MARY sank to her knees, her agony too deep for words. Still echoing in her ears was her son’s last outcry as he died after hours of torment. The sky had gone dark at midday. Now the earth shook violently. (Matthew 27:45, 51) It may have seemed to Mary that Jehovah himself was letting the world know that he, more than anyone else, was deeply hurt by the death of Jesus Christ.
As the afternoon light dispelled the gloom shrouding Golgotha, or Skull Place, Mary grieved for her son. (John 19:17, 25) Memories likely flooded her mind. One that may have surfaced was a recollection from some 33 years earlier. When she and Joseph had just presented their precious baby at the temple in Jerusalem, an aged man named Simeon was inspired to utter a prophecy. He foretold great things for Jesus, but he added that one day, Mary would come to feel as if she were run through by a long sword. (Luke 2:25-35) Only now, in this tragic hour, did she fully grasp the truth of those words.
It has been said that the death of one’s own child is the worst, the most painful, loss that a human can face. Death is a terrible enemy, and it wounds all of us in one way or another. (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:26) Is it possible to survive such wounds? As we consider Mary’s life from the start of Jesus’ ministry to the time of his death and just beyond, we will learn much about the faith that helped Mary to survive the sword of grief.
“DO WHATEVER HE TELLS YOU”
Let us go back three and a half years: Mary sensed that change was coming. Even in the little town of Nazareth, people were talking about John the Baptist and his stirring message of repentance. Mary could see that her eldest son viewed the news as a signal; it was time to embark on his ministry. (Matthew 3:1, 13) For Mary and her household, Jesus’ absence would mean an upheaval of sorts. Why?
It seems likely that Mary’s husband, Joseph, had already died. If so, Mary was no stranger to loss.a Jesus was now called not only “the carpenter’s son” but also “the carpenter.” Evidently, Jesus had taken over his father’s business and had assumed the role of provider for the family, which included at least six children who were born after him. (Matthew 13:55, 56; Mark 6:3) Even if Jesus had been training James—likely the next oldest son—to carry on the trade, the departure of the eldest would not be easy for the family. Mary already bore a heavy load; did she dread this transition? We can only guess. But here is a more important question: How would she respond when Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus Christ, the long-promised Messiah? One Bible account reveals something in that regard.—John 2:1-12.
Jesus went to John to get baptized, then became God’s Anointed One, or Messiah. (Luke 3:21, 22) Then he began to select his disciples. Urgent though his work was, he still took time for happy occasions with family and friends. Along with his mother, his disciples, and his fleshly brothers, he went to a wedding feast at Cana, which was evidently a hilltop town some eight miles (13 km) from Nazareth. During the festivities, Mary became aware of a problem. Perhaps she noticed that some among the family of the couple exchanged panicky glances and urgent whispers. They had run out of wine! In their culture, such a lapse of customary hospitality would shame the family, marring the occasion terribly. Mary felt for them, and she turned to Jesus.
“They have no wine,” she told her son. What did she expect him to do? We can only imagine, but she knew that her son was a great man who would do great things. Perhaps she hoped he would start now. In effect, she was saying to him, “Son, please do something about this!” Jesus’ reply must have surprised her. He said: “Woman, why is that of concern to me and to you?” Jesus’ words contained no disrespect, although they have been misinterpreted that way. His words did, however, convey a gentle reproof. Jesus was reminding his mother that she really did not have a say in the way he directed his ministry; that was reserved for his Father, Jehovah.
Mary accepted her son’s correction, for she was a sensitive and humble woman. She turned to those serving at the feast and said simply: “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary saw that it was no longer her place to direct her son; rather, she and others should take direction from him. For his part, Jesus showed that he shared his mother’s compassion for this newly married couple. He performed the first of his miracles, turning water into fine wine. The result? “His disciples put their faith in him.” Mary too put her faith in Jesus. She looked at him not just as her son but as her Lord and Savior.
Parents today can learn much from Mary’s faith. Granted, no one else has ever raised a child quite like Jesus. But when any child, however imperfect, becomes an adult, the transition may present challenges. A parent might tend to continue treating a son or daughter as a young child, though such treatment may no longer be appropriate. (1 Corinthians 13:11) How can a parent be helpful to grown offspring? One way is to express sincere confidence that a faithful son or daughter will continue to apply Bible teachings and receive Jehovah’s blessing as a result. A parent’s humble expressions of faith and confidence may do grown children much good. Jesus no doubt cherished Mary’s support during the eventful years that followed.
“HIS BROTHERS WERE . . . NOT EXERCISING FAITH IN HIM”
The Gospels tell us relatively little about Mary during the three and a half years of Jesus’ ministry. Keep in mind, though, that she was likely a widow—a single mother at that, perhaps with young ones still at home. It is quite understandable if she was unable to follow Jesus as he preached throughout his homeland. (1 Timothy 5:8) Still, she continued to meditate on spiritual things that she had learned about the Messiah and to attend meetings in her local synagogue as had always been the family custom.—Luke 2:19, 51; 4:16.
