Mary's Holy Hour
by Edward P. Sri
One crucial theme in Johnís Gospel can shed much light on Maryís unique role in salvation history. This theme is so foundational that it will help us see how Mary becomes the "New Eve" and the spiritual mother of all Christians. Letís look at this fundamental motif in the fourth Gospel: "the hour."
The mysterious theme of Christís "hour" runs as a narrative thread through the Gospel of John and creates dramatic suspense for the reader. We first encounter this motif at the beginning of Christís public ministry during the wedding feast of Cana, when Jesus says to Mary, "My hour has not yet come" (Jn. 2:4). At this point, Jesus does not clarify what this hour is or when it will come. He only says that this mysterious hour has yet to arrive.
Our curiosity intensifies as Jesus repeatedly refers to some supreme hour that is coming soon. For example, when addressing the Samaritan woman, He says that the hour is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (4:21Ė23). When addressing a crowd in Jerusalem, He says the hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live (5:25).
Christís cryptic hour is mentioned twice more in moments of intense conflict between Jesus and His opponents. But again, the nature and the timing of this hour remain veiled. When Jews in Jerusalem seek to arrest Jesus, Johnís Gospel notes that no one was able to lay hands on Him "because his hour had not yet come" (7:30). Similarly, after a passionate debate with the Pharisees, no one was able to arrest Jesus because "his hour had not yet come" (8:20).
Over and over, we hear about some cryptic hour that imminently approaches but never quite fully arrives. Therefore, by the time we get halfway through Johnís Gospel, the average reader is left in much suspense! What is this hour? And when will it ever come?
The Hour Has Come
Thankfully, the long-awaited hour at last arrives in John 12. Just after He enters Jerusalem during holy week, Jesus announces that His hour is finally here. He says, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified" (Jn. 12:23). And Jesus proceeds to tell us what this hour is all about: His sacrificial, self-giving love on the Cross (Jn. 12:24Ė25).
But most significantly, Johnís Gospel notes how this hour is not simply one critical moment in the life of Jesus. Christís hour represents the turning point in the history of the world! For it brings to fulfillment Godís plan of salvation as foretold all the way back in Genesis. The hour of Jesus brings about the defeat of the devil, which God promised He would accomplish in Genesis 3:15. Consider what Jesus Himself says will happen in His hour:
"Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when, I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show by what death he was to die. (Jn. 12:31Ė33)
Notice how Jesus speaks of His death not as a moment of defeat, but a moment of victory. When He is lifted up on Calvary, the "ruler of this world"ó the devilówill be cast out. This defeat of the devil recalls the famous prophecy of Genesis 3:15, when God foretold that the woman eventually would have a son who would crush the head of the serpent. Johnís Gospel, therefore, presents the hour of Jesusí Passion as the hour of the devilís defeat. In the end, Christís hour fulfills the ancient prophecy of Genesis 3:15.
"Hour" Lady at the Cross
This has tremendous implications for understanding Jesusí final words to Mary at the Cross, when He addresses her with the astonishing title "woman": "When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ĎWoman, behold, your son!í" (Jn. 19:26).
We have seen from our previous reflections on the Wedding at Cana that it would be highly unusual for a Jewish man to call his mother "woman." In fact, there is no evidence in ancient Judaism or Greek antiquity of a son ever addressing his mother this way. Therefore, Jesus must have had some strategic purpose in addressing His mother with the unique title "woman."
Once we realize that in Johnís Gospel, the "hour" of Jesusí death is meant to be understood as the defeat of the devil and the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 (see Jn. 12:31Ė32), the meaning of Maryís title "woman" comes into focus. With Genesis 3:15 clearly in the background, Mary being called "woman" in this context would bring to mind one woman in particular: the woman of Genesis 3:15 whose son would defeat the serpent. Indeed, Johnís Gospel associates Mary with the ancient woman, Eve.
The New Eve
And since the Bible describes Eve as "the mother of all the living" (Genesis 3:20), Maryís association with "the woman" of Genesis sheds further light on her spiritual motherhood over all Christiansóa theme explored in our last reflection on John 19. There, we considered how the symbolism of Maryís new maternal relationship with the beloved disciple presents Mary as the spiritual mother of all the faithful Christians whom the beloved disciple represents. Here, the New Eve theme in John 19 confirms and deepens the Biblical support for Maryís spiritual maternity. Just as Eve was the mother of all the living, so Mary, as the New Eve, becomes the spiritual mother of all who are spiritually alive in Christ through grace.
