Finally, there is another group of people standing before the cross who are defined by their love for Jesus.
All of Jesus disciples ran away, hiding themselves from the authorities, abandoning him to those who hated him. One returned coming to the place of execution viewing the cross upon which his teacher and friend was now dying. We make a strong assumption John is the disciple who stood near the cross and watched Jesus die. He is the one who wrote the document with his name attached. Only in this document will we find Jesus’ words spoken to his mother and his disciple. Although Jesus spoke several times from the cross this is the only time he directs his words toward someone standing as witness.
Next to John, perhaps near the cross, though the guards would shove people away so the spectacle might be witnessed by all, were a group of women. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” [John 19:25 ESV]. Matthew increases the number of the group of witnesses. “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” [Matthew 27:55-56 ESV]. Jesus’ mother was one in this group. His aunt was also there, his mother’s sister, as was Mary Magdalene. That all of the women were named Mary has generated much confusion. Discussion through the centuries has tried to identify each of the women with other historical characters and those mentioned in other historical documents.
Here is what we can know for certain. Of the people witnessing the agony of Jesus at least three women and one man loved him deeply. One of these women was Jesus’ mother and the man was a disciple of Jesus. We do not need to know why she was in Jerusalem though the Passover festival is enough reason. They are witnesses to the agony Jesus endured while on the cross.
It is the end of Jesus’ life. He is hanging on a cross, suspended by nails through his hands (wrists) and feet. His arms are probably bound to the cross beam for the weight of his body could easily tear through the weakness of his arms and feet and drop him to the ground. He struggles to breath, to think, to speak. His words will come only in short, gasping phrases. He is not going to preach a sermon or deliver a discourse in this position. It is unreasonable to expect such. It is reasonable for him to make short statements.
He sees his mother standing near. We can only assume their emotions based upon our own, the sympathy and empathy we might feel under similar circumstance. She is his mother. Like a mother she will not leave her son alone no matter the hideous and horrific torture inflicted upon him. She cannot. Though her heart break, her emotions overcome her ability to stand or speak or even breath, though her heart is gripped with fear and hopelessness, she will not leave. Neither will the others who are there leave. Their loyalty to him and complete love for him is enough explanation to believe they were truly there.
Jesus spoke directly to two of these witnesses. He uses the term “Women” for his mother. This is a term of respect and honor not derision or distance. In this term he acknowledges her humanity. He knows she is his mother, the woman who gave birth to him, who raised him and taught him and then had to let him go to fulfill his duty. He is the firstborn with duty toward his family as well as the world in which he lived. He, seeing her, takes care of her. “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 19:26-27 ESV]. John was standing next to her with his own mother standing next to them. Without hesitation, in spite of the circumstances, he fully and unequivocally took upon himself the responsibility given. He now stood between two women, both his mother.
Under the extraordinary circumstances there is nothing out of the ordinary in what was happening. There is no reason to believe these people were not there or that Jesus did not say what he did.