In the life of our Lord from first
to last there is a strange blending of the majestic
and the lowly. When a beam of His divine dignity
is allowed to shine out and dazzle us, it is never
long before there ensues some incident which reminds
us that He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh;
and, contrariwise, when He does anything which impressively
brings home to us His humanity, there always follows
something to remind us that He was greater than the
sons of men. Thus at His birth He was laid in
a manger; yet out on the pastures of Bethlehem angels
sang His praise. Long afterwards He was asleep
in the end of the boat, and so overcome with fatigue
that He needed to be awakened to realise His danger;
but immediately He rebuked the winds and the waves,
and there was a great calm. When He saw the grief
of Martha and Mary, “Jesus wept”; but
only a few minutes afterwards He cried, “Lazarus,
come forth,” and He was obeyed. So it was
to the very last. In studying the Second Word
from the cross we saw Him opening the gates of Paradise
to the penitent thief; to-day the Third Word will
show Him to us as the Son of a woman, concerned in
His dying hour for her bodily sustenance.
The eye of Jesus, roving over the
multitude whose component parts have been already
described, lighted on His mother standing at the foot
of the cross. In the words of the great mediaeval
hymn, which is known to all by its opening words,
Stabat mater, and from the fact that it has
been set to music by such masters as Palestrina, Haydn
“Beside the cross in tears
The woeful mother stood,
Bent ’neath the weight of years,
And viewed His flowing blood;
Her mind with grief was torn,
Her strength was ebbing fast,
And through her heart forlorn
The sword of anguish passed.”
When she carried her Infant into the
temple in the pride of young motherhood, the venerable
Simeon foretold that a sword would pierce through
her own soul also. Often perhaps had she wondered,
in happy days, what this mysterious prediction might
mean. But now she knew, for the sword was smiting
her, stab after stab.
It is always hard for a mother to
see her son die. She naturally expects him to
lay her head in the grave. Especially is this
the case with the first-born, the son of her strength.
Jesus was only thirty-three, and Mary must have reached
the age when a mother most of all leans for support
on a strong and loving son.
Far worse, however, was the death
He was dying-the death of a criminal.
Many mothers have had to suffer from the kind of death
their children have died, when it has been in great
agony or in otherwise distressing circumstances.
But what mother’s sufferings were ever equal
to Mary’s? There He hung before her eyes;
but she was helpless. His wounds bled, but she
dared not stanch them; His mouth was parched, but
she could not moisten it. These outstretched
arms used to clasp her neck; she used to fondle these
pierced hands and feet. Ah! the nails pierced
her as well as Him; the thorns round His brow were
a circle of flame about her heart; the taunts flung
at Him wounded her likewise.
But there was worse still-the
sword cut deeper. Had not the angel told her
before His birth, “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 for ever;
and of His kingdom there shall be no end”?
This greatness, this throne, this crown, this kingdom-where
were they? Once she had believed that she really
was what the angel had called her-the most
blessed of women-when she saw Him lying
in her lap in His beautiful infancy, when the Shepherds
and the Magi came to adore Him, and when Simeon and
Anna recognised Him as the Messiah. After that
ensued the long period of His obscurity in Nazareth.
He was only the village carpenter; but she did not
weary, for He was with her in their home; and she
was confident that the greatness, the throne, the crown,
the kingdom would all come in good time. At
last His hour struck; and, casting down His tools
and bidding her farewell, He went forth out of the
little valley into the great world. It is all
coming now, she said. Soon the news arrived
of the words of grace and power He was speaking, of
the multitudes following Him, of the nation being roused,
and of the blind, the lame, the diseased, the bereaved
who blessed Him for giving joy back to their lives,
and blessed her who had borne Him. It is all
coming to pass, she said. But then followed other
news-of reaction, of opposition, of persecution.
Her heart sank within her. She could not stay
where she was. She left Nazareth and went away
trembling to see what had happened. And now she
stands at the foot of His cross. He is dying;
and the greatness, the glory, and the kingdom have
What could it mean? Had the
angel been a deceiver, and God’s word a lie,
and all the wonders of His childhood a dream?
