Franciscan Spirit Blog

Franciscan Inspirations: Mary at the Cross

People taking Jesus down from the cross

All four Gospels make note that Mary was present at the crucifixion and death of Jesus on Good Friday. Matthew, Mark, and Luke note that Mary and other women, in particular Mary Magdalene, “watched from a distance.” Only Luke writes that “some of Jesus’ disciples” were with Mary. Notably, the Twelve were not there, but hiding out of fear for their lives.

John, however, says very clearly that Mary—with Mary Magdalene and the disciple whom Jesus loved—witnessed Jesus’ death “from the foot of the cross,” not from a distance. At the same time, the distinction made between John and the other three evangelists may provide us with significant teaching moments.

On the one hand, Matthew, Mark, and Luke may be understood as historical descriptions since family and relatives, especially women, would not have been permitted up close to the actual place of execution. Executions were “men’s work.” Those executed were stripped of all clothing and died naked. Artists have added loincloths for the sake of Jesus’ dignity. And executioners would not have wanted hysterical family members getting in the way. If you’ve seen The Passion of the Christ, you will remember the shocking brutality of the crucifixion. But the point is that, even at a distance, the fact is that Mary and others saw Jesus crucified and die.

Universal Truths

John’s description has Mary, Magdalene, and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” close enough so that they could hear his words. John’s account is not for the purpose of describing the actual historical scene. Rather, it is to give the early Church a powerful instruction in the relationship of Mary not only to the disciple standing near her, but also to the whole Church. Jesus showed us that his mother was, indeed, the mother to all of God’s children.

In looking at this scene of Jesus’ crucifixion and noting the distinctions between Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s description—and that of John’s—we see an important point in reflecting on Scripture. Sometime people want to put great emphasis on those things that they see and understand as historical. It is essential to understand that God reveals his truth in various ways.

The writer, John, already knew of the other Gospels as they described Mary and the others watching the death of Jesus, showing their dedication and faithfulness to him even in death. The best conclusion to draw is that everything in the Gospels (and all of Scripture) is significant since it is the revealed word of God. Whether it is a fact of history or a manner of teaching that might not be historical, both contain the truth of God’s teaching for us.

Both the devotion of Mary and the women witnessing Jesus’ death—and the gift of Mary as mother to us—are truths we cannot be without.

Universal Mother

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