As we head into Mother’s Day, I think it could be worthwhile to reflect on the story told by the most powerful depiction of motherhood, and one of the greatest works of art, ever produced by human hands. Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Pieta, portrays Mary cradling Jesus in her arms after He was taken down from the cross.
Imagine the motherly pride flowing from her heart as she saw her Son make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of mankind. Imagine her pain as she watched Him in unthinkable agony, abandoned by almost everyone who had once followed Him. There were only a few people who stood by Jesus in His final moments. How appropriate and how beautiful that one of them was His mother. This is what a real mother does: she sacrifices, she endures, she suffers, she loves.
Sometimes, I think, we lose sight of the human element in this story. We’ve heard it a million times, so we gloss over it and begin to see it as something distant and abstract. But Jesus really died on that cross. And His mother really stood there helplessly watching as her Son was tortured and murdered right in front of her. She must have thought back to that prophecy she’d been told in the temple all those years ago: “A sword will pierce your soul” (Luke 2:35). And that is how it must have felt, like a blade cutting through her body and into her innermost being.
I think all mothers (and fathers) can relate to this to a certain degree, some more closely than others. Many mothers have experienced the incomprehensible torment of watching their children die slowly in a hospital bed, or quickly after a car accident or some sudden tragedy. Many mothers have suffered the agony of miscarriages, losing children they never had the chance to know or name. Most have felt, if not the pain of losing a child through death, still the pain of losing their children to the inevitable passage of time.
A mother feels profound joy as she watches her child grow from a baby in her arms, to a toddler waddling clumsily around the house, to an older kid with a greater sense of independence, to a teenager, to an adult. But that joy is mixed with the bittersweet flavor of change and the tinge of loss. Her child breaks off pieces of her as he grows, and he carries them with him unknowingly, as she is left to live with the little holes he leaves behind. If the unthinkable happens and the child dies, she will feel as though he has carried her whole being with him into the grave. That is what it means to love someone the way a mother loves a child. It means giving them your entire self, suffering as they suffer, and going as they go.
All of this is perfectly exemplified by the story of Jesus and Mary. Modern society tells girls to look to pop stars and businesswomen for inspiration. They ought to look here instead. To the foot of the Cross. To pain and beauty and redemption and love. To a mother and her son.