Mary reflects on Jesus’ life while standing at the foot of the cross

Ever since Gabriel appeared to me, when I was just a frightened teenage girl, I’ve pondered the miracle of a God becoming man. I actually raised the Son of God, Jesus. He lived an extraordinary existence as both man and God ever since his conception was created by the Holy Spirit. I marveled every day of his life.

All through Jesus’ childhood and young adult years, I waited anxiously for Jesus to reveal himself to the world. He waited so long! How remarkable that he chose his first miracle to be turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. That’s the kind of compassion he always had for people. He could read a situation and feel the desperation there. He always responded to their heart condition, their dreams and fears.

Then he read the Messianic passages in Isaiah at our own temple in Nazareth. I was so proud! I thought our town would worship him after he declared himself! They must have seen how different—how discerning and kind—he was. But moments after reading Isaiah’s passage, the crowd began pushing him toward the edge of a cliff to throw him off!

I have always lived with the terror that my son would be killed. It’s been my companion for these thirty-odd years. I live with both the anticipation of his revelation and the dread of people’s resistance to it. The beauty of beholding his glory and the horror of watching it rejected.

When he was little, the village women would remark how lucky I was that at least my oldest son was perfectly obedient. Other than some of his peculiar decisions (like staying behind in Jerusalem alone without telling me!), he was an easy boy to raise.

I wanted the best for him even more than I did for my other children, because he actually deserved the best! He deserved to be loved, admired, and believed; even his own brothers were a long way from worshipping him as the Messiah.

I don’t know how I expected his story to end, but I never anticipated Golgotha. I knew that Messiah would die for the people, and I had heard Isaiah’s prophecies about his bruising and beatings, but I just had never pictured it like it happened.

I never considered Jesus would be wrongfully accused, beaten nearly to death, and executed publicly in the worst, most painful way possible. I never considered my people capable of handing him over to the Romans. It was unthinkable that our own religious leaders worked with Rome to kill an innocent man. To kill my perfect son, of all people.

That awful Friday, the prophecies became believable. As Jesus writhed in agony, I recalled a hundred fleeting memories of my life with him. I remembered walking to the market with his little hand in mind and rocking him gently in the darkness of midnight. Feeling his loving arms around my neck and little boy kisses brushing my cheek. With horror, Isaiah’s words made awful sense to me that day.

Jesus had called himself a shepherd, but Isaiah had called him a sheep to the slaughter.

As Jesus’ body slumped on the cross, I felt all the fevers he ever had, all his bruised knees, all his hurt feelings. At every excruciating breath, Jesus heaved himself up against the splintery beam, using the huge spikes through his wrists and feet to hold his weight while he moved. Sweat and blood streamed from his open wounds. The soldiers had brutally lashed him 39 times with every flick of the cat-of-nine-tails, wrapping the leather strips bearing chipped glass and rocks around his chest and back. The weapon tore into him, jerked under the soldier’s strength, peeling back ribbons of fleshless muscle and bloody tissue.

His face—oh, that sweet face! His eyes communicated love, even to people filled with hate and shame! I hardly recognized his body beneath the swelling and the blood. A horrid crown of thorns was crammed into his skull, mocking his claim to be the Son of God. Thorns, six inches long, cut to the bone and opened rivers of blood down his face and neck. His cheekbones swelled from the beatings and bled where the men tore out his beard.

He didn’t look human at all. And he certainly didn’t look like any God we had ever prayed to.

My son, shredded like a dead carcass in the wilderness.

He was and is God, even if he didn’t look like it. I know the truth better than anyone. With all the power in the universe at his command, he hung there willingly. Inside I screamed for him to release himself from the constraints of humanity. Yet even as I felt this anguish, I could hear his wise, childish response to me from all those years ago: “I must be about my father’s business.”

The sight was unbearable, yet I couldn’t tear myself away. More than once, I buried my head in John’s shoulder and wept. Even midst his suffering, Jesus showed me compassionate. “Woman,” he said with tenderness, “behold your son.” His eyes traveled to his closest friend. “John, behold your mother.” Always thinking of us first. Always.

He hung there naked, and I couldn’t cover him, exhausted and I couldn’t sing him to sleep, in agony and I couldn’t kiss him.

I searched for comfort and remembered this: He came to give life and give it more abundant.

Every grieving mother needs to know that her son has not died in vain, that he is fulfilling his destiny. When he said, “It is finished” and released his spirit, he wasn’t leaving his mother’s aching arms. He was triumphantly returning to the arms of his Father, having conquered death, conquered hate, and conquered eternal damnation for all of creation.

That is what love does and how love feels.

That must be why love hurts so much.

Other stories from the series “witnesses of the cross”:

#3 Thursday Night: Peter’s Denial

#2 Maundy Thursday: Judas’ Betrayal

#1 Palm Sunday: John’s Perspective

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