Mary, Witness to Death: From the Third of Jesus’s Last Sayings from the Cross

John 19:25-27

Given at Brown Grove Baptist Church on Good Friday, April 15, 2022

“This child is destined to cause the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your heart, too.”  – Luke 2:34-35

I wonder if these words from Simeon were echoing in Mary’s ears as she stood near the cross, as a witness to her son’s state-sponsored murder. 

While the seven last words are Jesus’, in these words, I can’t help but think of Mary and loneliness. The loneliness of bearing a son outside of wedlock in a Jewish culture and the knowledge that this conception was miraculous. That she bore none other than God’s son. Who do you share that with? And who would understand the burden of such a thing? Even with a bond that Elizabeth and Mary shared, and with the eventual support of Joseph, Mary must have faced many days when she felt all alone – a young, unwed mother-to-be.

So, what must Mary be thinking and feeling, seeing Jesus on a cross? 

  • Responsible? Parents bear a special responsibility as to how their child turns out. She was first to be told Jesus would be special. She encouraged him to do the miraculous at the wedding in Cana – even before “his time had come.”
  • I know mother’s take seriously their burden to raise their children right. I see it in my own mother. She still wants to correct my grammar on the texts we share.  Point is the actions of sons and daughters reflect the character and parenting of the mother. 
  • Did she push him too much? Not enough? Was she mistaken about his identity? 
  • Or was God mistaken? 
  • Did Jesus take this Messiah thing to far? I wonder if she thought back to that time when she and James came to retrieve Jesus away from a contentious crowd he was addressing. Yet there he seems to reject his mother and brother. Rather, he asked “who is my mother and brother? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and my brother and my sister.” Matthew 12:46-50

What about Jesus’s thoughts to Mary?

  • He cares for those he loves, even in his moment of agony.
  • Many become apathetic in their suffering and pain. We know those who focus on their pain and make sure everyone knows they are suffering.
  • Jesus makes sure, in accordance with Jewish customs, that his mother is cared for.
  • In doing so, Jesus becomes alone among humans – the disciples have fled “each to his own home,” while the disciple he loves has accepted Mary “into his own home.”
  • We hear this “to his own” language at the outset of John’s gospel (John 1:11) – the Word came ‘to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.’” Bookended with the beloved disciple taking Mary to “his own home,” and in 16:32 when Jesus predicts that the disciples will be scattered, “each one to his own home, and you will leave me alone,” we can truly sense how alone Jesus is on the cross. 

Finally, in our contemporary culture, I think of mammas whose sons are condemned to die.  Unlike Jesus, they are not without sin.  But that is true of all us sinners. We carry the burdens of the consequences of our choices – our actions. But aren’t some consequences unjust? Like the scandal of the cross, so the death penalty is a scandal in our day. And so, with this scripture, I think of the pain the family of the condemned suffer. No less than the pain of the victim who suffered at the hands of the condemned. Either way, life is being snatched from the healthy. How do the mothers who gave their children life cope with the burden of watching their child’s mistakes be paraded out publicly and their unnatural death celebrated as a cautionary tale reminding us all to keep to our lane? And so I wonder how Mary, the mother of Jesus, stands in solidarity with the mothers whose children have not lived a model citizen’s life but no less bear the image of God? 

I went searching for an honest account from a mother who was willing to share her suffering with us all. I found the account of Marilyn Shankle-Grant and her son, Paul, who was convicted of killing 28 year-old Jonas Cherry while robing the putt-putt golf course where Cherry worked. 

I will let her story have the last word: 

Click here to read Marilyn Shankle-Grant’s account, as told to the Marshall Project.