We know the explanation now: Jesus was about
to climb a far loftier throne than Mary had ever imagined,
and the cross was the only road to it. Before
many weeks were over Mary was to understand this too;
but meantime it must have been dark as Egypt to her,
and her heart must have been sorrowful even unto death.
The sword had pierced very deep.
There were other women with Mary beneath
the cross-two of them Marys, like herself.
As an ancient father has said, the weaker sex on
this occasion proved itself the stronger. When
the apostles had forsaken their Master and fled, these
women were true to the last. Perhaps, indeed,
their sex protected them. Women can venture into
some places where men dare not go; and this is a talent
which many women have used for rendering services
to the Saviour which men could not have performed.
But there was one there who had not
this protection, and who in venturing so near must
have taken his life in his hand. St. John, I
suppose, is included with the rest of the apostles
in the sad statement that they all forsook their Master
and fled. But, if so, his panic can only have
lasted a moment. He was present at the very commencement
of the trial; and here he still is with his Master
at the last-the only one of all the Twelve.
Perhaps, indeed, the acquaintance with the high-priest,
which availed him to get into the palace where the
trial took place, may still have operated in his favour.
But it was most of all his greater devotion that
brought him to his Master’s side. He who
had leaned on His breast could not stay away, whatever
might be the danger. And he had his reward;
for he was permitted to render a last service to Jesus
amidst His agony, and he received from Him a token
of confidence which by a heart like his must have
been felt to be an unspeakable privilege and honour.
It is most of all, however, with the
impression made by the situation on Jesus Himself
that we wish to acquaint ourselves.
He looked on His mother; and it was
with an unpreoccupied eye, that was able to disengage
its attention from every other object by which it was
solicited. He was suffering at the time an extremity
of pain which might have made Him insensible to everything
beyond Himself. Or, if He had composure enough
to think, a dying man has many things to reflect upon
within his own mind. Christ, we know, had a whole
world of interests to attend to; for now He was engaged
in a final wrestle with the problem to which His whole
life had been devoted. The prayer on behalf
of His enemies does not surprise us so much, for it
may be said to have been part of His office to intercede
for sinners; nor His address to the penitent thief,
for this also was quite in harmony with His work as
the Saviour. But we do wonder that in such an
hour He had leisure to attend to a domestic detail
of ordinary life. Men who have been engaged
in philanthropic and reformatory schemes have not
infrequently been unmindful of the claims of their
own families; and they have excused themselves, or
excuse has been made for them, on the ground that
the public interest predominated over the rights of
their relatives. Now and then Jesus Himself
spoke as if He took this view: He would not allow
His plans to be interfered with even by His mother.
But now He showed that, though He could not but refuse
her unjust interference, He had never for a moment
forgotten her just claims or her true interests.
In spite of His greatness and in spite of His work,
He still remained Mary’s Son and bore to her
an undying affection.
The words He spoke were, indeed, few;
but they completely covered the case. Every
word He uttered in that position was with great pain;
therefore He could not say much. Besides, their
very fewness imparted to them a kind of judicial dignity;
as has been said, this was Christ’s last will
and testament. To His mother He said, “Woman,
behold thy son,” indicating St. John with
His eyes; and to the disciple He merely said, “Behold
thy mother.” It was simple, yet comprehensive;
a plain, almost legal direction, and yet overflowing
with love to both Mary and John.
It is supposed that Joseph, the husband
of the Virgin, had died before our Lord’s public
career began, and that in Nazareth the weight of the
household had fallen on the shoulders of Jesus.
No doubt, during His years of preaching, He would
tenderly care for His mother. But now He too
was leaving her, and the widow would be without support.
It was for this He had to provide.
He had no money to leave her; His
earthly all, when He was crucified, consisted of the
clothes He wore; and these fell to the soldiers.
