As Kay and I walked through the passion narrative in the Gospel according to John Friday night in the quiet of our living room, we paused a number of times to share questions or observations about what we were reading.
Few of the church’s traditional “seven last words” from the cross appear in John, the last written of the New Testament Four Gospels. Four of the “words” we expect to hear from having read Matthew, Mark, and Luke are missing in John:
- Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. (Luke 23:34)
- Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
- My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
- Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
The first three are altogether missing. A fourth “word” – the seventh of the traditional last words, becomes a third person description by the narrator, as it had been in Mark and Matthew: “. . . he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
But while John’s Gospel offers less of what we have come to expect in light of the earlier Synoptic Gospels, it adds three words:
2.”It is finished,” and
3. this strikingly intimate conversation with his mother and an un-named “disciple whom he loved” within the hearing of “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas (i.e. Jesus’s aunt), and Mary Magdalene:
“‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the un-named disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John. 19:27-28)
This startling exchange – this strangely intimate “last wish” normally reserved for the bedside of a dying patient – shifts the focus of John’s crucifixion narrative from the horror of Jesus’s torment to the primacy of the community: the familial bond between his mother and the beloved disciple which would survive him.
It is this beloved and loving community which carries forward the teaching and ministry of the Logos, the Word made flesh in him and in us, by the creative working of the Spirit of the Living God. “Woman, behold your son!” “Disciple, Behold your mother!”
The Good Friday conversation in our living room shifted from the anticipated tears of torment to the hope that rises whenever the invitation from the cross becomes reality, whenever we, in our time, become the beloved community of the un-named disciple: the transformed and transforming home for Mary and all her un-named children.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 18, 2017.