"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.'"
- John 19:26-27
It took two visits to the small stone cottage overlooking the ancient city of Ephesus (now Efes), Turkey, before I saw the connection between "Mary's House" and the third "word" Jesus spoke from the cross.
I didn't know the Apostle John spent his later life in that section of Asia Minor, and I hadn't thought much about what happened to the mother of Jesus beyond that day at the cross. Until I went to Turkey myself, I also didn't realize Patmos, a small prison island where Christians from that area were often exiled for their faith and where John received the vision recorded in the book of Revelation (1:9), was only a few kilometers away.
Whether or not Mary lived in the house thousands of tourists still visit each year, the evidence is strong that Jesus' "beloved apostle" followed the dying wishes of his Lord to care for his mother.
Dying wishes. How does a person in the throes of agonizing pain think of anyone but himself? An ordinary man would have turned inward. An ordinary man who had been tortured, wrongly accused and sentenced to death might have spent his final hours enraged because justice had passed him by. But Jesus was no ordinary man.
"Love and loving habits are not the sort of things one suddenly thinks about as death nears," writes Bible commentator Dr. Addison Leitch. "Nothing gives us greater insight into Jesus' day-to-day living than these tender, last words." Anyone who is loving at the time of death, Dr. Leitch implies, has been loving all his life.
And what about his mother, the object of his dying tenderness? What about any mother watching the suffering of her child? I cried when my children were immunized.
Mary must have suffered, too, but she wasn't surprised. There had been many clues.
- The announcement of her son's birth: "Hail, Mary...," the angel said when he surprised the young woman in her Nazareth home. "Don't be afraid... You shall have a son (and) you shall call his name, Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins" (Luke 1:28-31).
- When Mary and her husband Joseph found their 12-year-old son in the Temple discussing spiritual matters with the chief priests, and Jesus said: "Don't you know I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49).
- At the marriage feast in Cana when Mary told Jesus the hosts had run out of wine and he replied: "What is that to me? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4). What hour, she may have wondered. But, like the events surrounding his birth, she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, too (Luke 2:19).
But he was her son! Mothers might accept, even hope, their sons and daughters are destined for greatness, but not if they have to die in the process. Watching his mother grieve was part of Jesus' agony - and part of his humanity, too.
"Very God, and very God," the catechism says of Jesus, but also confirms that he is "very man, and very man" - very much like us, so he can also understand every thought, pain and fiber of our being.
Considering Jesus' concern for his mother while he was steeped in the pain of the crucifixion, Leitch adds this poignant point:
"There is a profound lesson here for us, one we take a long time to learn. Thinking of others and their needs during painful times can make our cross bearing bearable, too."
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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