This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #39.
Reference: John 19:25-27
Today’s gospel is SUPER DUPER LONG (so long that many churches assign roles to lectors and read it like a play), so instead of doing the entire thing, I selected a small part that sticks out to me as I read it. John 25-27 is the bit where Jesus gives Mary over to the apostle John’s protection.
As is wont to happen in the Scriptures, there are several things going on here.
First of all, there’s the surface level. Why would Jesus “give” Mary to John as he’s dying? (Can he even do that?) The answer is pretty practical: Mary needed to be protected. In the patriarchal society of the time, pretty much only men were able to work. At this point, we haven’t heard a word about Joseph since Jesus was 12 years old in the temple, so we can assume that he has died. (He was a bit older when he married Mary.) Jesus, then, would be the only adult male who would be directly responsible for taking care of his aging mother. If he dies, no one else is there. We know that widows and orphans didn’t receive great treatment (hence the enormous emphasis on helping them throughout the Bible), so when news of Jesus’ pending execution came, it was clear that Mary was in a lot of trouble—not to mention her position as the mother of an enemy of state under Roman rule. Jesus, then, assigns his best friend, John, to take care of his mother. John, as is made clear in verse 27, faithfully does so.
Pretty simple, right? Yup. Jesus was a good guy.
But wait, there’s more!
The little “hold on—look deeper!” flag goes up because of the way Jesus words his last command for John: “Woman,” he says, “behold your son.”
That’s a familiar phrase. Jesus uses it to address his mother one other time, at the very beginning of his ministry, at the Wedding at Cana: “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” (John 2:4)
Anytime I read that bit at the Wedding at Cana, it always makes me giggle—it comes across as such snark. Can you imagine Jesus at a wedding reception, dancing his heart out when all of the sudden his mom taps him on the shoulder, interrupts his groove and is like, “We’re out of wine.”
You can just imagine him looking at her incredulously and being like, “What does that have to do with me?!”
But here, a deeper meaning is revealed to us. It’s not exactly…respectful…to refer to your mother as “woman,” so that word choice should definitely stick out to us. The term “woman” is first used in the Bible when Adam lies eyes on Eve for the first time and names her “woman.” (Genesis 2:23). Here’s the exact quote:
“The man said:
‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.’
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”
The mother of all humanity is named “Woman.” She is Eve. She shares flesh and bone with Adam.
But Adam and Eve fell.
Now, there is the Messiah, the savior of the entire human race, here to redeem the fall and ultimately return humanity to its original place of unblemished dignity. For this reason, Jesus is referred to as the New Adam. And there, at the WEDDING of Cana (“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one body…”) the New Adam, literally made of the same flesh and bones as Mary (remember, there was no physical father), names the only other unblemished and sinless human to ever live as “Woman.” Mary is the New Eve.
(Important clarification: No, Jesus and Mary aren’t married. That’s not a requirement to be the redeemers of Adam and Eve. The point is their sharing of flesh, their unfallen nature, and their potential to redeem mankind.)
So repeating the honor he bestowed upon Mary at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus now, dying on the cross, completing the ministry and purpose for which he was incarnated, repeats the name to his mother. Only this time, he does not simply bestow honor and responsibility upon her. He repeats it to her, and extends and fulfills her role:
“Woman, behold your son.”
In that moment, Mary’s identity as the New Eve became complete—Jesus gave John, standing in for all of humanity, to Mary as her son. Mary became Our Mother. Sure, John was, on a surface level, protecting Mary. But Mary became the mother, the protectress, the nurturer of not only John, but the entire world. At the foot of the cross, Jesus made Mary YOUR mother. My mother. Our mother.
Woman, Notre Dame, Our Lady of Light, Mary, PRAY for us!