Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Often, as the mother of three sons, I have thought about what His mother, Mary, suffered as she watched His torture and death. It’s difficult to put myself in her place. I’m sure the experience aged her in a short time, and that she wanted to die with Him. I have also wondered why Jesus gave John the responsibility of her care when she had other sons of her own. Perhaps because John was young, and Jesus loved him especially. He knew Mary would be cherished in John’s household.
Three Mary’s stood near the cross: His mother, whom we can assume had been widowed by this time; His aunt; and Mary Magdalene, whose life had been transformed by Jesus’ ministry. They had watched, it can be assumed, His progress through the trials, insults, beatings, scourging, and finally His crucifixion. All of these were public events back then, done in the open perhaps to warn anyone else what would happen if they stepped across the line of Roman domination.
When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple when He was eight days old, Simeon held Jesus in his arms and recognized Who He was: “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). Mary’s suffering was enough to bring her to her knees, for sure.
It is likely that Mary the wife of Cleophas here was the same as Salome in (Mark 15:40), and that she was ‘the mother of the sons of Zebedee’ (Matthew 27:56). It was this Mary, along with Mary Magdalene, who was among the first to discover that Jesus’ tomb was empty three days later.
In my imagination, I see these three women standing by, weeping, helpless. They must have tried to comfort one another, and especially to comfort His mother, as they watched His life’s blood drip from his body to the ground.
When Jesus said, “Woman! Behold thy son.” There was no disrespect. In His day, the term was similar to our “Ma’am,” showing great respect. It was clear in His directives to Mary and John that they were to accept the relationship of mother and son. John took Mary home with him that very day, and as far as we know she stayed with him until she died.
Again, the question as to why Jesus designated John to be Mary’s protector, and not one of His own brothers. We have nothing in scripture to clarify, so it is all conjecture. I wonder if it was because His own brothers did not follow Him during His earthly ministry, and did not yet believe in Him. Or perhaps it was because He knew John would certainly outlive His brothers and His mother. We really can’t know for sure, and it’s just as well. What matters is that, in the midst of intense agony, Jesus was thinking not of his own terrible pain. Instead, He was focused on the needs of those He loved. It is quite common for a dying person to turn completely inward in his last hours, focusing on his pain, or on what he has left undone, or whatever memories come to mind at the time. Jesus, though, was consistent in death as He was in life, ministering to those around Him even as He suffered.