Witness at the Cross: The Beloved Disciple(s)
March 19, 2023
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
LEADER: The Word of God that is still speaking.
ALL: Thanks be to God
MESSAGE Witness at the Cross: The Beloved Disciple(s) Pastor Donna Goltry
What a tender image: Jesus looking down from the cross at his mother and the beloved disciple. And saying to them, woman here is your son; then to the disciples, here is your mother.
The beloved disciple was no kin to Jesus’ mother. But in that moment, they became a family, not by blood, but by love for Jesus and one another. The bond they forged is what it means to be a Christian community – a church family. Call it the beloved community.
Have you wondered why the names of Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple are excluded, that they are anonymous in the Gospel of John? The mother of Jesus is not named at the foot of the cross or at the wedding in Cana in Galilee. Many have assumed the disciple whom Jesus loved is John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee. He was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples of James, John and Peter, and is also attributed to be the writer of the Gospel of John. But there are other possibilities.
Amy-Jill Levine in her study, Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday” asks the question. Could it have been Lazarus, of whom it is said in John 11:5 that Jesus loved?
We first encounter the beloved disciple at the last supper in Chapter 13. In the Greek manuscripts, it says he is reclining on Jesus’ bosom, or breast. Reclining on one’s bosom is a very intimate act. Perhaps even Bible translators were uncomfortable with such intimacy so translated it as “close to his heart” instead? Here is the passage translated as close to his heart.
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining close to his heart; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.
Clearly, the beloved disciple is not Peter or Judas, but beyond that, the disciple whom Jesus loved is anonymous.
And at the last supper together, Jesus also said to his disciples, I give you a new commandment: love one another. Actually, it is not a new commandment as its roots are from the Old Testament Leviticus of loving God and loving neighbor. But can we see in the commandment a new emphasis by Jesus on creating a beloved community?
Let mee tell you a story about the creation of another beloved community.
Frances Chan had built a megachurch in California, and he said about it: “Cornerstone by most standards was a pretty loving church. But next to the example of the early church in the New Testament, it just fell flat.” 
He resigned his pastorate and left the church, went abroad as a missionary for a time, then returned to California where he began setting up small house churches. It was here that he found a more authentic expression of church. He said:
“We live in a time when people go to a building on Sunday mornings, attend an hour-long service, and call themselves members of the Church. … This is perfectly normal. It’s what we grew up with. … Try to imagine Paul and Peter speaking like we do today:
‘Hey Peter, where do you go to church now?’
‘I go to The River. They have great music and I love the kids’ programs.’
‘Cool. Can I check out your church next Sunday? I’m not getting much out of mine.’
‘Totally, I’m not going to be there next Sunday because little Matthew has soccer. But how about the week after?’ ‘Sounds good. Hey, do they have a single’s group?’ 
He said he started thinking about church more like we think of life in gangs. The gang becomes the family. They are loyal, are dear friends who look out for one another. 
While I hate his term gang, Chan has a point. The love and loyalty to one another is exactly the kind of beloved community that Jesus was creating when he said to his mother and his beloved disciple, you have one another. From this moment on, be like a mother and son, not of blood, but of relationship in love.
In the anonymity of the disciple whom Jesus loved and his mother at the foot of the cross, did the gospel writer want us to see that this is the way of forming a beloved community – what we can call church – and can it happen among any of us? Is it an exemplar for us who would form a beloved community among ourselves?
Look in the eyes of a person near you who is not part of your traditional family and say to one another, we are beloved together.
This is the essence of what happened when Jesus united his mother and beloved disciple together. And of what can happen when together we form church as a family that cares of each other.
We don’t have to be alike, to have the same politics. We can be many colors and stripes. Rich, poor or in between. What we must hold together in love of God in Christ and love for one another.
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together in cords that cannot be broken. Like Jesus bound together his mother and his beloved disciples. Amen.
Amy-Jill Levine, Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2021), 73.
 Frances Chan, Letters to the Church, (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2018), 14.
 Ibid 69-70.
 Ibid 71.
Leave a Reply