Mary and John

“Thus, as Jesus saw the mother and the disciple present whom he loved, he said to the mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her as his own.”

(John 19:26-27)

In Jewish family law, it was the responsibility of the eldest living son to care for his widowed mother and in the case of his impending death, he had the right to designate a caregiver even from on the cross. There is little doubt, both from his character (obeying the law even in the face of death), from his love for those who followed him, and even from the verbiage he chose to use. The question that perhaps arises is why did not Mary fall into the charge of one of her other sons? James is listed first in Mark’s account (Mark 6:3), he would have been the obvious choice…then again, we can infer from Jesus’ choice here that James had not yet come to faith in Jesus Christ. What would have been a greater indignity for his mother than to put her, in the midst of her grief, into the hands of an unbeliever? Indeed, James would later come to faith and become a leader in the church and an author of one of our New Testament epistles…but not yet.

And so, John is chosen, though John is not mentioned by name. Some have raised the question as to whether this was really John and why it could not have been one of the other Apostles. Yet, it should be said that it has been the testimony of the Christian church from the earliest days that John, the author of the fourth Gospel, was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Irenaeus, a second-century pastor, insisted upon it. We might not get too excited simply to hear what we might consider an opinion of Irenaeus, but when you understand that Irenaeus was taught by Polycarp and Polycarp actually sat at the feet of John the Apostle and studied under him, you might then realize just how close that Ireaeus was to the “horse’s mouth” as it were.

Another argument for this being John can be made from the scriptures. When it came time for the final Passover together, Jesus assigned Peter and John the task of making preparations (Luke 22:8). This was an honor given to those who were closest to the Master hosting the meal and typically, those given that honor would be seated closest to the Master at the meal. We know that the disciple whom Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus and next was Peter, who whispered to this disciple to discover who would betray Jesus (John 13:23-25). Does this mean that Jesus did not love his other disciples? Of course not, it simply implies a special affection that our Lord had for this Apostle.

One other notation should be made here, and that is with respect to how Mary is addressed. “Woman” seems to our modern ears as being rather harsh. Of course, this was a rather common form of address in ancient cultures and we see Jesus using the same address in John 2:4, at the wedding of Cana. The sad thing is that many Roman Catholic scholars have built on this making parallels between Mary and the original woman, Eve. While some connections can indeed be made, the connection is not significant enough to establish Mary as the mother of the church as the Romanists would suggest nor is John being put under Mary’s authority as these teachers again argue, but Mary is being put in John’s care. Such is the danger of developing speculative theology as the Romanists regularly do.

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