translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 19: 25
Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother and her sister Mary, Clopas’ wife, and Mary from Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother, and standing nearby, the disciple whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Look, here is your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” The disciple took her into his own household from that time.
After this, Jesus who knew that everything had now been completed, in order that the Scripture might also be completed, said, “I am thirsty!”
There was a jar full of sour wine standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It’s done.” And he bowed his head and handed over his spirit.
The source that this author is using places the three Mary’s and the beloved disciple close to Jesus whereas the other Gospels place the women at a distance, and there are no male disciples present. John wants to emphasise the group at the foot of the cross as representing “Jesus’ own”, the fruit of his mission.
The episode involving Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple has been interpreted as signalling the end of one kind of humanity and the beginning of another. Mary, the human mother of Jesus does not feature much in this gospel but here she is invited to let go of him and accept his beloved disciple as the one to whom she has (through Jesus) given birth. The disciple is asked to establish the new family of God by accepting Jesus’ bereaved mother into his household as his own. We may be reminded of Jesus words about the sadness of the woman giving birth overcome by her joy at bringing a new person into the world. The new family of God begins at the foot of the cross.
This interpretation has much to commend it. Recently I read an alternative advanced by the catholic scholar James Allison, who suggests that Jesus is pointing both times to himself; firstly as the true son of Mary, the creative wisdom made flesh, in his human death revealing the love of God; and secondly as the disciple’s true mother, the one whose labour in living and dying gives birth to the new humanity, the children of God. This interpretation is perhaps pushing its luck a bit, but it has the interest of making Jesus rather than Mary, the mother of the church, and its serves to support the key idea that the passage is concerned above all with birth, the “birth from above” mentioned to Nicodemos, here ironically shown as the gift of the one “lifted up” on a cross. This act completes the work which the father has asked Jesus to do.
The sour wine comes from Psalm 69: 21, where it is part of the suffering of a righteous servant of God, but here it reminds the reader of the “cup” which Jesus says the father has given him to drink. In any case it is here a symbol of finality: Jesus can say, at last, “It’s done!”, meaning the wine, the pain of the crucifixion, the labour of his mission under God, the old world and its humanity closed to God, which has now been prised open by the revelation of God’s love in Jesus and the creation of a new humanity. This moment functions like the tearing of the temple veil in Mark which also signals the end of the old religion of a hidden God and the beginning of a new faith in the One who has shown his face in Jesus.
This gospel like the others is at pains to show an intrinsic connection between Jesus’ death on the cross and the life of the assemblies of Jesus which spread out over the known world.
Brilliant! The brevity of this commentary belies the extraordinary depths that you have touched and which invite every one of your readers to explore. There is pathos in representing Mary and John as “Jesus own”, the fruit of his mission. Such a small fruit, right? And yet, these two individuals represent the fullness of mutuality in the meeting of divine and human. James Allison’s interpretation is not a stretch, in my opinion. He reminds me of the icon of Dormition in the Orthodox tradition. Mary is shown in the foreground as dead in her funeral bier. But rising behind her in a vision of transcendent reality, is Christ holding in his arms a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, clearly to represent the reception into the divine reality the eternal being of Mary. As I often like to point out, this icon is the reversal of the conventional icon of Christmas, where the infant Jesus is wrapped in swaddling cloths. So in the Dormition icon, the son becomes the mother, so to speak. Which book by James Allison are you referring to? I have a couple of his books.