Mary, the Mother

Mary, the Mother

“Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” (John 19:25-27)

“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His Mother.” One has written: “The nails driven into His hands were driven through hers. The jar as the cross dropped into the socket tore her nerves and wrenched her bones as the last travail pains when she gave birth to Him, the thirst that inflamed His mouth scorched hers, as disheveled and worn, she watched Him there.” The words of Kipling’s poem certainly find there fulfillment here:

If I were hanged on the highest hill,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

I know whose love would follow me still,

Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

This one who stood in agony at the foot of the cross was not an old woman. She probably had not yet reached her fiftieth birthday. As a young grill of sixteen or seventeen she had been betrothed to Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. She was happy in her engagement, she loved Joseph and he loved her dearly. She had been a simple peasant girl with rosy cheeks and hands rough and red from housework in a poor home, a girl of unsullied character, of un-warped mind, unspoiled by over fussing, unsophisticated in the ways of the world, a girl who was devout and of receptive piety, one who was always ready to do God’s will.

Before the year of engagement was passed the angel Gabriel appeared unto her with a most astounding announcement, that there should come unto her the blessing that every Jewish mother hoped and longed would be hers, she should be the mother of the Messiah. “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women … Behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus. he shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end … And Mary said, Be hold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

We have read these words so often that we fail to understand how this announcement must have affected this young girl of sixteen or seventeen. She well knew the price that an unwed mother must pay: ostracism by her girlfriends, perhaps Joseph would break the engagement, her parents would misunderstand and mistrust. Yet without seeking advice from Joseph, without going to her parents and taking them into her confidence, without seeking counsel from the rabbi of Nazareth she made up her own mind and said, I am thy servant, O God; be it unto me according to thy will.” What a supreme example of dedication and surrender to the will of God regardless of personal sacrifice. Although we do not agree with the Roman Church in their deification of Mary and their worship of the virgin we certainly can see one reason which may have led them to this false position. In this act of self-abnegation she proves herself worthy of the high trust committed to her by God.

The long months of waiting passed slowly. At last we see the engaged couple, Mary and Joseph on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay their tax and to register in the ancient village of their forefathers. While there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, and she brought forth her first born son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger for there was no room for them in the inn. Then some very remarkable events took place: shepherds came and worshipped, wise men from afar came and presented precious gifts unto Him, when He was eight days old His parents presented Him in the Temple. There was a man named Simeon by name unto whom it had been revealed that he should not taste death until he had seen the Messiah. He took the child into his arms and said “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” And Simeon blessed them and said unto Mary, “Behold this child is set for the rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”

As Mary knelt there in sadness at the foot of the cross the prophecy of Simeon was being fulfilled. A sign was being raised, it was the sign of the cross and from that unto this the cross has been spoken against for to some the cross is a stumbling block and the preaching of the cross is foolishness. And as she knelt there her own soul was being pierced. For this her first born son, this one of hers that had done evil to no one was being cruelly put to death. How His mother’s heart must have ached and pained nigh to the breaking point!

Yet in this hour she was comforted and sustained by the knowledge of who He was and what He was accomplishing by His death. I believe that Mary understood that for this hour He had come into the world. I believe that she understood that He in drinking this bitter cup was being manifested as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” As she knelt there, there passed in review many things which she “had kept and pondered in her heart.” She remembered the events of His birth which we have already mentioned. She recalled the message of the angel to Joseph and the resultant flight to Egypt. After two years sojourn in Egypt the family returned to Nazareth of Galilee. There followed happy years: she taught Jesus the Scriptures of the Old Testament, He helped in the home and in His father’s carpenter shop and other children were born into this Galilean home.

There stands in her mind the visit to the Temple at Jerusalem when He was but a child of twelve. Yet a boy in an Eastern home is thought of a man and ready to assume many of the responsibilities and privileges of manhood. Here we see this young man of twelve eagerly sitting at the feet of the doctors of the law asking and answering questions. Mary at the foot of the cross recalls her agony when she realized that her son was not in the caravan going back to Nazareth. We need not deduce any slackness on the part of the parents in this matter. In those days the men traveled in one company and the women in another. Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph thought Him to be with His mother. Great was their concern when at the end of the first day’s travel they found Him to be absent. They hurried back and found Him in the Temple. Never would Mary forget His answer when they reprimanded Him for His absence: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke tells us that the parents didn’t understand this remark, but that Mary kept all these sayings in her heart. He went back with them and was subject unto them and increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

Eighteen years passed. In the meantime Joseph had died and Jesus being the oldest had to help with the support of the family. Finally there came the day when He left His Galilean home to enter more fully on His Father’s work. Mary recalled the marriage in Cana of Galilee. Jesus and some of His earliest disciples were present. In the midst of the feast the wine gave out. Mary who was a relative of the bride went to Jesus and made known the need and then commanded the servants: “Whatsoever, He says to you, do it.” then followed the first miracle of turning water into wine, the best wine. There followed three years of ministering to the needy. A ministry that came to an end at Calvary. The events of those years passed in rapid review as she knelt there. How her heart rejoiced because of the good that He had done. Certainly her soul was pierced, bitter tears of sorrow coursed down her cheeks, but in the hour of the crucifixion she could say as she said in the hour of the annunciation, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” As she reviewed the events of His life she knew that truly He was the Son of the Highest, that He had come to give His life a ransom for many and that in drinking this bitter cup He was doing the will of His Father. As He prayed in the Garden, “Not my will but thine be done,” so she knelt at the cross in humble submission to God’s holy will.

As she knelt there in deep reverie a word from the cross broke upon her consciousness. “Woman, behold thy son.” Then said He to John. “Behold thy mother!” This is a word of remembrance. In the hour of agony Jesus remembered her who had given Him so much. Why was she committed to the care of John? Probably because His brothers at this time did not believe in Him but John did. “From that hour John took her unto his own home.” So Mary passes from the gospel story. She passes from the gospel story at its saddest hour.

But in three days her sorrow will turn to joy and this dark night will be followed by a dawn that will last forever. For in three days the message of the Resurrection will be brought unto her. I wonder if on that Easter day, Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord sang the Magnificent:

            My soul doth magnify the Lord,

            And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

            For He hath looked upon the low estate of His handmaid:

            For Behold, from hence forth all generations shall call me blessed.

            For He that is mighty hath done great things to me;

            And holy is His name.

Dr. Robert W Kirkpatrick

Whitfield Estates Presbyterian Church, Sarasota, Florida, March 14, 1965

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