This is a point John Paul II makes when reflecting on Christís words to Mary at the Cross. With the words "Behold, your son!" Jesus indicates that Maryís maternal mission will continue in a new way. Up to this point, she has served as the mother of the Messiah; now her motherly mission finds "a Ďnewí continuation in the Church and through the Church, symbolized and represented by John [the beloved disciple]." As the mother of Jesus, she now also becomes the mother of all Christians who share in Christís life.
Taking Mary Home?
Finally, letís consider three points from the last sentence of this scene at the Cross that tell us about the way the beloved disciple accepted Mary as his spiritual mother: "And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (Jn. 19:27).
First, the words "from that hour" refer not to a chronological hour, but to Christís supreme hour of self-giving love on the Cross and His victory over the devil. The implication is now that Christís redemptive work on Calvary is complete, the beloved disciple can "take her to his own home."
But, secondly, what does it mean for the beloved disciple to "take" Mary? In Johnís Gospel the Greek word for "take" (lambano) has three shades of meaning. First, when associated with a physical object, lambano refers to physically taking something such as loaves of bread ("Jesus then took the loaves . . . " [Jn. 6:11]). Second, however, when associated with a spiritual gift, the word does not imply taking in the sense of physically moving something to seize it. Instead, it means "to receive," as in receiving grace (Jn. 1:16) or receiving the Holy Spirit (Jn. 20:22). Third, in yet another nuance, when the word lambano is associated with a person, it means to receive someone personallyó to welcome, accept, or believe that person. In Johnís Gospel, this third sense is often used to express someone welcoming Christ in faith (Jn. 1:12; 5:43; 13:20).
Since our scene at the Cross in John 19:27 uses "took" (lambano) in reference to the person of Mary, this third personal meaning is most likely in play here. Consequently, when the text says the beloved disciple "took" Mary, this does not mean he took her on a journey to a specific place. Rather, it denotes a personal welcoming of Mary into his life. Recall that Jesus just put the beloved disciple into a new son-mother relationship with Mary ("Behold, your mother!"). Thus, the beloved discipleís "taking" (lambano) Mary points to his joyful acceptance of Our Lady in this new relationship as he welcomes her as his mother.
Thirdly, what does it mean that "the disciple took her to his own home"? Though the last words are commonly translated "to his own home," the expression in the original Greek more literally means, "into his own" or "into the things that were his own." In fact, Johnís Gospel uses this expression to describe Jesusí own people (1:11), His own sheep (10:4), or His own disciples (13:1). Especially in John 13, the words "his own" describe a deep, personal communion with His disciples.
Therefore, the account of the beloved disciple receiving Mary into "his own" does not likely refer to him merely taking her to his house. Johnís Gospel is concerned with something more profound than where Mary went to live. Rather, the beloved disciple taking Mary into "his own" points to something deeper, something more spiritual. The beloved disciple welcomes Mary into a profound, personal communion, fully embracing the mother of Jesus as his own mother. He welcomes Mary as one of "his own."
This Time, Thereís Room in the Inn
John Paul II sees further spiritual insight in this scene. He notes that the words "into his own" refer in Johnís Gospel to "the spiritual goods or gifts received from Christ: grace (Jn. 1:16), the Word (Jn. 12:48; 17:8), the Spirit (Jn. 7:39; 14:17), the Eucharist (Jn. 6:32Ė58)."
He then concludes that the beloved disciple, in welcoming Mary "into his own," recognizes Mary as a great spiritual gift given to Christís followers. By taking Mary "into his own," the beloved disciple welcomes Mary not simply as a mother, but as a spiritual mother who represents a profound spiritual gift to his interior life. Just as a faithful disciple welcomes the Word, the Spirit, or the Eucharist into his spiritual life, so does the beloved disciple welcome Maryís spiritual maternity as a treasure given to him by Our Lord. John Paul II exhorts us to make room for Mary in our own lives, just as the beloved disciple did in his:
Among these gifts which come to him from the fact that he is loved by Jesus, the disciple accepts Mary as his mother, establishing a profound communion of life with her (cf. Redemptoris Mater, no. 45, note 130). May every Christian, after the beloved discipleís example, "take Mary into his house" and make room for her in his own daily life, recognizing her providential role in the journey of salvation.
E-mail this article to a friend
Edward P. Sri is a professor of theology and Scripture at the Augustine Institute
in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of or contributor to several Emmaus Road books, including his latest book, Queen Mother
, which is based on his doctoral dissertation. This article published in Lay Witness Magazine and reproduced with permission of Catholics United for the Faith
. All rights reserved.