Woman Behold Your Son: The Astonishing Intimacy of Christ’s Compassion

As a Roman soldier hammered iron into flesh, she felt her own body tear also. Her agony mirrored his, and her emotional anguish pierced so deeply it was also physical. She sunk to the ground as hands reached out to bear her up. Her son, her precious son! Prophetic words uttered so long ago, the ones she hadn’t wanted to understand, reverberated in her mind. 

“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35)

He hung there naked, bloodied, barely recognizable. But she still saw the newborn she’d nursed through long nights, the toddler who’d taken his first steps, the boy about “his father’s business,” the man who had turned water into wine.

“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Couldn’t there have been another way?

She knew what he must do, but grief was a torrent threatening to drown her. The brutality her son experienced was too much to comprehend. But…

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)

Though Jesus gasped for breath, and pushed himself up on nail pierced feet to expand his lungs, his compassions failed not.

He took care of her. 

In the midst of excruciating pain, he took care of his mother. Let’s dwell here for a moment, and let its significance not pass us by.

A popular Christmas song poses the question “Mary did you know?” Drama oozes from the lyrics, and the orchestration swells to a climax- “The sleeping child you’re holding is the great, [dramatic pause] I Am!”

Picture some women all dressed in black, complete with white gloves. Their hands move in artistic fervor as they passionately sign the lyrics. And if we want to get real fancy, throw in a black light so those gloves really pop. There you go. You got it, a staple of late 90s churches and Christian school chapels.

And it goes on to list extraordinary things. Did she know he’d walk on water? Did she know he would make the blind see? Rule the nations? Release captives?

Being the natural rule breaker I tend to be, I always wanted to stand up in the middle of the service and shout, “Yes! She knew!” Then I would sit down smugly, arms crossed. But the Holy Spirit reminded me that maybe it wasn’t the right moment for an outburst. 

Of course Mary knew. From the first glimpse we see of her on an ordinary day turned anything but ordinary, she heard astonishing truth. (Luke 1:26-35) I’m sure there were things she didn’t fully understand, but as we find out later “she treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” 

Mary was introspective. She tumbled her thoughts like clothes in a dryer. She had months to think about what the angel had said. Also she would have been familiar with Old Testament prophecies that proclaimed Messiah would make the blind see, the lame walk, set captives free.  (Isaiah 61) Yes, indeed she knew. She knew her son would be the Messiah.

The angel in Luke 1 revealed world altering truth to a woman. And a young, unmarried, likely teenage girl at that. She “found favor” with the Lord. Lest we think this phrase implies something Mary was not—righteous by her own merit, or a further step, perfect—“favor” here literally means “grace.” Mary found grace with God. 

And what earth shattering grace she received. A Son. The promised Son. 

Just what did Mary know? 

Mary knew Jesus would be divine. He would be called “Son of God,” “Son of the Most High.”  This was a title reserved only for the true God, the God of Israel. (Luke 1:32)

Likewise, he would be conceived supernaturally. (Luke 1:35) That she was a virgin underscores this was a birth only God could accomplish. And it also emphasizes Jesus’ divine nature. He would be called Holy. Set apart. Furthermore, she knew he’d be the true King whose reign lasted forever. (Luke 1:32-33)

At his birth she found out even more about the long awaited Son. 

Jesus would be the Savior! (Luke 2:11,17, 30) It was about him whom angels announced, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” and league upon league of heavenly warriors sang, “Glory to God in the highest and earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” The exuberant shepherds who burst into her “recovery room” would have made sure she heard the proclamation. 

A few days later faithful Simeon, being promised he would not see death until he had first seen the Christ, rejoiced, “My eyes have seen your salvation!” (Luke 2:30)

The Savior would also bring light to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32) and glory to Israel. Mary’s son would be Messiah, not just to the Jews, but to all people. It was he who would complete God’s redemptive plan, settled from before time began. Also, he would open the flood gates of God’s mercy to gentiles. And he would receive the glory Israel should have had— He alone could fulfill the law and obey perfectly. He would judge the proud and arrogant. He would save the humble and meek. (Luke 2:31-32)

But from Simeon Mary also gained the first glimpse her path would include sorrow. Jesus would be opposed and her heart would break. Being near Jesus included suffering.

“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

Perhaps, the words didn’t mean what she thought they might. 

She watched him grow. Surely she marveled as a caravan of Magi brought him extravagant gifts. Perhaps she pondered the significance of such treasures, gold worthy of a king, incense for a priest, myrrh a burial spice. Later, when Herod demanded the deaths of all baby boys, she fled with her family to protect the promised Son.