But it is one of the privileges of those who, though
they may be poor themselves, make many rich with the
gifts of truth, that they thereby win friends who
are proud and eager to serve them or theirs.
In committing His mother to St. John Jesus knew that
the charge would be accepted not as a burden but a
Why she did not go to the home of
one of her other sons it is impossible to say.
They were not yet believers, though soon afterwards
they became so; but there may have been other reasons
also, to us unknown.
At all events, it is easy to see how
kind and considerate was the selection of St. John
for this office. There are indications in the
Gospels that St. John was wealthier, or at least more
comfortable in his circumstances, than the rest of
the Apostles; and this may have weighed with Jesus:
He would not send His mother where she would feel
herself to be a burden. It is highly probable
also that St. John was unmarried. But there
were deeper reasons. There was no arm on which
His mother could lean so confidently as that of him
who had leaned on her Son’s breast. St.
Peter, with his hot temper and rough fisherman’s
ways, would not have been nearly so eligible a choice.
John and Mary were kindred spirits. They were
especially one in their intense affection for Jesus.
They would never tire of speaking to one another
about Him. He honoured both of them in each other’s
eyes by giving them to one another in this way.
If He gave Mary a great gift in giving her St. John
for a son, He gave him no less a gift by giving him
such a mother; for Mary could not but be an ornament
to any home. Besides, did He not make St. John
in a quite peculiar sense His own brother by substituting
him in His own stead as the son of Mary?
The Evangelist says that from that
hour John took her to his own home. Many have
understood this to mean that he at once gently withdrew
her from the spot, that she should not be agitated
by seeing the death-throes of her Son, though he himself
returned to Calvary. It is said by tradition
that they lived together twelve years in Jerusalem,
and that he refused to leave the city, even for the
purpose of preaching the gospel, as long as Mary survived.
Only after her death did he depart on those missionary
travels which landed him in Ephesus and its neighbourhood,
with which his later history is connected.
It is not difficult to read the lesson
of this touching scene. From the pulpit of His
cross Jesus preaches to all ages a sermon on the fifth
The heart of the mother of Jesus was
pierced with a sword on account of His sufferings.
It was a sharp weapon; but Mary had one thing on which
to steady up her soul; it kept her calm even in the
wildest moment of her grief-she knew He
was innocent. He had always been pure, noble
and good; she could be proud of Him even when they
were crucifying Him. Many a mother’s heart
is pierced with anguish on account of a son’s
illness, or misfortunes, or early death; but she can
bear it if she is not pierced with the poisoned sword.
What is that? It is when she has to be ashamed
of her child-when he is brought to ruin
by his own misdeeds. This is a sorrow far worse
How beautiful it is to see a mother
wearing as her chief ornament the good name and the
honourable success of a son! You who still have
a mother or a father, let this be to you both a spur
to exertion and a talisman against temptation.
To some is accorded the rarer privilege of being
able to support their parents in old age. And
surely there is no sweeter memory in the world than
the recollection of having been allowed to do this.
“If any widow have children or nephews, let
them learn first to show piety at home and to requite
their parents; for that is good and acceptable before
God. . . . But if any provide not for his own,
and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied
the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
But this sermon, delivered from the
pulpit of the cross, has a wider range. It informs
us that our Saviour has a concern for our temporal
as well as for our eternal interests. Even on
the cross, where He was expiating the sin of the world,
He was thinking of the comfort of His widowed mother.
Let the needy and the deserted take courage from this,
and cast all their care upon Him, for He careth for
them. It is often an astonishment to see how
widows especially are helped through. When they
are left, with perhaps a number of little children,
it seems incomprehensible how they can get on.
Yet not infrequently their families turn out better
than those where the father has been spared.
One reason is, perhaps, that their children feel from
the first that they must take a share of the responsibility,
and this makes men and women of them. But the
chief reason undoubtedly is that God fulfils His own
promise to be a Father to the fatherless and a Husband
to the widow, and that they have not been forgotten
by Him who in the hour of His absorbing agony remembered