17-4 Mary’s Victory
17-4-1 Mary At The Cross
Men in their time of dying think of their mothers; and this, it
seems to me, was supremely true of the Lord, as a genuine human
being. Mary “performed [fulfilled] all things according to the law”
in her dedication of Jesus (Lk. 2:39). In doing this, she anticipated
the spirit of the cross and whole ministry of Jesus, where He performed
[s.w. fulfilled] all things of the law- Lk. 18:31; Jn. 19:28; 30;
Acts 13:29. These passages each use the same three words for all
things, law, and fulfilled. She brought the Lord up in the way of
the cross; and He continued in that path.
The humility of Mary was the pattern for the Lord’s self-humiliation
in the cross. Here above all we see the influence of Mary upon Jesus,
an influence that would lead Him to and through the cross. Her idea
of putting down the high and exalting the lowly (Lk. 1:52) is picking
up Ez. 17:24: “I have brought down the high tree, have exalted the
low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree
to flourish”. And yet these very words of Ezekiel were quoted by
the Lord in His time of dying. With reverence, we can follow where
we are being led in our exploration and knowing of the mind of Christ.
His dear mum had gone around the house singing her Magnificat. He
realized that she felt the lowly who had been exalted [and perhaps
in some unrecorded incident before her conception she had been recently
humbled?]. And Jesus had realized her quotation of Ez. 17:24. And
He had perceived His linkage and connection with her, and how she
saw all that was true of Him as in some way true of her, and vice
versa. And now, in His final crisis, He takes comfort from the fact
that like His dear mother, He the one who was now humbled, would
be exalted. How many other trains of thought have been sparked in
men’s minds by the childhood instructions of their mothers…?
God recognized her “low estate” [humility] and exalted her above
all women, just as He would His Son among men. The same Greek word
is used in Acts 8:33: “In his humiliation [‘low estate’] his judgment
was taken away”. It occurs too in Phil. 2:8: “He humbled
himself”. In the cross, indeed throughout the seven stage self-humiliation
of the Lord which Phil. 2 speaks of, He was living out the spirit
of his mother. She taught him the life and the way of the cross.
Hence the way she insisted on being there at the end, and the comfort
she would have given Him, and the love He showed by asking for the
only one who really understood Him to be taken away, for her sake
as well as His own. The Lord directly alluded to His mother’s pattern
of humiliation and exaltation by using the same word again in Mt.
23:12: “Whosever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that
shall humble himself [s.w. be abased- we must either humble ourselves
or be humbled, it’s such a powerful logic] shall be exalted”. Thus
Jesus alludes to His mother's words in order to set her up as our
pattern [“whosoever”]. And yet He Himself showed the ultimate obedience
to her pattern in the death of the cross.
For this and many other reasons, the Lord’s mind was upon
His mother in His time of dying. And according to the Messianic
Psalms, He even asks God to have mercy upon Him for Mary’s sake.
Consider the following words of John Thomas in Phanerosis:
“In two places David refers to the Mother of the Son of God.
In his last words, he tells us “that Yahweh’s Spirit spoke by
him, and that his word was upon his tongue.” He spoke then, by
inspiration. The Spirit, then, afterwards, incarnate in the Son
of God, says in Psalm 116:16: “Yahweh, truly I am Thy
servant; I am Thy servant, the Son of Thine Handmaid; Thou hast
loosed my bonds.” This deliverance is in answer to his prayer
in Psalm 86:16: “O turn unto me, and have mercy on me; give Thy
strength unto Thy servant, and save the Son of Thine Handmaid.
Show me a token for good; that they which hate me may see, and
be ashamed; because Thou, Yahweh, hast helped me, and
comforted me.” The person here styled Yahweh’s Handmaid, is the
woman of Gen. 3:15, and, as Christians believe, the Mother of
Jesus, whom Elizabeth, her cousin, styled “the Mother of our Lord”.
Jesus states He is the son of thine handmaid" as a reason
why God should have mercy on Him, implying the high favour with
God which Mary enjoyed. In Ps. 86:16; 116:16 we have the Son pleading
to the Father to save the mother's son. Father and mother were brought
together by the cross- in the same way as both are described as
being “pierced” by it.
