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John now turns to another distinct group at the cross (men . . . de, vv. 24-25), namely those who are there out of love for Jesus. It was not unheard of for friends and relatives to be near the one crucified or for enemies to come to jeer (cf. t. Gittin 7:1, 330; y. Gittin 7; 48c; 39; b. Baba Metzia 83b; Stauffer 1960:136, 229). Mark tells us there was quite a crowd of women present (15:41), but John focuses on a handful near the cross. The list of women most likely refers to four individuals (Brown 1994:2:1014-15). Mark, in his Gospel, lists three women in particular who were present, "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome" (15:40). It has been assumed from early times that the mother of James and Joses is the one referred to in John as Mary the wife of Clopas and that Salome is the one John calls his mother's sister. Salome, in turn, is further identified with the mother of the sons of Zebedee, as mentioned in Matthew's account (27:56). Accordingly, the sons of Zebedee were Jesus' cousins. Raymond Brown considers this identification "dubious" (1994:2:1017), and the texts admittedly do not allow certainty, since, as Mark says, there were a number of women present. However, if the Beloved Disciple, whom I take to be John, the son of Zebedee, is Jesus' cousin, then Jesus' commending his mother to his care corresponds a little more with normal family patterns, though much more is involved as we will soon see. Furthermore, it is striking that neither Jesus' mother nor his aunt are named, a trait they share with the Beloved Disciple (cf. Carson 1991:616).
With these supporters standing near him, Jesus focuses on his mother and the Beloved Disciple (vv. 26-27). Jesus says to his mother, "Woman, behold your son," and to the Beloved Disciple, "Behold your mother." Similar language was used in connection with betrothal (Tobit 7:12) and thus seems to signal some change of relationship. Jesus' mother is now brought under the care of the Beloved Disciple (v. 27). In this Gospel there is a symbolic role for both the mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, for they are both examples of true discipleship (see comments on 2:1-11 and 13:23). So in changing the relationship they have to one another, Jesus is completing the formation of the community gathered around him—gathered around him precisely as he is on the cross (C. Koester 1995:214-19). The new community is now seen to be a new family (cf. 20:17; Newbigin 1982:255).
A great deal has been made of this text. Many have understood Jesus' mother to be a symbol of Eve, the mother of the living, or a symbol of the church (cf. Brown 1970:923-27). Quite often it has been assumed that the disciple is given into the care of the mother, which has contributed to the development of views regarding Mary's role in the lives of Christians, who are symbolized by the Beloved Disciple. Such symbolism is a further development of John's own focus, which is on the new family formed among the disciples of Jesus, with the Beloved Disciple, who is the witness to Jesus par excellence, as the one exercising care (cf. Ridderbos 1997:611-15). The mother and the Beloved Disciple together symbolize the new community.
Here at the very end we see Jesus still exercising love and care (cf. 13:1). This loving concern is the glory that his death itself reveals most powerfully, since love is the laying down of one's life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16). In the course of his ministry Jesus was forming a new community around himself, and in the farewell discourse (13:31—17:26) he described how that community is to share in his own relation with the Father and to participate in the divine life, which is characterized by love. Now he has completed the formation of this community, at least for the stage prior to the sending of the Spirit and his own dwelling with them in a new way. This community is the fruit of his death, for it will be the locus of the divine life on earth. The divine life is characterized by love and therefore requires a community to express itself. The life of the community derives from Jesus' own giving of himself, and in turn such self-giving is to typify the community itself. Jesus' death is both a revelation of the love of God and an example of such self-giving love. Such love is only really possible when sin has been taken away, since the essence of sin is a false self-love that prevents one from sharing in the life of God, which is love.