It’s possible that you, like me, may never have thought that this next phrase of Jesus’ could be summed up by the word “relationship”. It is true that the word doesn’t appear in the third phrase that Jesus spoke upon the cross. Jesus didn’t waste breath and words philosophizing about relationships. He spoke simply and he spoke with love when he commended Mary to his friend John and the essence of what he said can logically be - and has been traditionally - narrowed down to “relationship.”
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27 NIV
OK, let’s first address the elephant in the room: I must admit that I have sometimes thought that Jesus’ friend John must be a little bit arrogant, calling himself, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I mean, really? First off, Jesus loved everyone, and secondly, how could he think he’s so special?
But he didn’t mean it like that. The Apostle John, who wrote the book of John and who is the only one to refer to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in all of Scripture, was using this as a term of humility. As if he was saying, “Jesus loves me! Can you even believe it?!”
So there was John, the only one of the 12 apostles who stayed to watch the crucifixion through to the end, standing right by - perhaps comforting, perhaps weeping with - Mary, Jesus’ mother. And as they stood there, each amazed in their own right by the love that Jesus, the Son of God, had for them (Mary had been “pondering this in her heart” since he was born), Jesus sees them and addresses them.
In his agony. In the myriad of thoughts he had to have in his brain at that moment, he thought of them. He thought of his mother’s future, a widow presumably without means to provide for herself, and now without him as her eldest son to care for her. He thought of John, willing to do anything he could for his master. And with his words he gave permission to Mary to allow herself to be blessed by John - and to John to be a blessing to Mary. (I’m certain; incidentally, that Mary was also a blessing to John!)
Jesus was saying, “Mom, let John care for you. Don’t be afraid to receive his help. Let him serve you. And you, John, I entrust her to your care. Treat her as if she were your own mother. I know I can trust you in this.”
Wow. Can you even imagine the honor of that request? But also the fact of the request. The fact that Jesus would take the time, as he was busy saving the world from their sins, to consider “relationship”.
The fact is, we were created for relationship. Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” This isn’t about marriage. This is about connection. Friendship. About people not being lonely or uncared for.
Yes, people need people. And, as the old song goes, that makes us lucky.
That makes us blessed.
True. People can be frustrating and worse. But loneliness also has its risks. “Loneliness is associated with declines in physical health, mental health and cognition,” says a Dec. 20, 2018 CNN report by Susan Scutti.
Yes. Relationships matter. As our oldest child has gone off to college and our second will follow in just over a year, the five years until our youngest goes looms closer and closer. That makes me lonely just thinking about it. I see that relationships and friendships will be more and more important to me. Best that my husband prepare himself now for my neediness.
I think, too, of my friends who are widows. So many of them know the importance of getting out and being involved in the community. They travel. They volunteer. They stave off loneliness by doing. That doesn’t mean manic activity but rather thoughtful, meaningful involvement. Thoughtful, meaningful relationships.
They give themselves the opportunity to be blessed and to be a blessing.
Relationship. It mattered so much to Jesus that he spoke of it in his last breaths. Let’s none of us take that lightly.
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is email@example.com.