Words to Mary - “Behold Your Son”
Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross
Can you imagine being Mary – the mother of Jesus?
At the young age of probably 14 or 15, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who said, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And then thirty years later she now watches this very child – her own son – suffering terribly on the cross. The cutting prophetic words of Simeon (see Luke 2:22-38) spoken to her when Jesus was just a tiny baby had come true, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul.”
I cannot imagine what Mary thought as she watched her son suffer.
Far from her mind had to be the magnificent events surrounding her son’s birth. Even though he was born in an animal stable and laid to rest in the straw of their feed trough, Mary saw shepherds come from the nearby field who spoke about an army of angels declaring the birth of this child, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Then later she witnessed the arrival of the wise men from far distant countries who came and fell down in worship before this child, giving him gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). Then also the horrible day when Joseph her husband burst into the room and told her, “We have to flee to Egypt right now because King Herod is searching for our son to destroy him” (from Matt. 2:13), and then to later learn about all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger that had been slaughtered (Matt. 2:16).
Mary knew from the very beginning that this child, her son, would be unique. Son of God, Savior of sinners, and yet Jesus was still her little boy. We do not have much information about Jesus’ childhood, but Mary truly experienced being his mommy: all the diaper changes, the cuddles, the rocking to sleep and even all the knee scrapes that needed her kisses.
But the sword began to prick her soul when Jesus was twelve. The whole family had journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast and on their way home they discovered Jesus was missing. They had traveled a whole day before discovering this. Scripture reveals the frantic search conducted by Mary and Joseph as they sought out their son from among all the relatives and friends who were traveling with them. Then the quick march back to Jerusalem. Two long days they searched the city and could not find him and then on the third day they found Jesus in the temple. Exacerbated they said to Jesus, “Why have you treated us so? We have been searching for you in great distress.” Then Jesus simply replied with some astonishment, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48-49).
Make no mistake, Jesus growing up with His unique identity as the Son of God and his particular life calling being the Savior of the world, this strained the family ties – even with his mother. A great example is found in Matthew 12 when he was told that his mother and brothers were at the door, and Jesus responded, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:46-50). That statement had to sting quite a bit in Mary’s ears. Mary could no longer hold on to nor hold back her little boy from being what God the Father had destined His Son to do.
But, this did not mean that Jesus no longer had feelings for his mother. There on the cross, with his hands and feet pierced by the nails, the crown of thorns plunged deeply into his skull and in agony of soul with all the sin of the world on his shoulders, Jesus looked into the eyes of his weeping mother and officially placed her into the sacred care of his best friend. Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son!” and then to John, “Behold your mother!”
The late Scottish theologian, William Barclay, said, “There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the cross, in the moment when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of his mother in the days when he was taken away.” Even though Jesus was about to give the world, and his own mother, the most inexpressibly great gift of salvation by suffering for our sin, dying for our guilt and rising for our righteousness, Jesus wanted good for his mom in her present life. By entrusting her into the care of John, he gave his mother a place to live and food to eat and the loving support of family.
Jesus, the Son of God was dying on the cross, but He was also a mother’s son.