She watched his perfection play out daily. Never did he hit a sibling in anger. Never did he selfishly take someone’s toy. Never did he use his words to hurt or deceive. How humbling to be an imperfect parent of a perfect child. 

She would have seen his childishness also. Could Jesus have ever knocked over a vase as he ran through the house? Maybe one day he proudly presented himself covered in mud, “Look at me Mommy!” 

And of course she had witnessed the miracles, and heard him teach. 

“Do whatever her tells you,” she instructed the servants at the wedding feast. (John 2:5)

That simple statement encapsulates her relationship with him. She boiled down all the years of pondering to this statement, the last time we hear her voice recorded in Scripture. Do what he tells you. Trust him. Though his hour had not yet come, she had no doubt he would provide. At this point she’d seen him live only as an ordinary man, no miracles yet. But she knew who he was, believed he would help, and turned attention to him. His was the glory.

Now at the cross, his life came hurtling to an end. His hour had indeed come— the reason he came brought to fruition. As she watched him suffer, perhaps all she had pondered rushed like a flood across her mind. I wonder if Mary’s anguish also mirrored God the Father’s as he turned his face away.

What did Jesus do?

Mary had bled to give Jesus life. Now he bled to give Mary life. As Mary experienced the intense suffering of labor to bring joy, so Jesus experienced ultimate suffering that Mary would have ultimate joy. 

And his suffering was not for Mary only. Rather, the promised Son bore the sins of the world and suffered so we would live. He bled so we would not. He looked into the cup of the Father’s wrath and drank all of it, so we would receive the cup of grace.

In his darkest hour he still met the needs of individuals specifically. The thief hanging beside him. His own mother.

By providing for Mary Jesus honored her even then, fulfilling the law even at the point of death. Amid the incomprehensible pain of crucifixion and even greater agony of being separated from the Father, he gave focused attention to her.

“His tender concern for her in the hour of his mortal agony illustrates his true humanity and compassion.” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 9) He was not some aloof, self-centered god (for had been he never would have gone to the cross in the first place). He was the Savior pouring himself out, intimately concerned, serving humanity but also serving Mary uniquely. 

What an astonishing compassion! Oh friend, his compassion is this deep for you also. He knows you and serves you individually as well.

Some commentators think he used the term “woman” to not pierce her heart further, in essence to create distance, but “there is another conjecture which is equally probable that Christ intended to show that, after having completed  the course of human life, he lays down the condition in which he lived.” (Calvin’s commentary). He laid down the earthly relationship of mother and son, for the slain son would soon become the risen King.

His provision for her was also precise. He laid down the mother/ son relationship, but gave her a new son. Mary a widow in her 40s or 50s would have had little opportunity to meet her own financial needs. Some think Jesus entrusted her to John’s care because his own siblings did not yet believe. Some think it was because he was the closest relative present.

Regardless, because John marveled so greatly at being loved by Jesus, he described himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He would have poured that love back on Mary. In saying “this is your son” rather than “this is your care taker” Jesus provided family. He gave her someone who would not only provide, but cherish her.

He took care of her. 

And he takes care of you.

John’s response to Jesus was simple. “From that hour he took her to his own home.” He obeyed Jesus’ instructions and cared for her as he would his own mother. 

This is is how the church is to care for one another. Our care flows out of his care for us. 

In the middle of this tender moment, something bigger was happening. Jesus reoriented the family. It was the inauguration of the new Christian family, which supersedes even biological relationships. 

Don’t misunderstand here, natural family is still important. He didn’t throw it out! But at the cross he hints at what he intends for the church. When we become believers, the church becomes our greater family because in the church we have a spiritual connection forged by Christ. 

We’re invited to see ourselves in this new family that meets needs and shows the same (if not more) tangible compassion we would give to blood siblings. In this beautiful gospel moment, Jesus’ care for Mary equips our compassion for others. He equips us to love and serve without selfish gain lurking in the corner. 

The End

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill Scripture),“I thirst”… When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19: 28-30)

And they pierced his side, just as they had pierced Mary’s soul.

Jesus’ last act before willingly laying down his life was to take care of Mary, something profoundly personal. What astonishing love! After he entrusted her to John, he knew all was finished.

The contrast is staggering. While he satisfied God’s righteous wrath and paid the penalty of sin for a people more in number than the stars, he simultaneously provided for one.

Our Savior is both all powerful and immanent. And we rejoice with millions upon millions in our salvation, but we also rejoice as individuals beloved by God. 

His body was broken. Her soul was broken. But that wasn’t really the end. 

Grief gave way to exceeding joy, for he rose just as he said.