Sunday, May 11, 2008

Here is Your Mother

Today one of our scripture readings at church, appropriate for Mother’s Day, was John 19: 25-27—a passage which I find fascinating and enigmatic.

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of
Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple
whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your
son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this
disciple took her into his home.”

Is there a point to this passage beyond to show that Jesus cared for his mother and wanted to make sure she was cared for in his absence? There are probably several directions you could go from here. The key question I would start with is who is “the disciple whom he loved”?

The most common speculation is that this “beloved disciple” is the man whose name the gospel in which he is found bears—John (this argument hangs on John 21:24 which, some would say, is not as clear as we might be inclined to think it is). Others can argue rather convincingly that the disciple is Lazarus (John hints that it’s Lazarus because he is the only disciple whom the author tells us is loved by Jesus. In John 11:35 and 36 it says “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’”) But I am honestly not satisfied with either of these options. Why should something which is so cryptic be forced into solidity? Perhaps the beloved disciple is not any one historical character at all. Perhaps the beloved disciple is a device used by the author to draw speculation and to draw the reader into the story. Perhaps the beloved disciple is not John or Lazarus, but you and me. Could the beloved disciple be the sort of character in whose face we should see ourselves (or perhaps just the role to which we are called). This disciple is the one who reclines next to Jesus at the table of the Eucharist (John 13), this disciple outruns all the others to the empty tomb (John 20:2-4), this disciple sees and believes (John 20:8), this disciple recognizes Jesus in a body bearing the scars of crucifixion (John 21:7), and this disciple is the prophetic witness to the gospel (John 21:24). This disciple is there from crucifixion to resurrection. Because of the ambiguity of this character we might speculate that the point is not who it is but how, and thus how we might find ourselves in the story—by Jesus’ side at the meal and at his feet at the cross. The beloved disciple is us; it draws us into the story.

If this interpretation has any merit then what is this “Here is your mother” thing about? Jesus’ mother is the mother of a crucified man, an unwanted of the Roman Empire. She is the mother of the most subjugated and dehumanized of people and she is our mother. On the cross, Jesus brings the reader and the “least of these” together under the same mother. The commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” caries new meaning at the cross of Christ for my mother and my father are the mothers and fathers of those “others” about whom I could otherwise so easily forget.

8 comments:

simplygrand said...

Wow, Wesley. These are such beautiful thoughts. I was truly moved and I am blessed to have read them, and am challenged to think in a new way. Thank you for these words. I love you very much.

Christopher said...

That's a really interesting take on the passage. I've never thought of it like that. Props!

jchase said...

wes,
you rock hardcore, yo. Looking over your blog has made me realize how much I need to be reading your stuff more! I just wanted to let you know, also, that I am beginning a baby blog...by baby, I mean I have one mini post so far...http://inthedarkandwhistling.blogspot.com/
ok, well. see ya.

nate said...

I guess I always thought of this so pragmatically. Knowing that Joseph was dead, I am sure Jesus, the firstborn, was primary provider/caretaker for Mary. While Rome was enlightened in a sense and endowed rights upon Roman women, Mary would have held no such status as a Jew and without citizenship. This makes sense to me in light of the New Testament concern for the marginalized, including the oft quoted "widows."

But this begs the question...If James was Jesus' literal brother, why not entrust Mary's wellbeing to him? The term "brother" can also mean "cousin" as, Catholics choose alleviating this dilemma. Who knows?

Great post Wes! Now please excuse me while I go pray to Mary.

whatifiwasalwayswrong said...

Wesley.
Great post, I completely agree with you, why should we have to certain about who this disciple is. And this idea of identifying with the character is beautiful, its something that I think that one could do regardless of who they think or don't think it is. Very insightful as usual.

WES ELLIS said...

Amanda,
I am glad you liked the post... it's just a suggestion. Than you for your kind words.

Christopher,
Thanks, I never thought of it like that either... until I was in the middle of writing the post.

Johanna,
SWEETDIZZLE! I will be reading your blog. Mind if I post it on my side bar?

Nate,
Yeah, yours is probably the less risky interpretation. I'm just trying to expose possibility for other ideas.

Ryan,
Thanks man. I'm glad you liked it. It's just a suggestion. I was also speculating that the beloved disciple could be sort of an Essene -style device... an anonymous mystical teacher of the Johannine community... like the "Teacher of Righteousness" in the Qumran community.

nate said...

Yes, as you might assume I have been swinging a little orthodox lately and actually see a deeper meaning. I totally jive with your statement, "She is the mother of the most subjugated and dehumanized of people and she is our mother."

While the start of her veneration by catholic/eastern orthodox is in Luke 1:48, from now on all people will call me blessed, this passage brings it to fruition with the words of Christ. I do believe she held a special place of honor in the original Christian sect, and agree with other scholars that she may have been source material for Luke.

I do see this as yet another typological lesson in which Christ equates kingdom with family/community beyonds the bounds of blood/flesh.

WES ELLIS said...

Nate,
Right on! It's good of you to refer us to the Luke passage, I didn't even think about it... a poor peasant "whore" (not really, but perceived as such by being prego out of wed-lock) being called blessed. Awesome!
-Wes