By Caitlyn Furr
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
25 And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Imagining this scene breaks my heart, and I almost always cry when I read the crucifixion story. The unjustified cruelty that Jesus experiences is so infuriating to me.
The text in John 19 tells us that the soldiers “cast lots” for Jesus’ clothes and thoughtlessly divided the Savior of the world’s belongings among themselves. I imagine that for condemned prisoners, watching soldiers gamble for their clothing was the final indignity as they watched helplessly.
The author of John reminds us that Jesus’ mother is at the scene, and we are struck with the reality of what it must have been like for Mary to watch her son’s crucifixion. She has to watch as he is unjustly condemned, is mocked, and then suffers. What greater grief is there for a mother? Jesus sees his mother in distress and speaks to her from the cross.
I’ve always found the way that Jesus addresses Mary in this scene to be a little odd. He says, “Woman, here is your son.” At least in our culture, calling his mother “woman” seems impersonal, and maybe even a little harsh or disrespectful. Jesus actually addresses her the same way in John 2:4 at the wedding in Cana. Jesus was Mary’s oldest male relative, so he served as both her protector and provider. Addressing her as “woman” was a cultural norm for that relationship, and not a theological one.
As her provider, Jesus wants to ensure that Mary is cared for after his death. Although Jesus is being painfully crucified, he still takes a moment and intentionally speaks to Mary. Jesus doesn’t simply leave this earth without thought, but compassionately ensures that his grieving mother will be taken care of. He tells Mary and the disciple, who we assume to be John, that they are now family. The passage tells us that they obeyed Jesus’ command, and that from that very hour, the disciple took Mary into his home.
Jesus is telling us here that family is not always that which we are born into. The family of Christ, the church, should care for the hurting. It is the church’s responsibility to show compassion for people who are grieving. This is one of the final lessons that Jesus teaches us, and I think it’s a really important one. He tasks Mary and John with establishing a new community in faith and love, and they serve as an example for us today. As the family of Christ, we are to love each other and show compassion, especially to those who are hurting.
When I was young and lived in the Dallas area, there was a sweet older man at our church, who my mom also knew from her job as a chaplain at our local VA hospital. His name was Mr. Russ and he wore tweed and always had candy in his pocket. My parents, my brother and I all loved Mr. Russ, and he started coming to our house for dinner pretty frequently. Eventually, he started spending every Christmas and Thanksgiving with us.
Around that time, my grandpa, my mom’s dad, had recently passed away. I was really close to him, and I still actively miss him on a regular basis. We asked Mr. Russ if we could adopt him, or he could adopt us, and become our honorary grandpa. While Mr. Russ knew that he wouldn’t replace my grandpa, he was glad to care for my whole family, and show us all love and compassion as we grieved that loss.
Mr. Russ confided in us that he was really struggling with his own family. He and his wife adopted twin boys and when his wife died, he had a hard time caring for his sons who, as adults, had severe behavioral and mental health issues. By the time we met Mr. Russ, he and his sons were mostly estranged.
So, we cared for each other and became family despite having no blood relation. He passed away about 15 years ago, but we all still fondly remember Mr. Russ as our adopted grandpa.
Mr. Russ and my church taught me at a young age that family often has nothing to do with genetics and that we, as followers of Christ, are called to love one another as we love our biological families, especially during times of grief.
The women and the disciple who were at the foot of the cross learned this lesson well. By being there, they risked being identified with Jesus, which opened the possibility of them being arrested. Their presence at the cross indicated their faithfulness and affection for Jesus. They did not let Jesus suffer alone, or just with his enemies. In his hour of pain, these women and the beloved disciple served as committed family members.
During Holy Week, we grieve the death of Jesus. But we don’t grieve alone. Let us do so together, as a family, and show each other compassion and love as Christ taught us.
Caitlyn Furr is a student at Emory University pursuing her Masters of Divinity and Public Health. She also serves as the Church Engagement Assistant for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.