Is it not possible, then, that she was sitting in the audience when Jesus spoke at the synagogue in Nazareth? What a thrill for her to hear her son announce that a centuries-old Messianic prophecy was now fulfilled in him! It must have been distressing, though, to see that her fellow Nazarenes did not accept her son. They even tried to kill him!—Luke 4:17-30.
Also distressing was the way her other sons responded to Jesus. We learn at John 7:5 that Jesus’ four brothers did not have their mother’s faith. We read: “His brothers were . . . not exercising faith in him.” As to Jesus’ sisters—of whom there were at least two—the Bible is silent.b In any event, Mary came to know the peculiar pain of living in a home where differing religious viewpoints prevailed. She had to strive for the balance of remaining loyal to divine truth while working to win over the hearts of her family members without being overbearing or combative.
On one occasion, a group of relatives—no doubt including Jesus’ brothers—decided to go and “seize” Jesus. They were actually saying: “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21, 31) Mary, of course, thought no such thing, but she went with her sons, perhaps in the hope that they would learn something that would help them to grow in faith. Did they? Although Jesus kept performing astounding works and teaching wonderful truths, Mary’s other sons still did not believe. Did she wonder, in near exasperation, just what it would take to reach their hearts?
Do you live in a religiously divided home? Mary’s faith can teach you a great deal. She did not give up on her unbelieving relatives. Rather, she chose to let them see that her faith brought her joy and peace of mind. On the other hand, she remained supportive of her faithful son. Did she miss Jesus? Did she at times wish that he were still at home with her and her family? If so, she kept such feelings in check. She saw it as a privilege to be supportive and encouraging to Jesus. Can you likewise help your children to put God first in life?
“A LONG SWORD WILL BE RUN THROUGH YOU”
Was Mary’s faith in Jesus rewarded? Jehovah never fails to reward faith, and surely Mary’s case was no exception. (Hebrews 11:6) Just imagine what it was like for her to hear her son speak or to hear reports of his sermons from others who heard them firsthand.
In her son’s illustrations, did Mary detect some echoes of Jesus’ childhood as he was growing up in Nazareth? When Jesus spoke of a woman sweeping her house to find a lost coin, grinding flour for bread, or lighting a lamp and setting it atop a stand, did Mary think of that little boy who had been at her side as she carried out such daily tasks? (Luke 11:33; 15:8, 9; 17:35) When Jesus said that his yoke was kindly and his load light, did Mary think back on some golden afternoon long ago when she watched Joseph teach a young Jesus how to make and shape a yoke with care so that an animal could bear it in comfort? (Matthew 11:30) Surely Mary found immense satisfaction in contemplating the privilege that Jehovah had given her in life—that of helping to raise and train the son who would become the Messiah. She must have found unique joy in listening to Jesus, the greatest of human teachers, who took such commonplace objects and scenes and drew from them the most profound of lessons!
Yet, Mary remained humble. Her son never set her up for adulation, let alone worshipful devotion. During his ministry, a woman in the crowd cried out that Jesus’ mother must truly be happy for giving birth to him. He replied: “No, rather, happy are those hearing the word of God and keeping it!” (Luke 11:27, 28) And when some in a crowd pointed out to Jesus that his mother and his brothers were near, he said that those who believed were really his mothers and brothers. Far from taking offense, Mary surely understood Jesus’ point—spiritual ties are far more important than fleshly ones.—Mark 3:32-35.
Still, what words could convey the pain that Mary felt as she saw her son suffer a terrible death on a torture stake? An eyewitness to the execution, the apostle John, later included this telling detail in his account: During the ordeal, Mary was standing “by the torture stake of Jesus.” Nothing could prevent that loyal, loving mother from standing by her son to the very last. Jesus saw her, and though every breath he drew was an agony and every word he uttered cost him dearly, he spoke. He placed his mother in the care of his beloved apostle John. Since Jesus’ fleshly brothers were still unbelievers, Jesus entrusted Mary to none of them but to a sincere follower of his. Jesus thus showed how important it is for a man of faith to care for those who are his own, especially when it comes to their spiritual needs.—John 19:25-27.
When Jesus’ death at last came, Mary felt the pain foretold so long ago, the piercing long sword of grief. If we find it hard to imagine the extent of her grief, how much more so are we at a loss to imagine the joy she felt three days later! Mary learned of the greatest of all miracles—Jesus had been resurrected! And her joy was compounded, for Jesus later appeared to his half brother James, no doubt in private. (1 Corinthians 15:7) That meeting affected James and Jesus’ other half brothers as well. We later learn that they came to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Soon, they were at Christian meetings with their mother, “persisting in prayer.” (Acts 1:14) Two of them, James and Jude, later wrote books of the Bible.
We find the last mention of Mary at the meetings with her sons, praying. What a fitting end to Mary’s record, and what an example she left behind! Because of her faith, she survived the sword of grief and received, at last, a glorious reward. If we imitate her faith, we too will survive whatever wounds this hard world inflicts on us and we will enjoy rewards greater than we can imagine.
a After figuring in an incident that occurred when Jesus was 12 years old, Joseph is absent from the Gospel record. Thereafter, Jesus’ mother and her other children appear but not Joseph. Jesus is once called “the son of Mary” with no reference to Joseph.—Mark 6:3.