The Third Word: 'Here is your mother'

Holy Week 2011 Daily Reflection on the Last Words of Christ

John 19. 25-26

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Jesus is abandoned on the Cross by nearly all of his friends and disciples. Judas has betrayed him: “even my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, the one who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” as the psalmist puts it. (Psalm 41. 9) Peter too has denied him. The others except John have fled. Soon, Jesus will feel abandoned even by God. But, amidst the physical and emotional pain, here we have quite the tender scene of intimacy and trust. The Third Last Word is one of gifting one person to another: ‘Woman, here is your son’, and ‘Here is your mother’. That gifting of care, trust, and love extends across time and space: it is the gift of the Church, of the Body of Christ, encompassing all people, for, as St. Paul puts it, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3. 28)

The gift that Jesus gives is reciprocal: it is to his mother, Mary, and to the ‘disciple whom he loved’, most commonly depicted as John. They are given a new relationship to one another: mother and son. They are to care for one another: Mary, losing one son, is given another to nurture; the beloved disciple, losing his teacher, is given a mandate to care for the mother. This reciprocal gift and relationship founds the Church. Mary becomes the mother of us all. ‘Here is your mother’. She is our mother because she is the mother of Jesus. We are now Jesus’ body. We are also children of God and so we take into our care everyone who needs it: the grieving, the vulnerable, the old, the broken. We make our homes theirs too. “Here is your mother. From that time the disciple took her into his home.”

The gift of the Third Last Word is new birth. Giving birth is a traumatic event: pain, blood, suffering. The Cross is the birth-pangs of a new creation. Mary certainly knew the pain of childbirth, a pain that extends beyond the event. ‘A sword shall pierce your soul’ she was told when Jesus was a baby. (Luke 2.35) Mary knows that pain now, as Jesus dies. We all know that a parent should not outlive her child. It is a terrible pain. But the pain of grief is like a seed that, falling into the ground, hidden amidst the horrible darkness of the earth, will give new life. ‘Here is your Son’. Jesus calls Mary and us to see the Church being born. ‘Here is your Son’, here is your child; and your child is the person next to you.

So we become mothers and children all in one Word. We all know who acted as our spiritual parents, those who nurtured us in faith. We are called to be parents too. We all know those who took us proverbially into their homes when we most needed care, when we were burdened by grief or loss or despair. We are called to be hospitable to those who need it too. ‘Here is your mother. Here is your Son’

The gift of the Third Last Word is not that pain and suffering ends, at least not yet. We live in an in-between time, a time where the promises of God are real and yet still to bear full fruit. It is the springtime of eternity. The gift of the Third Word holds the fruit of that new birth: a community of care, trust, and love that looks not at ties of blood or for signs of family resemblance, but just for the universal other, the universal mother or son, whom God calls into relationship. You and I are the gift, should we embrace this Third Last Word.

Let us pray:

Lord, a sword pierces our hearts.

In pain, you give us the gift of relationship,

The gift of the Church.

We give you thanks for our mothers, our sons.

May we be both mother and son to those whom you call.