Woman, behold your son! …Behold your mother!
The disciple whom Jesus loved.
We read John’s self-chosen name without really taking in the reality of a relationship that could define itself as such. That John would have the confidence to proclaim those words is astonishing. Who are you? Oh, I’m the one the King of the World loves. But of course, while at some intellectual level perhaps John could grasp Jesus’ King-of-the-World-ness, mostly I think Jesus was his friend. And while Mary had been told long ago by the angel that Jesus would save the whole world, mostly I think He was her son. Mary and John were incredible, yes. But they were also ordinary. Just because He loved the whole world doesn’t mean Jesus was any less woven into the fabric of their lives through intimate relationship. Just because He died for the whole world doesn’t mean they felt any less the ripping strands as they stood and watched. In fact, they probably felt it the most, because of their relationships, and precisely because they stayed and watched. It is difficult to imagine what those heart-wrenching moments were like for these two, as their Savior and Son and Friend was torn from them.
Yet, it is also because they stayed that we are given these words of Christ. They opened themselves up to love Him enough that even though they knew profound pain could be the only inevitable end of this relationship, they also knew the joy of intimacy was worth it. And because they stayed, and because they loved, we see this beautiful glimpse of Jesus’ intimate provision for relationship, and of relationship itself.
It rubs something in us the wrong way to say that Jesus might have somehow loved a few people at some sort of level of greater intimacy, as if God could have favorites. But that’s because we calculate love in measures, as if it was a product given, taken, or exchanged. We talk about loving something more, which necessitates loving other things less, and in the limits of English particularly we are forced into the linguistic corner of having only one word to use for loving both oreos and a lifelong friend. God doesn’t love more or less, doesn’t measure or dole out. God IS love. Love means He gives Himself, in fullness to and beyond our capacity as He knows it at any given moment. There is not a human measure by which to judge what fullness looks like to one or another. We are simply all full, cups running over with His love. So while Christ, in Divinity, loved no one less, we do see that He clearly lived in intimate human relationship more closely with some than others. He loved the crowds, yes, but that differed from what the fullness of His love to His disciples looked like, and that differed from the fullness of His love to His three closest disciples, or to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, or Mary Magdalene, or Mary, his mother, and this disciple who is explicitly named as “the one whom Jesus loved.” So surely, in that reality, Jesus loved Mary and John in a beautiful, uniquely intimate way.
In that moment, then, dying on a cross to meet the ultimate needs of humanity for all eternity, His love also reached down to meet the most practical, relational needs of these two. In all that was happening internally and externally in that moment, a piece of Christ’s heart was concerned for provision. A piece of Christ’s heart knew that yes, the Spirit would come and His presence would dwell with them, but also, in an incredibly human way, He was leaving them, and that left a real, relational void that I am sure never stopped aching until the day they were reunited with Him for all eternity. Knowledge of the intimate presence of God in our lives does not fully erase human relational need. It does not fully ease human relational loneliness. It does not fully remove the ache of human relational loss. Culture says relational longing is fully met by the pursuit of pleasure, in whatever temporal means, as quickly as possible; usually sexually. The church, unfortunately, often says (though at times without speaking) that relational longing is fully met in marriage, doing unspeakable damage to the hearts of both singles and married alike by promising them something that cannot stand. To grieve and long and need is not solely to lack some particular definition of intimacy, nor is it to lack sufficient faith, it is simply to be human in this relationally broken world. Jesus was a man and He knew this. He knew He could not fully ease this pain for Mary, John, and so many others. He knew this, and yet also knew that He was the eternal provision even in that ache. He knew that He had lived with them in order to show them how to live with each other.
I wonder if He wept, asking John to fill the role the faithful son in Him desperately wanted to? But I imagine His heart also swelled with joy, knowing all that lay before these two and the richness life would hold as they continued in the provision of relationship He had opened to them. The eternal reality of the relationship of all who would believe in Him erases previous barriers and limits of intimacy. Mother, see? Through my love this is also your son. Son this is also your mother. I have given you an example; live into it. He was leaving, but the beauty of Christ-defined relationships was only beginning. These relationships, our relationships as believers, formed and centered on Him, are His provision for us to walk this weary life. They are not incidental, they are not disposable, they are above all not to be lightly tread. We are relational beings, shaped in the very Image of God, and relationships that dwell in the heart of God are the most profoundly practical and intimate gifts of His presence and provision. From the very moment of utter human brokenness on the cross, Christ speaks to the ones He loved to remind us of this truth.