This week Christians will weep within shadows cast by the Crucifixion before shedding tears of joy outside the empty tomb that radiates the Resurrection. As we find, in prayer, Mother and Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, we discover the path to eternal glory made manifest on Easter Sunday. We also learn along the way some truths about Mary, the apostolic tradition, and how our lives must be formed and informed by obedient surrender to Christ.
Gospel accounts reveal that among the people present at Golgotha on Good Friday were the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother, and John, his Beloved Disciple. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke directly to both of them from the cross. “Woman, behold, your son,” Jesus said to the Mary before turning to John and continuing, “Behold, your mother” (John 19:25-27).
These seven simple words – “Woman, behold, your son” and “Behold, your mother” – speak about deep relationships grounded in obedience. They’re ties beyond compliance, submission, or duty. They’re forged by love that Jesus has for Mary, John, and importantly, each one of us. Over the years, I’ve found these bonds still best explained in the book Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (Basic Books, 2000) by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.
Fr. Neuhaus proposed that the mother-son relationship shared between Jesus and Mary – “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man” according to the Nicene Creed – illustrates an obedient surrender to the “infinitely greater will” of the Heavenly Father (p. 76). The mother always stands near the center of salvation history of her Son, saying “yes” at the Annunciation, instructing Cana wedding waiters to “do whatever he tells you” with her last documented words (cf. John 2:5), and standing in sorrow as her Son hung on a cross.
Such obedient surrender also explains, although in a different dimension, the nature of the relationships shared between Jesus and all Christian followers. Good Friday found John taking Mary into his home (cf. John 19: 27). The Catechism defines this new association forged by Christ as the start of a “spiritual motherhood” that “extends to all men” (CCC, 501). By taking the Mother of God into his home, John served as more than support staff. He modeled discipleship for the Church for all time.
Fr. Neuhaus eloquently centers obedient surrender on the love shared between a parent and child. “To be a child again, one must be the child of another parent. As an adult, one can only surrender in the way that a child surrenders, if one surrenders to a love that comprehends all. In short, such a surrender means becoming a child of God” (pp. 100-101).
The obedient surrenders witnessed at the foot of the Good Friday cross changed lives. They transformed a young man into a disciple “child” with a new spiritual mother, who was long ago changed by her first “yes” to Christ. Turn Good Friday into a great day for your faith by letting obedient surrenders begin to change your life, too.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.