Post #5~Notes On John 19:23-27

19:23  When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom;
18:24  so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfil the scripture, “They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

Fathers Nolan and Brown: “It was the custom to give the clothes to the executioners.  The tunic was the inner garment worn next to the skin, and reaching from the neck to the ankles.  It was usually fastened round the neck with a clasp.

“As Christ’s tunic was seamless, and the soldiers thought it a pity to tear it; God so ordaining, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

Father McIntyre: The Greek reads the soldier’s therefore (with οὖν =”therefore” providing a resumption of the narrative from vs 18).  Four soldiers (known as a quaternion) would be detailed for each cross.  During a night-watch there would be four quaternions-one for each of the four watches of the night (Acts 12:4).  The garments of our Lord-head-dress, sandals, belt, toga, cloak-would be made into four prizes of nearly equal value, and given by lot to each soldier (Mt 27:35; Mk 15:24; Lk 23:34).

“The Tunic.  (χιτών=inner garment).  It was usually made of two pieces, but our Lord’s was a single texture, woven from above (where it fastened) entirely throughout, without seam, similar to that of the High-Priest (see Josephus Ant. iii. 7, 4)”

Inasmuch as this seemingly mundane event is not only narrated but fulfills a prophecy of Scripture, the early Fathers of the Church saw the event as highly symbolic, indicating the unity of Christ’s Church.  Thus St Augustine: “The fourfold division of our Lord’s garment represents His Church, spread over the four quarters of the globe, and distributed equally, i.e. in concord, to all. The tunic for which they cast lots signifies the unity of all the parts, which is contained in the bond of love. And if love is the more excellent way, above knowledge, and above all other commandments, according to Colossians, Above all things have charity, the garment by which this is denoted, is well said to be woven from above. Through the whole, is added, because no one is void of it, who belongs to that whole, from which the Church Catholic is named. It is without seam again, so that it can never come unsown, and is in one piece, i.e. brings all together into one. By the lot is signified the grace of God: for God elects not with respect to person or merits, but according to His own secrets counsel.”

Lapide on the tunic: “This was a type of Christ’s Church, which it is not lawful to rend, and thus cause a schism.”

St John Chrysostom witnesses to another interpretation, this one christological: “According to some, The tunic without seam, woven from above throughout, is an allegory strewing that He who was crucified was not simply man, but also had Divinity from above.”

Thephylactus combines the christological and the ecessiological: “The garment without seam denotes the body of Christ, which was woven from above; for the Holy Ghost came upon the Virgin, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her. This holy body of Christ then is indivisible: for though it be distributed for every one to partake of, and to sanctify the soul and body of each one individually, yet it subsists in all wholly and indivisibly. The world consisting of four elements, the garments of Christ must be understood to represent the visible creation, which the devils divide amongst themselves, as often as they deliver to death the word of God which dwells in us, and by worldly allurements bring us over to their Side”

The fact that the tunic was woven in the same manner as the High-Priest’s is often interpreted as indicating that Christ is the new High Priest.  The word χιτών (chiton) which is used for the tunic is the same word used in the Septuagint for the high Priest’s garment (see Ex 28:4; 39:27; Lev 16:4).  One should also recall the prophecy of the High Priest Caiaphas and St John’s comment upon it in chapter 11:49-53~”But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.”

Due to the actions of the High Priest and those in league with him, the nation would be scattered like the outer garments of Christ, But Christ prayed for the unity of his followers in what has become known as his “High Priestly Prayer” (chapter 17).

The verb translated as “tear” is σχίζω (schizo=rend or tear, our word “schism” comes from it).  In 7:43; 9:16; and 10:19 a cognate noun (σχίσμα=schisma) is used to describe factions among the people.  In 21:11 Peter is said to be wearing a tunic as he is fishing.  The miraculous catch of fish on that occasion has often been interpreted as an image of the church’s mission, and it is stated that the net was not “torn,” σχίζω (schizo).

“They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” From the Septuagint version of Psalm 22:19 (21:19 in some older bibles).

19:25  So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
19:26  When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”
19:27  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

So the soldiers did this.  But standing by the cross…The word “but” in Greek is a strong adversative, showing a strong contrast between what St John is now narrating, with what he has just narrated (the action of the soldiers).

The reference to those “standing by the cross,” is perhaps meant to recall Judas’ “standing” with the authorities who arrested Jesus (18:5), and St Peter “standing” by the fire with the High Priest’s servants (18:18).

Does John name four women of only three?  How one understands the relationship between “Mary of Cleophas” and “his mother’s sister” determines the answer.  Does the phrase “his mother’s sister” indicate a separate individual, or does it merely define the relationship between the Mother of Jesus and “Mary of Cleophas? (i.e., identifying them as sisters).

