Here is Your Son
Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor
Butman Professor of Religion and Philosophy
gospel, Jesus is nobody's victim. He needs no help carrying his cross.
No one mocks him as he hangs on the cross. While he is there, he
makes provision for his mother, he says he is thirsty not because
he is but in order to fulfill the scripture (Psalm 69.21) and he
pronounces his job finished without the loud cry that all the other
evangelists agree on.
In John's gospel, he is in charge all the way. We do not have to worry about
him, then, but we do have to worry about those he leaves behind. What will
happen to his disciples? Will they be able to carry on his work, or will they
end up as he has? What will happen to his mother? In those days, a mother's
children were her Medicare, her social security, and her pension.
This is Mary's second appearance in John's gospel. The first was three
years ago, when she badgered her son about the shortage of wine at
that wedding in
Cana of Galilee. "Woman," he said way back then, "what concern
is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come."
Now, presumably, it has. It is the wine of his blood that is running out this
time, right there where she can smell it. Fortunately, she is not alone. Her
sister is there, along with Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Clopas. The
beloved disciple is also with her--a man who is never named in John's gospel,
although he appears at least five times. Jesus' love for him is the only thing
about him that matters, apparently. That is his only identity: that Jesus loves
him. We don't even know why.
Perhaps it is his loyalty, since he is the only male disciple standing there.
The women are not in nearly as much danger as he is. Since a woman's testimony
won't hold up in court, they are not likely to be stopped and questioned, but
he is, especially if he looks and sounds like a Galilean.
Where are the others? You will have to ask them. Safe, somewhere. Safe and
guilty. This may take a load off Jesus' mind, since he does not have to worry
about them, but it may also hurt him as much as the nails do, because they
would not follow him all the way. We do not know any of this. All we know is
that Jesus concerns himself with those who are there--with his mother, whose
face is dissolving in front of him, and with the beloved disciple, who has
appointed himself her bodyguard.
Although they are near enough to hear him, he does not seem to see them at
first. There is a lot going on. The soldiers are dividing up his clothes into
four piles: robe, prayer shawl, belt, sandals. Passers-by are straining to
make out the sign over his head while the chief priests are arguing that Pilate
should change what it says.
But finally Jesus does see them, and when he does, he speaks. First
he looks at his mother. "Woman," he says--the same thing he called her before,
at the wedding--"Woman, here is your son." Then he looks at the disciple
standing beside her and says to him, "Here is your mother." Since
his hands are not free, he has to do a lot of work with his eyes, indicating
which woman and which man. When he is through, the adoption is final. From
that hour, John says, the beloved disciple took Jesus' mother into his own
It is a gesture of surpassing sweetness, and yet you have to wonder which way
it went. Was Jesus looking out for his mother or for his disciple? Who needed
That Jesus placed his mother in the care of his disciple is our clue that she
is a widow. Although Joseph is mentioned twice by name, he never shows up in
John's gospel at all. He has presumably died by the time Jesus reaches adulthood,
which makes Mary an 'almana,' or widow, whose status depends on the surviving
members of her husband's household. When Jesus dies, she will belong to no
one. She will be responsible to and for herself.
If she were a wealthy woman, this might be good news to her, but she is not.
It is far more likely that she will eat other people's leftovers for the rest
of her life, with no father, no husband or son to protect her from the cruel
things people say and do.
So it is merciful of Jesus to give her a new son. But it is also merciful of
him to give that son a new mother, especially this one. Mary cannot be more
than fifty years old when her son is crucified--younger than Sarah was when
she gave birth to the nation of Israel; younger than Anna was when she recognized
the redeemer of Jerusalem in a baby boy named Jesus.
When the beloved disciple takes Mary home, and when the other disciples come
crawling out from under their rocks, they will find themselves in the presence
of someone whose contact with the Holy Spirit has been far more intimate than
theirs. She has seen things they have only heard about. She has felt things
inside of her that they cannot even imagine. Perhaps that is why she stayed
put by her son while they fled. Perhaps that is what allowed her to look full
into the ruined face that no one but her (and her new son) could bear to see.
While the principalities and powers believe they are tearing his family
apart, Jesus is quietly putting it together again: this mother with
this son, this
past with this future. Although his enemies will succeed in killing him, he
will leave no orphans behind. At the foot of the cross, the mother of the old
becomes the mother of the new. The beloved disciple becomes her new beloved
son. "And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home."
Barbara Brown Taylor
homily was delivered at the Lenten
Noonday Preaching Series at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis,
Tennessee, on April 21, 2000. An
earlier version of this sermon appeared in Home By Another Way (Cowley