Mary and John and the Meaning of Mother

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I always say that if your understanding of the faith is unaffected by the removal of a given passage from the Scriptures, then you have found an error in your understanding. Now, it is, of course, true that the Bible can be repetitive, making the same point more than once, and it’s equally true that some Scriptures aren’t very meaningful in the scope of things (as best we can tell; and I’m thinking primarily of minute historical details).

But there are those unique passages in the Bible that simply can’t be replaced. They often stand out as somewhat peculiar, and if they mean absolutely nothing in your theology, then you really ought to reconsider.

Case in point: John 19:26-27

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

At the very height of the crucifixion narrative, in the moment just before Jesus dies, in the most theologically dense of the four Gospels, as the very last contact Jesus has with a disciple before dying, the evangelist John gives us this snippet.

Could it Mean…

Maybe you’ve thought that Jesus was simply making sure his mother was cared for before his passing. Excuse me, but I find that proposition far from plausible. First, why would Jesus wait until literally the moment before he died? Why not make arrangements before being arrested? Why not a week before? Why do it at all?! Jesus was inactive on earth for a total of maybe 40 hours (died at 3pm Saturday, rose [perhaps] at 7am on Sunday). His mother would have been fine for 40 hours, and he could’ve made arrangements then.

And why would theologically-minded John include the two-line story if that’s all it was? This hypothesis gets an F.

Depending on what you think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whether you are of the ancient group who believes in her perpetual virginity or of the revisionists who ignore a millenia of Church testimony, this hypothesis might even be more troublesome. I bring this up because it is terribly common among Protestants.

Those who deny Mary’s perpetual virginity insist that Scripture’s mention of Jesus’ adelphoi (which refers either to siblings or cousins) is proof that Mary bore other children besides the Lord. If this were true, then Mary would have no need for Jesus to arrange for her care after his death, since these children she is supposed to have had would have cared for her. So, this care-arrangement hypothesis is incompatible with the common Protestant position regarding Mary’s virginity.

Someone might suggest that, “Jesus simply wanted John to care for Mary, rather than having his siblings do it.” Objectively possible, but completely unjustifiable. On top of that, this brings us right back to the question of why John would include this tidbit in his Gospel, just before Jesus’ death; only now, we have to ask a second question about what motivated Jesus’ decision too. And does this baseless theory include some reason as to why Jesus would declare this arrangement with the words he chose? Why the poetic language?

“Maybe John just wanted to show that Jesus was a responsible son.” Then why did John not let us know who was caring for Mary while Jesus was ministering for three years? If we could presume that she was cared for during Jesus’ ministry, we certainly don’t need John to tell us about her care after Jesus’ ministry. And yet again the hypotheses thrown out about this passage fail to justify its existence.

Well, that is, all the hypotheses fail except for one, the one explanation that the Church has understood for nearly two thousand years: Mary was being given to the whole Church as our mother, and we, the Church, to her as her children.

It becomes you to be mindful of us, as you stand near Him Who granted you all graces, for you are the Mother of God and our Queen. Help us for the sake of the King, the Lord God Master Who was born of you. For this reason you are called ‘full of Grace’…” — St. Athanasius (373 AD)

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