the crucifixion, Jesus side is pierced with a spear. This is to confirm he has died and fulfill prophesy. And this is what we are told:
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.
Again, remember that this is the day of preparation. All those lambs being slaughtered would have produced gallons of blood. There were drains in the Temple to carry the blood away. Also, there was a spring under the temple that supplied it with water. The blood flowed into the drains, mixed with the water and came out the side of the Temple. Thus, blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus shows that He is the new Temple. The days of the old Temple are finished.
Furthermore, the water signifies baptism and the blood of Christ the sacrifice of the Eucharist for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism washes away our sin and joins us to the body of Christ. The blood of Christ forgives our sins, joins us our Savior (“If you eat my flesh and drink my blood … I will abide in you.”) and perfects us. Thus, from the side of Jesus the Church is born. The Church which Baptizes (“I say to you go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”) and keeps the New Covenant (“This is my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”)