WOMAN, BEHOLD THY SON! ... BEHOLD THY MOTHER!
Joost De Blank "Is It Nothing To You" (1958)
NEARLY three hours had passed. It was almost high noon. The sun was blazing down from a cloudless sky. There was silence from the three crosses now. I wondered if the poor wretches were unconscious. I hoped so for their sakes. Certainly the oaths and blasphemies had come to a stop and the other thief, too, had been still since Jesus had said: 'Today, with me.'
How I loathe the crowds who come and watch crucifixions, who gather like human vultures wherever men suffer or are in pain. We always have a job keeping the crowd back. They want ringside seats, and their faces sicken me, like those who want front row seats at heavyweight boxing or the gladiatorial games. We had a job on that day, I well remember. On a day when even the respected religious leaders came along to crow over their defeated enemy, it wasn't surprising that there seemed to be more on Calvary than ever before. We drove them back again and again to leave enough space, but whenever we relaxed our attention only for a moment they all moved forward at once. But among all the hundreds of people there were four I saw (there may have been more, but I saw only four) who were different from the rest. They quite clearly had not come to make sport of the victims' sufferings, and nothing we could do could drive the women away from the central Cross. I knew without having to ask that the most insistent one must be his mother, and though I had no reputation in those days for being soft-hearted, the mute appeal in her eyes made me tell my men to let her be. After all, there was nothing she could do to stay the course of events; what difference could it make? I felt sorry for her. I know I had often enough caused pain to my own mother, but she didn't then have to stand by to watch me being crucified, with a hostile band of hooligans all around. Not that it entered my head then that there was anything I could do. And then it happened! He wasn't unconscious, not that central figure, and I remembered he had refused the drugged drink to ease his pain three or more hours ago. His mother had so placed herself, with that intuitive genius mothers have, that when he opened his eyes she was directly in his line of vision. The crowd might jeer, the soldiers might mock, but his open eyes would see a deathless love. And his eyes did open - and I swear there was a smile on his face, a smile of infinite tenderness. He moved his head ever so slightly so that he could see who it was at his mother's side, and then he said: 'Woman. behold thy son!' and turning to the lad: `Behold thy mother!'
That struck me then as amazing, and it still does after all this time. As he hung upon that Cross even now his thoughts were not for himself. His thoughts had been for the soldiers doing their duty, they had been for the men who were being crucified with him, and now they were for his mother and his own intimate family circle. Nowhere in his bearing or his words could there be found a trace of self-pity. And I knew by this time that whatever else he might be, this man was certainly a hero. I might be a soldier, but I had never met heroism like this before. I had been wounded on more than one occasion in past campaigns, and as I lay in pain I reckoned I was all-important. I was the centre of my own picture and I expected everybody else to place me there too. Others could wait on me, others could do my bidding. I could be irritable, bad -tempered, or downright devilish, but others must be sweet and kind and eager to do my will. I had a cast-iron excuse- I was ill! I've noticed this in other people too. I have known old people--sometimes take mean advantage of their age; and because they feel they are entitled to service, they have made life hell for those around them.
Oh, how ashamed I have been of all that in my life since the day I stood by the Cross and heard those words spoken. In the extremity of his own agony his thought was first and foremost for others. I have sometimes wondered since then whether self-pity isn't the greatest of all the sins. It is hard to find anything that more weakens character and conduct.
Mind you, it cuts both ways. There are those that are called upon to serve the aged or the infirm, and they too grow sorry for themselves. Why aren't they free as their friends are free? Why do they have to run home early to prepare supper and see the patient is tucked safely in bed? I know all about it, but I believe it would make all the difference to their attitude and the quality of their ministry if they could only stand by the Cross as I stood, and hear: 'Woman, behold thy son! ... Behold thy mother!' I am told that the disciple took Mary away then, though I doubt whether she left until the end, from that day she made her home with him. Peter and the other disciples started travelling around proclaiming the new faith that had come to them, but John never left Jerusalem for twelve years. He never left until Mary was called home to heaven. He felt Jesus had given her into his keeping, and he was going to discharge that trust wholeheartedly and completely. There's something fine about that.
Yes, as I look back now this scene by the Cross teaches me so much. I wish I could pass it on. I know all about mother-love and what the poets say, but I must confess I am staggered by that woman's unbroken trust in her son. He really had come to a dreadful end - an end reserved for the very lowest type of criminal - and yet she believed in him and stuck by him. I have proved for myself since that day, and many others have told me, that they have accepted the faith of Jesus because they know beyond all doubt that he believes in them and will stick by them to the very end. He will never let them go and he will never let them down. He is alway the good Shepherd seeking the lost sheep. Well, if that be true, as I believe it is, it is all part of his mother's nature. Whether she learnt it from him or he from her I care not, but if the definition passes that a friend is , one who knows the worst about you yet loves you just the same, then I can understand why they called him `the friend of publicans and sinners.'
I am glad, too, that at the end Jesus did not forget the intimate relationships of the family. I knew, of course, even then that he was an itinerant preacher and had left home three or four years earlier - and when once a man has left home and has got a job that takes all his time it's hard to keep in touch, even harder still, I think, for this man, because some members of his family thought him crazy and wanted him to come back to his carpenter's bench at Nazareth. And so sometimes he had to act rather harshly, or so it seems to me, in regard to them. But here he leaves us in no doubt about his love for his mother, for his nearest and dearest. And since then I have been more suspicious of those who are devout and religious in public, but who in the privacy of their own homes are difficult to live with - charming in church, horrible at home. That's why I am suspicious of myself and the reality of my own religious profession.
FOR THE READER'S MEDITATION
1. Where do I put myself when I am in trouble?
2. How do I offer my service for others?
3. What am I like at home?