The first century view of crucifixion makes John’s account somewhat surprising. The Gospel of Mark includes darker and more disturbing parts about the death of Jesus. Ben Witherington suggests that Mark’s gospel provides “gut wrenching feelings.” Some of the things that provide such feelings include darkness at noon, earthquake, additional mocking, splitting the temple veil, and the cry “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The Gospel of John includes none of these and Witherington concludes that John’s telling of the crucifixion as a moment of triumph is intended “to produce different emotions and reactions.” I agree.
Such a victorious version of the crucifixion leads us to ask whether John is guilty of leading readers astray. If crucifixion is the final chapter, then the answer is yes and Billy Joel’s sermon “Only the Good Die Young” is the one we should be singing. But we have “the benefit of hindsight and insight.” The crucifixion is followed by resurrection and in that context triumph and victory are in play.
John wants us to know that Jesus continues to make decisions even from the cross. And here we have no small decision. After this, John says that “all things had already been accomplished.” The scene is simple. Sympathetic viewers were at the cross. Jesus saw his mother. Jesus saw the disciple he loved. He speaks to his mother. He speaks to the disciple. “From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” Here a new family is set in motion.
In the presence of the crucified Jesus, relationship changes. Two individual followers become family. When we gather together in our groups of two, three or more, we gather at the cross. When we choose the way of the cross, we join others who are in relationship with Jesus. We are not spectators, we are participants. God comes near when we participate in His plan, even when we do not understand.
The two people identified at the cross are identified only by their relationship with Jesus. As his mother and the disciple whom he loved lose Jesus physically, they find themselves a new family. On account of what happened at the cross, we define ourselves differently. Our identity is no longer determined by relationship with mother and father. Instead we are defined according to our relationship with Jesus. We are identified as part of a community that meets at the cross in relationship to a crucified King.
We participate in a community with other unlikely participants. A tax collector, a fisherman, a farmer, a barista. The guy who shakes your hand tightly, the girl who sings off-key, the family with the noisy children, the lady who wears too much perfume. At the cross, we participate with a family that we do not choose. We participate in a family where the only thing we have in common is relationship with a crucified Jesus.
John does not call us to the cross that we might feel pity for an innocent who died an undignified death. John invites each of us to stand at the cross to witness the crucified King. John wants us to know that Jesus remains in control. Even on the cross, he is able to complete the work he was sent to accomplish. Like adding the final pieces of a portfolio, he establishes a new family and fulfills scripture. Only then does he submit his work to the Father “It is finished” and give up his spirit (it was not taken from him).
At the cross, Jesus joins us as a new family of disciples who will continue to follow together. Following Jesus will now include interdependence on one another. We are not isolated followers, we are not called to be. Instead, we join others. We join people who are not like us in any other way except that we gather at the cross of Christ.
A Look at the Cross reminds us that when we come into relationship with the crucified Jesus, we come into relationship with a collection of others who participate in that relationship with us.
A prayer of response by Susan Vigliano; “Lord, I invite you to shape and form my identity in such a way that I reflect your new order of family. Who is my brother, mother, and sister in my new adopted family? I have a natural God-given love for my natural family and close friends, but I need your agape love to love the unknown, different, sometimes unloveable people whom you now call my brother. Help me, Lord, to love like you love.”