Thus in Ps. 86:16 the Lord says that Jehovah has “helped me”, alluding
to the very words of Mary at His conception- she considered herself
“holpen” by God (Lk. 1: ). The Lord felt this great bond with her
then. After all, amidst the cat calls of “crucify the bastard” (and
don’t mistake what they were yelling), and the the crude remarks
about Mary having produced a child by a Roman soldier (1)…Jesus
knew that only Mary alone knew for sure that He was God’s Son. He
knew that all the others had their doubts, to the point that they
would flee, and leave Him alone. The spirit of Christ speaks of
" thy [male] servant ...the son of thine handmaid" [female
servant]- He saw the solidarity between Himself and His mother when
on the cross, He felt they were both the servants of God. Ps. 86:8-17
has many references back to Mary's song. He had that song on His
mind on the cross. Her example and her song which she had taught
him as a little boy sustained His faith in the final crisis. This
surely shews the value and power of the upbringing of children when
young. In the Lord’s case, His mother’s influence sustained Him
through the cruellest cross and deepest crisis any human being has
ever had to go through. It was as if He was humming the song in
His mind, which His dear dear mum had sung around the house as she
cared for Him, cooked, sewed…
Is. 49:1,4 is another prophecy of the cross, and again we find
the Lord’s mind back with His mother. To quote John Thomas again
“In Isaiah 49:2, the effect of the anointing is thus foretold:
“Yahweh hath chosen me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother
(Mary) hath He made mention of my name (by Gabriel). And He hath
made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand (or
power) hath He hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in His quiver
hath He hid me; and said unto me, thou art My servant, O Israel,
in whom I will be glorified””.
Ps. 116:15-19, another Messianic Psalm, has several references
to Mary presenting Jesus in Jerusalem, and to His death. He thought
back to her and childhood memories when facing death- it has been
said that condemned men think back to childhood, and the Lord was
no exception. In this we have perhaps the finest proof of His humanity.
“Truly I am the son of thine handmaid” shows the Lord encouraging
Himself that the virgin birth really happened...fighting off the
temptation to share the view of Himself which the surrounding world
had. That He was son of a soldier, or of Joseph. And his mum was
just a bit weird and mystic. The way others perceive us can influence
us until we become like that. The world cannot understand us, and
we must allow God’s high and exalted view of us as His sons and
daughters to be our influence. The Psalm comments: " Precious
in the sight of the Lord is the death of [Heb. 'for'] His saints"
- s.w. LXX 1 Pet. 1:19 " the precious blood of Christ"
. Surely here we have the Father and mother of Jesus again connected-
for His blood was precious to them both at that time.
It seems to me that for all these reasons, the Lord asks John to
take Mary away from the foot of the cross. I take the comment that
John therefore took her to his own [home] as meaning His own house,
back in Jerusalem (Jn. 19:27). The same construction is used in
Jn. 16:32 cp. Acts 21:6 as meaning house rather than family. “Took
to” is a verb of motion as in Jn. 6:21. His feelings for her were
so strong, so passionate, that He saw it could distract Him. He
wanted to stay on earth with her, and not go to His Heavenly Father.
This accounts for His again using the rather distant term “Woman”,
and telling her that now, He wasn’t her Son, John was now, and she
wasn’t His mother, she must be John’s mother. And many a man has
chosen to leave mother for the sake of the Father’s work, as Hannah
sacrificed her dear Samuel, to be eternally bonded in the gracious
Kingdom to come. And even if one has not done this in this form,
there is scarcely a believer who has not had to make some heart
wrenching break with family and loved ones for the Lord’s sake.
Only His sake alone could inspire men and women in this way.
It seems that when the Lord was offered the pain killer which He
refused, this would have been arranged by some well meaning friend.
One can’t help but wonder whether or not Mary was involved in this.
Surely all her maternal instincts would have been to do this. Seeing
she was at the foot of the cross, from where the pain killer was
offered, it is leaving too much to chance to think that she wasn’t
involved in it. It seems to me that such was Mary’s human love for
her Son, such was her spiritual inspiration of Him at the cross,
that He felt that His torn feelings for her in response could almost
lead Him to sin, or at least to deflection from His vital purpose.
