The Last Thing Christ Did for Us on the Cross

He had asked His Father to forgive those who crucified Him. He had endured the insults and mocking of onlookers. And he had forgiven the thief crucified with Him, promising Him paradise.

Jesus had been hanging on the Cross for two hours.

But His work was not yet finished. What remained?

John 19:26-27 informs us what it was:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, 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 into his home.

In the timeline of events, this is the last specific act Christ did for us on the Cross, Pope Francis notes in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. Only then, after He had given Mary to John, was “everything … now finished,” according to the next verse, which Pope Francis, in his close reading of the text, points out.

In this last act, early patristic commentators emphasize Christ’s care for His mother. “Though there were other women by, He makes no mention of any of them, but only of His mother, to show us that we should specially honor our mothers,” says St. John Chrysostom. “The good Teacher shows us by His example how that pious sons should take care of their parents,” adds St. Augustine.

Over time, however, the Catholic faithful have seen a greater significance to this event: Jesus was not merely showing His extraordinary love for His mother—in the midst of His greatest agony—by making provisions for her care after His death. Traditionally, the Church has also understood that Jesus was giving us His Mother. Pope Francis reiterates this teaching in Evangelii Gaudium:

These words of the dying Jesus are not chiefly the expression of his devotion and concern for his mother; rather, they are a revelatory formula which manifests the mystery of a special saving mission. Jesus left us his mother to be our mother. Only after doing so did Jesus know that “all was now finished” (Jn. 19:28). At the foot of the cross, at the supreme hour of the new creation, Christ led us to Mary. He brought us to her because he did not want us to journey without a mother, and our people read in this maternal image all the mysteries of the Gospel.

The gospel text confirms this reading. While most translations (like the New American Bible cited above) say that the beloved disciple took Mary into his home, the actual Greek uses an expression that is a bit vague—and also richer. The word is idia, which one lexicon translates as meaning pertaining to one’s self, one’s own, belonging to one’s self. The implication is easily lost: John merely did not take responsibility for his teacher’s mother—he treated her like his own mother. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that idia here is plural: John did not just take Mary for himself, he made her part of his own extended family.

The appearance of the word in the rest of the gospels confirms that it is always used in this personal sense. The word sometimes refers to what is one’s own—a home city, a shepherds’ flock, or a master’s slaves. But it’s also used in an intensely personal sense. In Matthew 14:13, Jesus withdraws to a “deserted place by himself.” What reads in English as “by himself” is the word idean (there in its singular form). Later, in the same chapter, the word is again used to describe how Jesus withdrew to a mountain to pray alone.

So John simply did not make room for Mary in his home, he made room for her in his heart. That a home is not the main idea is confirmed by another phrase in verse 27. We are told that “from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” Given what we know about the faithfulness of John and Mary, we cannot read that verse literally: John could not have rushed home and set up a room for Mary. Both must have remained at the foot of the cross.

The word “hour” itself also has symbolic meaning, beyond simply just marking a point in the time of day. As scholars like Felix Just, S.J., have observed, whenever “hour” appears in the Gospel of John it commonly refers “more broadly and metaphorically to the climactic event of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” By Just’s count, “hour” is used with this meaning in mind about 20 times in John.

Notably, the first instance involves Mary in John 2:4, at the wedding of Cana, when she informs Him that the wine has run out. In responding, Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come.” The word more clearly refers to Jesus’ “last hours” in John 7 where some Jewish authorities attempt to arrest Him but fail because “His hour had not yet come.” (Click here for the full list of the “hours” verses.)

Back to John 20, we can see that the use of the word “hour” identifies John’s reception of Mary “into his own” as an event of redemptive significance. And it’s certainly fitting that this “last hour” of Jesus involves His Mother, just as His “first hour” did in John 2. Only with His Mother could Jesus’ hours on this earth come to an end. Only by giving us the Mother whose “Yes” to the Angel Gabriel inaugurated His life on earth—the Mother who gave Him the body He offered up for us—could Jesus’ work on the Cross be complete.

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Stephen Beale

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Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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