As the morning wore on, the crowd before the Cross melted away. Some doubtless were minded to go about their work. Others, tired of the spectacle, especially when the sufferers grew quiet, sauntered back to the city in search of new sensations. Perhaps our Saviour had closed His eyes in prayer. In any case, as He looked down from the Cross, about mid-day, He caught sight of two figures standing near--His mother, and John, His most cherished friend. That His mother was still able to stand, that she had not swooned, shows to us how marvelously she held herself in control. Our Saviour spoke to her; but notice the dignified calm of His words, the restraint. Any word of deep affection, any intimation of the degree of His own pain, would quite unnerve her, and send her into paroxysms of weeping. He told her by a most practical word His love; He declared His will for her future. "Woman," lie said, with stern tenderness, "behold thy Son!" Then turning His eyes full on the beloved disciple, He added, "Behold thy mother."
There is a lesson here about helping people who are in grief. We catch a glimpse of our Saviour's method of comforting the bereaved. He who could have given explanations as none other, attempted no explanation. We say then that in the blackness of sorrow it is not the mind to which the appeal should be made, but the heart. If Christ attempted no explanation, who shall dare attempt it! He gave something better than explanation: He gave love. Nor was it that love which is satisfied with protestations of affection. It did not pause for words. It sped instantly to the heart of love: it made provision for the life of her who was dearest to Him. As she would look day by day into the face of John, she would think with gratitude that the peace and joy of this new life was the parting gift of her Son Jesus. Every day she would know how deep, how real was His love for her. The comfort was perennial.
When it falls to our lot to go through a door where grief has entered before us, we should offer no glib platitude, for that will mock and hurt. Even words of affection may be few, for unless they come from the depth of the soul they will tinkle with hollowness and unreality. Rather should we do some deed of love, a deed so practical, so simple, so genuine, that the poor, troubled spirit will recognize forthwith that brotherly love is an unalterable fact; that, by inference, there is a God of Love above the waterfloods, who will care for all who have vanished and for all who remain. The consolation of Jesus teaches us to be active messengers of the love of God.
"Behold thy Son . . . Behold thy mother." These words spoken by Christ to the two persons whom on earth He held dearest, conjure up a vision of consummate friendship. John had deserted Him with the rest; but afterward he had followed to the High Priest's court, then to the palace of Pilate, and here at last he was before the Cross. What he had failed to do for his Master was not now counted against him. Jesus remembered only his loyalty. So, without hesitation He commended to His friend the privilege closest to His heart.
What had John done to deserve this highest honour? He had stood by his Master in adversity. It was an unpopular thing to do. It might be dangerous. The test of friendship had come to John, for a moment he had been found wanting; but quickly he recovered himself, and at the trials, at the Cross, he was in perilous evidence. The Master to whom he owed all, should know that, he loved Him still. If any other disciples lurked in the throngs of idle spectators, we do not know their names. If they were not there--and we infer that they were not--then the proportion of friends faithful in adversity was perhaps greater among the chosen Twelve than among the friends of the world at large. When misfortune and suspicion fall upon the life of one called a friend, quickly the genuine friends are sifted from the easy-going acquaintances. Those who are friends by accident, by propinquity, pretend that they never saw the unpopular person. Those who knew his bounty, his friendly aid run to new patrons, now that he can do no more for them. Only he whose love is true as steel and deep as the ocean will stay frankly devoted. All the rest will find excellent reasons why they must be off to other pastures. The Lord Jesus had the comfort of at least one loyal friend--one who let his love be known, on the one day when to be a known friend of Jesus of Nazareth was to be laughed at and despised.
As soon as Jesus saw this truest of friends, He let him know that he appreciated him, and cared for him. There is no hint that He remembered the dark hour of the arrest at Gethsemane, when even John ran away like a coward. There is no accent of reproach. The words are all trust, confidence, reliance. He had loved John; John loved Him with all the strength of his human love; and now Jesus poured back love unspeakable into the faithful heart of His friend.
Once more let us remember that it is not a poor tired Criminal who committed His mother to His friend; it is the King of all the earth. In His appreciation we read the attitude of God our Father towards all who strive to serve Him truly. People sometimes philosophize about the vanity of men's trying to serve in any way an omnipotent God. What can He want? Nothing, is the reply; for He is almighty. What can He desire? Nothing! for in a flash His omnipotence can create it. Excellent philosophy this may be. But there is one thing only which God asks of us. Omnipotent as He is, He will not force us to give it; He desires it as our free gift; He desires our Love. How we express it to Him is immaterial. That we express it in a way that is absolutely sincere is alone essential. Mere words, rattled off like the soulless sounds of a phonograph, will not tell any story at all. The regular presence at church, deliberately planned as an act of love to God may tell Him the news He longs to get. Giving what we can ill part with to make a great cause move to victory may also tell Him that we are trying to give something to Him. Helping a fellow-mortal, either in a material way or in a spiritual way, may be the medium through which He will get the joyful assurance that we really care. By the revelation of the appreciation of friendship which Jesus demonstrated on Good Friday when He recognized the love of St. John, we know that God is always watching us. The hairs of our heads are all numbered. He is grieved when we go through the day, and do nothing consciously for His sake. A cup of cold water given in His Name will please Him. If we can do no more, He will be as pleased with our offering as if we had added a new solar system to the universe. If we offer a cup of cold water to one who needs more and for whom we can do more, He will be grieved. It is not the conventional word, the conventional gift, that He craves. He longs for some true symbol of our love.
One note of that love made manifest to Christ, will bring from Him its due reward. His appreciation is swifter than the lightning. And what shall that reward be? The King of men declared it from His throne to His most loved subject, John. "Behold thy mother," He said. A larger opportunity to show his love was the reward given to John. You cannot say that it was more work, though the element of toil was to enter in. The toil was so joyous that it ceased to be work. What father thinks of the toil which purchased the gift, when he brings to his child that which makes his child throw his arms about his father's neck and thank him with rapture? The father did toil and save and deny himself to make the gift. But, being a loving father, he measures the value of his gift not in terms of work, but in terms of love. So, when honestly and sincerely you have loved God a very little, God will tell you how much He cares for your love, and then He will grant you the privilege of loving Him more. He will give you something harder and finer to do. And day by day--let us dare to say it--God and you will grow to be closer friends. You will rely more and more on Him--and, marvel of marvels, He will rely more and more on you. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Some day perhaps you will love Him enough for that. You will have cared for His sheep, you will have tended His lambs. You will have gone through peril and pain, seeking the forlorn and the lost. Perhaps in seeking those who have strayed farthest you will meet death. Who knows? It is the way God will have told you that He loves you with an endless love. You too will be His beloved disciple for ever.