Fathers Nolan and Brown: The small group here named by St John must not be confused with the group of many women who, after our Lord’s death, stood afar off (Mt 27:55-56; Mk 15:40-41; Lk 23:49).  In St John’s text “Mary of Cleophas” is in apposition with “His mother’s sister.”  The Syriac, Ethiopic, and Persian versions, as well as some critical authorities, do, indeed, make a distinction between them, and thus nuber four women instead of three; but the overwhelming mass of authority is in favor of numbering only three women.

“The name Cleophas, or Clopas, must not be identified with Cleopas, sometimes erroneously written Cleophas, of Luke 24:18.  Clopas is abbreviated from Cleopatros (Cleopater), as Antipas from Antipatros (Antipater), Lucas from Lucanus, and Silas from Silvanus.  The phrase “of Cleophas” might mean daughter of, mother of, sister of, or wife of Clopas.  Most probably the last (cf. Mt 1:6).  Eusebius mentions, on the authority of Hegesippus, that Cleophas was brother of St Joseph.  In that case Mary of Cleophas would have been our Lady’s sister-in-law.”

The disciple whom he loved is almost certainly John the Apostle, though some scholars dispute this.

Woman, behold your son…behold your mother.

This scene recalls the episode at Cana in 2:1-12.  Father Raymond Brown, commenting on 2:4~”For John the ‘hour’ of Jesus par excellence is the hour of his glorification through death and resurrection.  Only as this approaches can he say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23).  And when the “hour” does come, the “woman” appears again on the scene (the only two times John mentions Mary).  And this time her roll is not rejected: she is allowed to care for men; she is given the beloved disciple, the example of the perfect Christian, as her son (19:25-27).  Thus, by the strange use of “woman” at Cana, John seems to indicate that Jesus rejects a purely human sphere of action for Mary to reserve for her a much richer role, viz., that of a mother caring for those who would follow him” (The Gospel Of St John And The Johannine Epistles, revised third edition, pg. 22).

It is often said that in this episode Jesus is showing filial responsibility to his mother, entrusting her to the care of the disciple, but this is incorrect.  The last part of 19:27 reads in the Greek: From that hour he received  her (not “took her”) into his own (not “his home”): καὶ ἀπ’ ἐκείνης τῆς ὥρας ἔλαβεν ὁ μαθητὴς αὐτὴν εἰς τὰ ἴδια. Throughout John’s Gospel ἔλαβεν (received, accepted,) is used for the reception (or non-reception) of divine people (1:11-12; 14:17), or divinely given gifts oriented towards salvation (1:16; 3:11).  Our Lady is a gift given for the sake of our salvation.

Some of the oldest and best manuscripts of the Cana episode may be instructive here.  They speak of Mary, Jesus and the disciples as being at the wedding in  2:1-2, but 2:12 speaks of Jesus, Mary, and the brothers leaving Cana; this raises two obvious questions: where did the brothers come from? (they’re not mentioned as attending the wedding) and where did the disciples go? (they’re not mentioned as leaving it).

I would suggest that the above reading referred to is the correct one, and that John is foreshadowing the meaning of the crucifixion scene at Cana.  The disciples (2:2) who behold the glory of Jesus and believe in him (2:11) become his brothers (2:12); the very thing happening at the crucifixion scene.

One should also recall that we are in the vicinity of a garden (19:41), and also recall what was said about the garden theme and the Genesis 3:15 prophecy in post #1.  By faith and the love command the woman’s seed, the spiritual brother’s of Him who was her natural son, crush the serpent’s head (regarding this see 1 John 1:13-14; 3:7-10; 4:4-6; 5:1-5).

Origen: “The gospels have primacy among the scriptures; among the gospels, in turn, it is the gospel according to John which has primacy.  None can grasp its meaning if he has not reclined on the breast of Jesus, if he has not received from Jesus Mary for his mother.  He who would become another John must then be so like John that he be pointed out by Jesus as being Jesus.  For if Mary, according to those who judge her sanely, had no other son but Jesus, and if Jesus, nonetheless, said to his Mother, ‘here is your son’ it is as if he had said ‘this is Jesus to whom you have given birth.’  In fact every man who has become perfect lives no longer, but Christ lives in him.  Because Christ lives in him is the reason why it is said of him to Mary: ‘this is Christ your son.’”

George of Nicomedia: “O honor beyond honor for the disciple!  O inheritance richer than all riches put together!  O grace of which the beloved disciple has become the herald! to be called the brother of the Creator of the universe,to receive as mother the one who is sovereign of all!…Henceforth I establish her as guide of the disciples, as mother not only for you but for all the others, and it is my will that she be honored fully as of right with the dignity of mother.”

