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17. Mary, mother of Jesus
17-1 Mary: Our Representative || 17-2 Mary’s Character: 17-2-1 The Loneliness Of Mary || 17-2-2 The Spiritual Ambition Of Mary || 17-2-3 Hannah And Mary || 17-2-4 A Bible Mind: Mary And The Magnificat || 17-2-5 The Faith Of Mary || 17-2-6 Mary And The Virgin Of Isaiah 7 || 17-2-7 The Humility Of Mary || 17-3 Mary In Crisis: 17-3-1 Mary’s Crisis Of Faith || 17-3-2 Mary And Jesus In The Temple || 17-3-3 Mary At Cana || 17-3-4 Mary And Her Other Children || 17-3-5 Mary In Mid-Life Crisis || 17-3-6 The Jesus-Mary Relationship || 17-4 Mary’s Victory: 17-4-1 Mary At The Cross || 17-4-2 The Influence Of Mary || 17-4-3 The Psychological Matrix Of Jesus

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 from Phanerosis:

“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 mother.  

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, 1993) p.2.