The fourth station on the Way of the Cross is where Jesus meets his mother. There is no mention of this in any of the gospels. I wonder why. Then it seems obvious, we know his mother was at the foot of the cross. She must have followed him all the way there.
Jesus has recovered from his fall. He is continuing his final journey, weakened but goaded on by the shouts and blow of his executioners. Then, struggling on, he lifts his head and sees his mother in the crowd. Their eyes meet. What are they thinking?
Mary is there, not by chance, but because she has followed her son. Less than a week ago he was welcomed to Jerusalem by cheering crowds waving palm fronds. Now, a few days later, things have changed completely. Did Mary understand what was happening or was she bewildered by the sudden change? How did she feel, seeing her only son, weak and bleeding, being led to a criminal’s death?
Mothers always seem to feel the pain their children experience. Anybody who has seen a toddler bump his head on a table and cry out in pain will remember the mother scooping him up, wishing to take the pain herself, and soothing the child. That never ends. Mothers continue to watch their children grow and experience the pains of growing. The mother feels their pains. When the child is too old to scoop up and comfort the mother is still there, comforting as best she can. Once a mother always a mother.
Mary must have been confused but I imagine she must have been remembering the prophesy of Simeon when Jesus was taken to the Temple.
You see this child: he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.
Luke 2: 34, 35
Mary must have been feeling that sword as she stood in the crowd. Here, before her, is Jesus being rejected. The crowds that had welcomed him only days before were now baying for his blood. Mary knew that Jesus was here for a purpose. She must have realised that this was all part of his destiny. There is no mention of Mary screaming or making a fuss. She did not try to intervene. I wonder how I would react if my child was in that situation? Could I stand passively by and watch the torture and humiliation unfold?
I also wondered how Jesus felt when he saw his mother. He would see the pain in her face and he would know that, even though she was powerless to do anything, she was there for him. That’s what parents have to do. We have to be there, often powerless to help, just there as moral support. I suppose we all cause our parents worry and pain as we grow up. I’m sure I caused my mother a great deal of worry as I moved from one job to another and never applied for the job in the Post Office that she thought would bring me security. Through it all she was supportive in everything I did. That’s what I owe my children, my support and my acceptance of their decisions, even when I don’t understand the reasons.
Of course, when I think of this station I never consider the crowd. Who were these people who howled for his execution? Where were the supporters and the people he had helped? To put it bluntly, where would I have been if I had been in Jerusalem on that day? I like to think that I would have tried to help Jesus. If I look at my behaviour today I have to question that.
As a practicing Christian am I really following Jesus’ example? Do I behave like Jesus in my dealings with other people? How do I react when others attack the Church? Do I stand back and watch or do I speak up? Am I there for the stranger who is lost or in difficulty? How do I treat the people I don’t agree with? Am I happy to see them in difficulty or do I step forward and offer my help?
I recently viewed a Youtube video of a member of the Orange Lodge arguing for a NO vote in the Independence referendum. The comments from other viewers accused him of being a bigot who was not worth listening to. Nobody was considering the points he made. He was condemned for who he was rather than what he was saying. I was ashamed of the treatment he got. Would Jesus have reacted in that way? It is easier to be part of the mob than to speak out for justice.
The school I taught in before I retired had just that as its motto. Speak out for justice. What better advice could a catholic school give to its pupils? How many of us follow that advice? Do I speak out for justice or am I happy to see someone get their comeuppance? I suppose I need to remind myself that I meet Jesus in everyone I encounter. Do I see Jesus in the eyes of a beggar on the street? Do I see Jesus in the face of the convict being led off to start a long sentence?
Am I able to see Jesus in the illegal immigrant being flown home in handcuffs? Can I imagine that Jesus is to be found behind the balaclava on the pro-Russian protestor in Ukraine? You might argue that these are hard questions. You would be right. How could I imagine that you could find Jesus in someone you oppose? Well, that’s what Jesus could do. Think of the times he was seen in the company of the lowest of the low, the people most despised in society. Jesus could see worth in the worst of people. I must learn to do the same.
I must face up to the possibility that on current performance I could be one of the crowd. Perhaps I would have joined in the shouting, afraid to speak out for the innocent man and too ready to seek approval from the powerful elite. Would I be willing to suffer the disapproval of my friends and neighbours by saying they were wrong?
This is very hard but Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. Mary followed him and was there for him even at the worst of times. I think we are called on to do the same. We must be there for Jesus in his suffering. Where will we find Jesus in his suffering? Look around. Wherever we see the rejected people we see Jesus rejected. Wherever we see the criminal, jailed for his crimes, we see Jesus suffering with him. The sick, the homeless and the lonely are all opportunities for me to step out of the crowd, stop howling for Jesus’ execution and become a follower, helping the Jesus I find in unexpected places.