As Christians, we see the cross as the gateway to our redemption. I think Mary of Nazareth looked at it differently.
The next several weeks, I’ll be posting excerpts from a series of biblical fictionalizations I wrote between 2014 and 2018. What I call the Reflections series, give first person accounts from three women who knew Jesus Christ when he lived and walked the earth.
As a disclaimer, I’m not a Bible scholar. However, I did study scripture passages and first-century customs before writing the books in this series.
What I have is a creative imagination. In the case of these books, that gift helped me look deeper than the biblical accounts to find the heart of three very different women.
Today’s excerpt is from A Pondering Heart, the first book in the series. As you can guess from the title, this is Mary of Nazareth’s story.
What might she have felt as she stood at the foot of her son’s cross?
From Chapter Nineteen of A Pondering Heart:
Onward we marched, ascending the craggy hillock. Strange buzzing filled my ears, drowning out the shouts of the multitude. Beneath my feet, the ground seemed to lurch. Everything blurred.
I don’t remember reaching the pinnacle, but somehow, I stood at the base of the crosses. Three men hung from the scarred wooden boards, pinioned by nails driven into their hands and feet. Naked skin exposed to the elements would speed the process of death.
Hours of agony lay ahead for these criminals—and my innocent son. Jesus, who the messenger of Jehovah had promised would reign over the house of Jacob forever.
Simeon’s promised sword plunged deeper into my heart, wounding the deepest part of me. The place where I’d pondered the secrets of the messenger’s words from three decades ago and the thrill of the shepherds. I bled as profusely as my precious Jesus.
“He saved others, let him save himself,” a group of scribes called, pointing at Jesus.
Others chided, “If thou be the Christ, the chosen of God, come down.” These men were garbed in the robes of rulers but screeched like common publicans.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” but the rest of his words drowned beneath the jeers of the rabble surrounding us.
They mocked the writing on the sign above his head: “If thou be the King of the Jews, save thyself.”
As the sun rose higher in the sky, many of the onlookers turned back toward the city. They were no longer entertained by the awful display of inhumanity. Their desertion cleared the way for our knot of mostly women to press closer to the crosses. A ring of soldiers separated us from those suffering their executions.
“Woman,” Jesus called.
I shaded my eyes from the glaring sun with my shawl and looked upward. His voice sounded garbled, coming from the mangled face I hardly recognized.
“Behold thy son.”
How could I look away? The prophecy of Simeon was fulfilled. A sword pierced my soul, and the rending stopped my lungs from drawing air. John steadied me, laying his strong hand on my shoulder.
“Behold thy mother!”
John stepped into the space behind me, pressing against my trembling back. “Mother,” he whispered in my ear.
If only Judah had been here to see this gesture. In the clutches of an agonizing death, Jesus—the brother he despised for walking away from familial duties—addressed them and freed Judah from his responsibility to me. John’s rapid acceptance of such a duty, though he was much younger than most of the disciples and yet unmarried, shamed me. Why did my own son find me too much of a burden?
Shadows crept over the gathering, as if clouds covered the sun. The sky remained clear, however, but the golden globe darkened. Soldiers hurried to light torches, setting them around the perimeter of the hill.
“What does this mean? It is only the sixth hour,” I heard a soldier ask the centurion.
My lungs remembered to breathe. I gasped and wilted against John. One of his arms encircled my waist while the other pressed beneath my shoulder. I was thankful for the darkness. It matched the barrenness in my heart and soul. How could a heart as crushed as mine continue to beat?
**Scriptures quoted from Luke 23 and John 19
A Pondering Heart is available in eBook, paperback and audiobook.