When Man of Steel was released in 2013, director Zack Snyder was asked about some of the obvious artistic parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ. Snyder replied, “The Christ-like parallels, I didn’t make this stuff up. That is the tried-and-true Superman metaphor. So rather than be snarky and say that doesn’t exist, we thought it would be fun to allow that mythology to be woven through.”
Some of those metaphors were carried through to the sequel, Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. In one scene, after Batman and Superman become friends, Superman must choose between fighting the Kryptonian mutant Doomsday or rescuing his mother from Lex Luthor’s henchmen. He decides to prioritise his mother, but Batman argues that it is more necessary for him to fight Doomsday. Superman objects, but Batman insists, promising to rescue Mrs. Kent himself. “Martha won’t die tonight,” he assures the man of steel. Superman agrees, entrusting his mother’s care to his friend, and flies off to deal with Doomsday, a fight during which he gives his life, while Batman keeps his word and saves Martha.
As Superman, shortly before his death, entrusted his mother’s care to his friend, so Jesus, on the cross, in uttering his third saying, entrusted the welfare of his mother to his friend, John. As Snyder said, “I didn’t make this stuff up.” Hear the interaction unfold: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26–27).
Over the last couple of days, we have considered the first two sayings of Jesus from the cross. In the first (Luke 23:34), we learned lessons about forgiveness. In the second (Luke 23:42–43), we learned lessons about salvation. In the third, we will learn some lessons about love.
Someone has suggested that humanity’s deepest desires are power and love. Love is most meaningfully expressed and experienced in the context of relationship. In these words of Jesus, we see expressions of close relationship and the love that is expressed in those relationships. As we will see, the greatest expressions of loving relationship come through the cross.
First, we witness the loving relationship between Mary and Jesus. This can be seen from both sides.
On the one hand, consider that Mary stuck by Jesus throughout the ordeal. Her incredible motherly devotion outshines the professed devotion of Peter and his fellow apostles, who all (at least initially) abandoned Jesus in the garden. But Mary followed her Son to the bitter end. We can barely imagine the sword that pierced her own soul (Luke 2:35) as she saw her innocent Son beaten to within an inch of his life and nailed to the cross. How piercing to her soul must the words of mockery and reviling been. And yet she remained till the very end.
On the other hand, consider the loving devotion of Jesus to his mother. Knowing that he was soon to leave this world, that Joseph was (presumably) dead, and that his siblings were yet unbelievers (John 7:5), Jesus was careful to place the care of his mother’s soul into the hands of his close friend, John. When Jesus said, “Woman, behold, your son,” he was not asking her to look at him hanging on the cross. He was telling her to consider John to be her “son” and asking John to treat Mary as his “mother.” Even in death, he was careful to obey God’s command to lovingly honour his mother.
Second, we observe the loving relationship between Mary and John. John expressed no hesitation whatsoever in heeding the words of Jesus: “From that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” A few days later, when John beheld the empty tomb and believed, he immediately went back to his home (John 20:8–10). Why home? Was it perhaps to tell Mary that the tomb was empty? Did he want to share the news of the resurrection with his mother? Whatever the case, we know that John ensured that he lovingly cared for Mary in Jesus’ absence.
This is significant because, as I have said, Jesus’ siblings (at least at that point) did not believe. Mary had biological children to care for her, and we should not assume that they completely abdicated that responsibility, but Jesus knew that a mother-son relationship founded on the cross would be far more significant than a relationship rooted in mere blood. He knew that the church would care for Mary in a way that her biological children could not.
Third, we consider the loving relationship between Jesus and John. This was, again, a gospel-rooted relationship.
Remember, John had abandoned Jesus in the garden (Mark 14:50), though he and Peter eventually followed from a distance (John 18:15). When the high priest asked Jesus what had become of his disciples (John 18:19), Jesus did not use the opportunity to accuse John as a deserter. And now that John had returned to Jesus, coming back to the cross, Jesus did not rebuke him for his abandonment. Jesus received his penitence and continued to express loving relationship with him. Arthur Pink vividly captures the invitation here:
Is there one who reads these lines that has wandered away from the side of the Saviour, who is no longer enjoying sweet communion with him: who is, in a word, a backslider? Perhaps in the hour of trial you denied him. Perhaps in the time of testing you failed. You have given more thought to your own interests than his. The honour of his name which you bear has been lost sight of. O may the arrow of conviction now enter your conscience. May divine grace melt your heart. May the power of God draw you back to Christ, where alone your soul can find satisfaction and peace. Here is encouragement for you. Christ did not rebuke John on returning; instead, his wondrous grace bestowed on him an unspeakable privilege. Cease then your wanderings and return at once to Christ, and he will greet you with a word of welcome and cheer; and who knows but that he has some honourous commission awaiting you!
It has been thought that this is the least theological of Jesus’ seven sayings from the cross. Perhaps so, but it is an intensely practical application of gospel truth, nonetheless. It shows theory translated into practice so that relationship with Christ becomes a living reality. This saying tells us that there is love for you in cross-centred relationships.