Woman, behold your son …

Reflection on words of love from the cross … 

John 19:25b-27
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

A book that I’ve been reading has this great quote: “Looked at objectively, Jesus is a discredit to contemporary Christianity; he refuses to judge, all he wants to do is love.”

Obviously that’s a deliberately provocative statement, but his point is that Jesus was a terrible disappointment to the Pharisees and would be to many contemporary Christian leaders. He sat with sinners. He disrupted the trial of an adulterer. He forgave sins without even asking what the sins were. He told qualified lawyers that their laws weren’t necessarily divine, but often just of human construction. He doesn’t even seem to have had a problem with Pontius Pilate, the one who sentenced him to death in an abdication of responsibility.

What a disgrace. How are we supposed to uphold proper values with that kind of example? We need a respectable example of Christian qualities and values, decent policies for economics and migration to preserve our identity. Not some latter-day, All-you-need-is-love, hippy!

And now, here he is – on the cross – simply connecting his mother to his friend and his friend to his mother. No instructions beyond those simple words. An act of love and caring and a commandment of love and caring. Giving those two beloved people what he has given us: space to follow his example as best they can.

Yet there are many who have found it necessary to step into what they seem to see as a void left by Jesus, to make it clear that we need boundaries on that space, regarding who we can love, and how. Rules for who we can and can’t love; rules for what is good love and what is not … and so on.

But love isn’t like that. Not the love of Christ.

Christ doesn’t love us for what we have or have not done.
Certainly his love offers forgiveness for those times when we have done wrong or omitted to do right. But that’s not the underlying point.
Christ simply meets us where we allow ourselves to be found and offers us a form of unconditional love that is almost beyond our comprehension, because we tend to reframe his love within the narrow confines of our own limited ability to love.

To love as Christ loved us is – in one sense, paradoxically – impossible, because we simply cannot match his unconditionality.  Still, we are called to try to follow his example.  To try to meet his commandment to love as he loves us is to take an enormous risk, because it makes us vulnerable and because we can see where it landed Jesus.

And yet.

Jesus surveys the sorry desolation of Calvary, and with his dying breath still manages to express his love for others, making space for them to love in turn.

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