Pope John Paul II: “With these words Jesus gave the Blessed Virgin Mary a new mission and established a special relationship of love between her and all the disciples

“The universal motherhood of Mary, the ‘Woman’ of the wedding at Cana and of Calvary, recalls Eve, ‘mother of all living’ (Gn 3:20). However, while the latter helped to bring sin into the world, the new Eve, Mary, co-operates in the saving event of Redemption. Thus in the Blessed Virgin the figure of ‘woman’ is rehabilitated”, the Holy Father said at the General Audience of Wednesday, 23 April, as he continued his catechesis on the Virgin Mary, focusing this week on her universal motherhood. Here is a translation of his reflection, which was the 49th in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.

1. After recalling the presence of Mary and the other women at the Lord’s cross, St John relates: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’. Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (Jn 19:26-27).

These particularly moving words are a “revelation scene”: they reveal the deep sentiments of the dying Christ and contain a great wealth of meaning for Christian faith and spirituality. At the end of his earthly life, as he addressed his Mother and the disciple he loved, the crucified Messiah establishes a new relationship of love between Mary and Christians.

Interpreted at times as no more than an expression of Jesus’ filial piety towards his Mother whom he entrusts for the future to his beloved disciple, these words go far beyond the contingent need to solve a family problem. In fact, attentive consideration of the text, confirmed by the interpretation of many Fathers and by common ecclesial opinion, presents us, in Jesus’ twofold entrustment, with one of the most important events for understanding the Virgin’s role in the economy of salvation.

Jesus completes his sacrifice by entrusting Mary to John

The words of the dying Jesus actually show that his first intention was not to entrust his Mother to John, but to entrust the disciple to Mary and to give her a new maternal role. Moreover, the epithet “woman”, also used by Jesus at the wedding in Cana to lead Mary to a new dimension of her existence as Mother, shows how the Saviour’s words are not the fruit of a simple sentiment of filial affection but are meant to be put at a higher level.

2. Although Jesus’ death causes Mary deep sorrow, it does not in itself change her normal way of life: in fact, in departing from Nazareth to start his public life, Jesus had already left his Mother alone. Moreover, the presence at the Cross of her relative, Mary of Clopas, allows us to suppose that the Blessed Virgin was on good terms with her family and relatives, by whom she could have been welcomed after her Son’s death.

Instead, Jesus’ words acquire their most authentic meaning in the context of his saving mission. Spoken at the moment of the redemptive sacrifice, they draw their loftiest value precisely from this sublime circumstance. In fact, after Jesus’ statements to his Mother, the Evangelist adds a significant clause: “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished….” (Jn 19:28), as if he wished to stress that he had brought his sacrifice to completion by entrusting his Mother to John, and in him to all men, whose Mother she becomes in the work of salvation.

3. The reality brought about by Jesus’ words, that is, Mary’s new motherhood in relation to the disciple, is a further sign of the great love that led Jesus to offer his life for all people. On Calvary this love is shown in the gift of a mother, his mother, who thus becomes our mother too.

We must remember that, according to tradition, it is John whom the Blessed Virgin in fact recognized as her son; but this privilege has been interpreted by Christians from the beginning as the sign of a spiritual generation in relation to all humanity.

The universal motherhood of Mary, the “Woman” of the wedding at Cana and of Calvary, recalls Eve, “mother of all living” (Gn 3:20). However, while the latter helped to bring sin into the world, the new Eve, Mary, co-operates in the saving event of Redemption. Thus in the Blessed Virgin the figure of “woman” is rehabilitated and her motherhood takes up the task of spreading the new life in Christ among men.

In view of this mission, the Mother is asked to make the acutely painful sacrifice of accepting her only Son’s death. Jesus’ words: “Woman, behold your son” enable Mary to sense the new maternal relationship which was to extend and broaden the preceding one. Her “yes” to this plan is therefore an assent to Christ’s sacrifice, which she generously accepts by complying with the divine will. Even if in God’s plan Mary’s motherhood was destined from the start to extend to all humanity, only on Calvary, by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, is its universal dimension revealed.

Mary becomes the Mother of all disciples

Jesus’ words, “Behold, your son”, effect what they express, making Mary the mother of John and of all the disciples destined to receive the gift of divine grace.

4. On the Cross Jesus did not proclaim Mary’s universal motherhood formally, but established a concrete maternal relationship between her and the beloved disciple. In the Lord’s choice we can see his concern that this motherhood should not be interpreted in a vague way, but should point to Mary’s intense, personal relationship with individual Christians.

May each one of us, precisely through the concrete reality of Mary’s universal motherhood, fully acknowledge her as our own Mother, and trustingly commend ourselves to her maternal love.”

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One Response to Post #5~Notes On John 19:23-27

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord | stjoeofoblog

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