The Mother of Jesus

The touching incident of our Lord on the Cross commending his mother to the care of the apostle John (see John 19: 25–27), has often been the subject of comment—and always with the object of pointing out His tender filial  care for her, and His wish that she should not be left desolate. Doubtless this was partly His purpose, but was it all, or even nearly all? Had this been all, would He be likely to have chosen almost His last moment and the most public occasion possible for the fulfilment of a private family duty, besides using a most strange and peculiar form of expression? Surely not. There seems to be a far deeper purpose, a purpose which may appear if we trace the Lord’s treatment of his earthly parent from the beginning. The first recorded words uttered by the Lord to His mother were a gentle remonstrance: “Why [is it] that ye have sought me? did ye not know that I ought to be [occupied] in my Father’s business?” (Luke 2: 49, my emphasis). “Thy father and I” (v 48, my emphasis) was what Mary had said. She seems to have been leaving the Heavenly Father for a moment out of sight, and so a reminder was necessary, and though the child Jesus returned and “was in subjection to them” (v51), and eighteen quiet years of family life followed, the first strand of the tie which had united mother and son had been parted, and their relation to one another can never have been quite the same as before.

   The next recorded conversation was at the marriage at Cana: “What have I to do with thee, woman?” (John 2: 4). The words sound strangely stern, though doubtless they were softened by the tenderest tone and manner. Nevertheless, they were a sharp reminder that Mary’s parental authority was now at an end, and another strand was parted—this one at the opening of His public ministry, as the first was at the opening of His life of manhood. A little later on, His mother and His brethren “sent to him calling him” (Mark 3: 31), for they said “He is out of his mind” (v21). The Lord’s reply was startling, for it placed His mother on an absolute level with the humblest of believers: “he answering said to him that spoke to him, Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? And, stretching out his hand to his disciples, he said, Behold my mother and my brethren; for whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in [the] heavens, he is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt. 12: 48–50, my emphasis). Another strand was gone! The last mention of Mary in the Gospels is the one with which we started, and which is now seen in a stronger light.

   One by one we have seen the ties which bound together the Divine Son and human mother severed by His own hand, and now the last is cut, and she is His no longer. “Woman, behold thy son” says the dying Saviour then “he says unto the disciple, Behold thy mother” (John 19: 26, 27, my emphasis).a remarkable form of expression it seems. We would have expected him to say ‘I commend to you my mother’ but never once is it recorded that the Lord either addressed Mary or spoke to her as my mother, and now that He is about to lay down His earthly life and afterwards assume His resurrection glory, He sets aside the human relationship forever. Mary, who was in the habit of pondering things in her heart (see Luke 2: 19, 51), seems to have meekly acquiesced, though doubtless this was one of the sharpest thrusts of the sword which pierced through her soul (see v35). “From that hour”, apparently an early hour, “the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19: 27). Perhaps she did not see Him die. Certainly her name is not among those present at the empty grave. Indeed, it is not recorded that she ever saw Him in His resurrection body. Only once more does Mary appear on the pages of Scripture—in Acts 1: 14 where she is seen among the little company of humble believers who gave themselves to “continual prayer”, waiting for the promise of the Father, after which we lose sight of her altogether.

   Each of the occasions on which the Lord repudiated Mary’s interference was a public occasion, as if to emphasize and provide ample testimony to His action. The last was the most public of all, when He finally relinquished the filial relationship and transferred it to another man. Expositors have taken great pain to explain away the apparent distance of our Lord towards Mary, but there can be no doubt that it existed. And there was a need for it. The time was coming when the poor humble instrument of the Lord’s incarnation would be styled ‘The Mother of God’ and ‘The Queen of heaven’ and would be accorded idolatrous reverence. The Lord, foreseeing this, took strong measures to discountenance such misplaced devotion, and hard though it must have seemed to Mary at the time, she will understand it all, and magnify her Lord for it in that day when she will awake with His likeness and be satisfied.