The Lifting Up of the Son of Man

John 19:17-30

John So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others--one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.

The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews."

Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written." When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. "Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The climax of the passion comes on Golgotha where Jesus is crucified. John's emphasis on the triumphant initiative of Jesus even in the darkest moment of the passion continues. There is no Simon of Cyrene impounded to carry the cross; the Johannine Jesus takes it up himself.

The moment of crucifixion is an enthronement: Jesus is crucified, surrounded by an improbable retinue of two others who die in the same way. Over the cross emblazoned in Hebrew, Latin and Greek is the title: "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews." Even though the chief priests protest, Pilate is adamant--this will be the title of the Crucified Jesus.

Using the haunting symbolism of the bronze serpent from the story of Moses in Number 14:21 (see John 3:14), John's Gospel presented the crucifixion as a "lifting up"--not just the lifting up of the crucified body of Jesus in the torment of death, but through that death, a "lifting up" that is a triumphant exaltation as the Word Made Flesh completes his mission of love and returns to the Father (13:1).

John fills this climactic scene with other potent symbols. The seamless tunic of Jesus (reminiscent of the high priest's garment? or of the unity Jesus came to create?) is not torn (19:23-24). At the brink of death, Jesus "thirsts," recalling his words to Peter in the garden: "Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?" (18:11).

One other final action involves the mother of Jesus and his beloved disciple (19:25-27). The precise meaning of this incident is difficult to determine. Does it mean that the beloved disciple is now a member of Jesus' household or community ("Son, behold your mother")? Does the mother of Jesus symbolize Judaism and now she "gives birth" to a new community symbolized by Jesus' disciple, while at the same time, the Christian community must be respectful of its parentage in Judaism? Or does the Mother of Jesus represent that great faith of Israel whose pangs of childbirth are now complete in the community of faith that begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus (see this image used in Jesus' farewell discourse, 16:21-22).

So often John's Gospel tantalizes the reader and does not dictate which range of meaning one must draw from the text.

John describes the death of Jesus in brief and bold strokes. Jesus' final words are: "It is finished" (19:30). They ring with Johannine spirit. The Greek verb used here, teleo, connotes "completion," "arriving at the intended goal," Jesus had set out to do the will of the Father, to love his own "until the end" (13:1, the same root word, telos, is used). Bowing his head in a graceful and composed manner, Jesus the Word made Flesh, hands over his life spirit to God. There is a magnificent sense of serenity and strength as the Johannine Jesus meets death. His death is no play acting (John will make that point in the spear thrust that follows) but the terror of death has been defused by love.

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