Flesh and spirit came so closely together. Perhaps He felt she would
discourage Him from the cross and He couldn't resist her? Like the
mother begging her son not to make a dangerous mission in the Lord’s
service, as those who begged Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. And
so it seems to me that He sent her away from cross because her support
for Him, her love for Him, was just too distracting. With all His
heart He wanted to cling on to her. For on earth, she alone
understood, and she had walked out across the no man’s land between
the crowd and the cross, despite the threat of crucifixion hanging
over those who stood by the cross and showed solidarity with the
condemned [so Tacitus records]. Her inspiration to Him, her willingness
to die with Him in the same way, despite all her years of misunderstandings
and mental struggles with Him [and she likely still had many]…this
must have been the most touching and comforting thing for the Lord,
and yet also the most distracting. It was perhaps His last divestment
of humanity, His last great temptation overcome, when He finally
separates Himself from her as His mother, by saying that now she
is John’s mother, and she must leave Him. It was when Jesus knew
that all was finished that He broke with His mother (Jn. 19:28)-
as if He realized that His separation from her was the very last
and final connection with His flesh which He must break.
Perhaps when He crossed Kidron He would have thought back to how
Asa had to separate himself from his mother in the very same place
(1 Kings 15:13). The crucifixion record describes Mary the mother
of Jesus as Mary the mother of James and Joses (Mk. 15:40 cp. Mt.
13:55)- not Mary the mother of Jesus. It’s as if the record itself
seeks to show that separation between mother and Son which occurred
there. Both Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James- i.e. the
mother of Jesus too (Mk. 16:1 = Mk. 15:40 = Mt. 13:55) came to the
sepulchre, but Jesus chose to appear to Mary Magdalene first (Mk.
15:9), and not His own dear mother. Mt. 27:61 almost cruelly rubs
the point in: “There was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting
over against the sepulchre”, but the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene
first. Indeed, there is no record that He ever appeared to His mother.
This would presumably have been to help her in realizing that she
must relate to Him as her Lord and Saviour now, like any other woman
had to, and not as a woman with special maternal privileges in her
relationship with her now Almighty Son. It must have so pained the
Lord to do this- to not appear to his dear mother first. But as
He oftentimes acts with us, so He did with her- doing something
which even in Divine nature must have been so painful for Him, in
order to help her in her growth.
It is worth noting that “relatives were not allowed to approach
the corpse of their crucified one” (2). That Mary stood
by the cross, that she went to the tomb, all indicates to me that
she was inspired by something more than motherly compassion. Here
was a love begotten by the cross.
Perhaps this was one of His more hidden struggles. He addresses
his mother in the same way as He does the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:21)
and Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:13). And yet He clearly felt so much
more for her. When He says “What have you to do with me?” (Jn. 2:4),
He seems to be struggling to dissociate Himself from her; for the
idiom means ‘How am I involved with you?’ (2 Kings 3:13; Hos. 14:8).
It can be that “My hour has not yet come” can bear the translation
“Has not my hour come?” (Jn. 2:4), as if to imply that, as they
had previously discussed, once His ministry started, their bond
would be broken in some ways. And yet Mary understandably found
this hard to live up to, and it took the cross to lead her to that
level of commitment to her son’s cause.
The whole structure of the records of the crucifixion are to emphasize
how the cross is essentially about human response to it; nothing
else elicits from humanity a response like the cross does. Mark’s
account, for example, has 5 component parts. The third part, the
centrepiece as it were, is the account of the actual death of the
Lord; but it is surrounded by cameos of human response to it (consider
Mk. 15:22-27; 28-32; the actual death of Jesus, 15:33-37; then 15:38-41;
15:42-47). John’s record shows a similar pattern, based around 7
component parts: 19:16-18; 19-22; 23,24; then the centrepiece of
25-27; followed by 19:28-30; 31-37; 38-42. But for John the centrepiece
is Jesus addressing His mother, and giving her over to John’s charge.
