Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest and extremely talented preacher, and I’ve learned a lot from her books and sermons as I have developed as a pastor over the years. This week for the church blog, I was reflecting on a sermon she had published about John 19 with Jesus leading John to care for his mother Mary.
Here’s her insight into the topic:
That Jesus placed his mother in the care of his disciple is our clue that she is a widow. Although Joseph is mentioned twice by name, he never shows up in John’s gospel at all. He has presumably died by the time Jesus reaches adulthood, which makes Mary an ‘almana,’ or widow, whose status depends on the surviving members of her husband’s household. When Jesus dies, she will belong to no one. She will be responsible to and for herself.
If she were a wealthy woman, this might be good news to her, but she is not. It is far more likely that she will eat other people’s leftovers for the rest of her life, with no father, no husband or son to protect her from the cruel things people say and do.
So it is merciful of Jesus to give her a new son. But it is also merciful of him to give that son a new mother, especially this one. Mary cannot be more than fifty years old when her son is crucified–younger than Sarah was when she gave birth to the nation of Israel; younger than Anna was when she recognized the redeemer of Jerusalem in a baby boy named Jesus.
When the beloved disciple takes Mary home, and when the other disciples come crawling out from under their rocks, they will find themselves in the presence of someone whose contact with the Holy Spirit has been far more intimate than theirs. She has seen things they have only heard about. She has felt things inside of her that they cannot even imagine. Perhaps that is why she stayed put by her son while they fled. Perhaps that is what allowed her to look full into the ruined face that no one but her (and her new son) could bear to see.
While the principalities and powers believe they are tearing his family apart, Jesus is quietly putting it together again: this mother with this son, this past with this future. Although his enemies will succeed in killing him, he will leave no orphans behind. At the foot of the cross, the mother of the old becomes the mother of the new. The beloved disciple becomes her new beloved son. “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
I thought Taylor painted such a powerful picture of how Christ offered hope, even though all seemed hopeless. Even when it looked like good was beaten by evil, Mary’s life still is evidence God was working to bring redemption.