Woman behold your son

Peter Hunter

Fr Peter Hunter OP
Holy Cross Priory

Most people know that the centre of Jesus’ ethical teaching was the dual commandment of love: love of God and love of those around us. The command to love can seem naïve: no-one takes the Beetles to be great spiritual leaders for having told us that ‘All you need is love.’ Indeed, it could easily sound like sheer sentimentality. But Jesus didn’t just talk about love, though - he gives the love he talks about. He gives love by loving those around him but he also promised to be with us, helping us to love in our turn.

Love of neighbour sounds pretty general, but of course you can’t love people in general. Love is always particular. You can know things about human beings in general, that they have a certain kind of physiology or genetic makeup, for example, but you can’t love people in general. Loving actions are always for some particular person or group of people.

And in this extraordinary moment, Jesus even gives particular people to each other to love. He gives the disciple whom he loved to his mother, for her to love, and his mother to the disciple. “Woman, behold your son.”

I think this happens all the time. Certain people are given to us to love. Sometimes, rarely I think, we choose the people in our lives, we choose people to love, but more often, people come into our lives needing our love. They’re a kind of gift to us. I think God gives them to us to love.

They can be pretty unwelcome gifts. The people that God chooses for us aren’t the people that we choose for ourselves. Very often they’re the very people we would prefer to avoid. Jesus himself didn’t keep the kind of company people thought he ought to. He loved all the wrong people. It’s part of why people decided he had to be got rid of, why he had ended up on the cross in the first place.

If that’s how Jesus loved, is it any wonder that his gifts of people to us can seem so inappropriate? And is it any wonder that love, real love, is a risky business, because it involves loving the wrong people, the people our society doesn’t approve of, the people everyone knows will come to no good.

That’s what loving Jesus is like, anyway. And he certainly came to no good.

Share this page: