The time their twelve-year-old got lost in Jerusalem and they finally found him in the Temple, Mary said, "Behold,thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing" (Luke 2:48), and as things turned out, it was a shadow of things to come.

It's not hard to imagine her sorrowing again when Jesus left a good, steady job in Nazareth to risk his neck wandering around all over creation to proclaim whatever it was he thought he was proclaiming. Part of her sorrow was presumably that she loved him too much for himself instead of for the wild and holy business he thought he'd been called to. Another part must have been that like just about everybody else who was closest to him in Nazareth, she never really understood what he thought he was doing and may well have been one of the ones who, when he went back home once, decided he must be off his rocker. "He is beside himself," they said (Mark 3:21) and tried to lock him up for his own good.

Maybe some of the things he said to her didn't sound as bad in Aramaic as they do in English, but even so, she can't have been too happy about the time she told him the wine was running out at the wedding in Cana, and he said, "Woman, what have you to do with me?" (John 2:4), or the time they came and told him his mother was waiting outside for him, and he said, "Who is my mother?" (Matthew 12:48), adding that whoever did the will of his father who was in heaven, that was who his mother was.

For all the sentimentalizing that their relationship has come in for since, there's no place in the Gospels where he speaks some special, loving word or does some special, loving thing for the woman who gave him birth. You get the idea that he felt he couldn't belong truly to anybody unless he somehow belonged equally to everybody. They were all his mothers and brothers and sisters, and there's no place in the record where he offers her anything more than he offered everybody else.

No place, that is, except at the very end when, cross-eyed with pain, he looked down from where they'd nailed him and saidsomething just for her. Even here he didn't call her his mother, just "woman" again, and he didn't say good-bye to her or anything like that. But it's as if here at last he finally spoke to the awful need he must have always sensed in her. "Behold your son," he said, indicating the disciple who was standing beside her, and then to the disciple, "Behold your mother" (John 19:26-27).

It was his going-away present to her really, somebody to be the son to her that he had had no way of being himself, what with a world to save, a death to die. He would be present in that disciple, he seemed to be saying, for her to live for, and to live for her. Beyond that, he would be present in generation after generation for her to mother, the Mater Dolorosa who seeks him always, and sorrowing, everywhere she goes.

~originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words

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