John 19: 25 – 30
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Just as in the previous passage when the Roman soldiers crucify Jesus, the actual moment of his death is written in a simple, short way. A puzzling aspect of this is the presence of the women, but not any of the disciples. Scholars understand that this is because the disciples would have been captured or hurt if they had been anywhere near the cross. Women on the other hand were not considered a threat, and therefore would have been allowed to come much closer without fear of harm.
What of the ‘disciple whom [Jesus] loved’ then? This person is generally thought to be a very young boy, and so the soldiers would have ignored him too. We can understand this person to be an eyewitness for the crucifixion, and some think that it is the author ‘John’ himself.
Back to the women, though: the last time that John described Jesus’ mother was in the story of the wedding at Cana, when she had to explain to Jesus that the wine had run out. Jesus gently teased her then saying that his “time had not yet come”. His time has come now, and to fix this in our minds he calls for wine himself. The soldiers give him ‘sour wine’ that was considered the worst, which they would only drink themselves if they were out on patrol. John contrasts this with the wine that Jesus produced when asked by his mother, the best wine that was served at that wedding.
Christians consider this tableau to be the key to understanding the wedding at Cana miracle: Jesus has come not to turn water into wine for us to drink, but to change the nature of our lives, from the necessary but bland, unexciting water to the full richness of God’s wine.
The synoptic gospels have Jesus crying “lama lama eloi sabacthani” on the cross, a quotation from the first verse of Psalm 22 as referred to in yesterday’s commentary. John’s last words for Jesus are a bit different, perhaps more comparable to the final verse (Psalm 22: 31)
“They will proclaim his righteousness,
Declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!”
While, perhaps not immediately obvious on the first reading, there is a subtle element of triumph in the words that Jesus speaks. This word that Jesus speaks is actually a single word in the original language, one which people would write on a bill after they had paid it. Jesus work is now complete: the price has been paid. And with that, as in Matthew 27:50, Jesus gives up the ghost.