This for John was the quintessence of it all; that a man should
leave His mother, that Mary loved Jesus to the end…and that he,
John, was honoured to have been there and seen it all. John began
his gospel by saying that the word was manifest and flesh and he
saw it- and I take this as a reference to the Lord’s death. Through
this, a new family of men and women would be created (Jn. 1:12).
In the cross, and in the Lord’s words to Mary which form the pinnacle
of John’s inspired observations, this new family / community is
brought into being, by John being made the son of Mary, and her
becoming his mother. And he felt his supreme privilege was to have
a part in all this. It was only close family members who could beg
for the body of the crucified. The way Joseph of Arimathaea is described
as doing this is juxtaposed straight after the description of the
Lord’s natural family standing afar off from Him (Lk. 23:49,52).
The effect of the cross had brought forth a new family in that the
Lord had now broken all His natural ties, not least with His beloved
The female element in Old Testament sacrifice pointed forward to
the Lord’s sacrifice. His identity with both male and female, as
the ultimate representative of all humanity, meant that He took
upon Himself things that were perceived as specifically feminine.
The mother was the story teller of the family; when people heard
the Lord tell parables and teach wisdom, it would have struck them
that He was doing the work of the matriarch of a family (3).
“Typical female behaviour included taking the last place at the
table, serving others, forgiving wrongs, having compassion, and
attempting to heal wounds”, strife and arguments (4).
All this was done by the Lord Jesus- especially in His time of dying
and the lead up to it. He was in many ways the idealized mother
/ matriarch. His sacrifice for us was very much seen as woman’s
work. And this is why the example of his mother Mary would have
been a particular inspiration for Him in going through the final
process of self-surrender and sacrifice for others, to bring about
forgiveness and healing of strife between God and men. In a fascinating
study, Diane Jacobs-Malina develops the thesis that a psychological
analysis of the Gospels shows that the Lord Jesus played his roles
like “the wife of the absent husband” (5). And assuming
that Joseph disappeared from the scene early in life, His own mother
would have been His role model here- for she was indeed the wife
of an absent husband. You’d have to read Jacobs-Malina’s study to
be able to judge whether or not you think it’s all valid. But if
she’s right, then it would be yet another tribute to the abiding
influence of Mary upon the character of the Son of God.
(1) Jonathan Burke provided me
with the following confirmation of this view:
Professor Joseph Gedaliah Klausner: " The
illegitimate bith of Jesus was a current idea among the Jews..."
Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 49b, p.324 'Jesus was a bastard born
of adultery.' Yebamoth IV 3; 49a: " 'R. Shimeon ben 'Azzai
said [concerning Jesus]: 'I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem
wherein was recorded, Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress.'"
Klausner adds to this: 'Current editions of the Mishnah add: 'To
support the words of R. Yehosua (who, in the same Mishnah, says:
What is a bastard? Everyone whose parents are liable to death
by the Beth Din). That Jesus is here referred to seems to be beyond
doubt.' Shabbath 104b: 'Jesus was a magician and a fool. Mary
was an adulteress.' Sanhedrin 106a & b: 'Mary was a whore:
Jesus (Balaam) was an evil man.' Origen refers to the tradition
(still current in his day during the 4th century), that Christ
was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier: Refutation I 28:
'Mary was turned out by her husband, a carpenter by profession,
after she had been convicted of unfaithfulness. Cast off by her
spouse, and wandering about in disgrace, she then gave birth in
obscurity to Jesus, by a certain soldier, Panthera.'
It could also be pointed out that Matthew’s genealogy
features [unusually, for Jewish genealogies] several women, who
had become the ancestors of Messiah through unusual relationships.
It’s almost as if the genealogy is there in the form that it is
to pave the way for the account of Mary’s conception of Jesus
without a man.
(2) Raymond Brown, The Death
Of The Messiah p. 1029.
(3) V.C. Matthews and D.C. Benjamin,
The Social World Of Ancient Israel (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson,
1993) pp. 28-29.
(4) B. J. Malina, The New
Testament World: Insights From Cultural Anthropology (Louisville:
Westminster / John Knox Press, 1993) p. 54.
(5) Diane Jacobs-Malina, Beyond
Patriarchy: The Images Of Family In Jesus (New York: Paulist,