In the apocryphal book 2 Maccabees (a popular theology of Jewish history), there is a story about a young man, standing before a Gentile king and facing certain death for his devout faith. Just before the sentence was carried out his mother encouraged him with these words:
My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.
Encouraged by her words, which were whispered in his ear, the young man boldly said,
What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses…
For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of ever-flowing life, under God’s covenant…
I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation. (2 Macc. 7:30, 36-38)
Only a son raised by mother who truly hoped for the resurrection could have had the courage to stare down a king with such confidence and face up to death with such deep conviction.
Some scholars suggest that echoes of his words reverberate through the words of Caiaphas the High Priest in John 11:49-50.
He prophesied that it was better for Jesus to die in place of the whole nation, that one man die on behalf of all the people.
According to John’s theological interpretation, Caiaphas did not say these things of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:51-52)
Undoubtedly, the young man’s notion of divine mercy coming to the whole nation by means of the death of a few seems to resonate with Caiaphas’ prophetic advice.
Now, anyone with ears to hear can hear resonances between the words of the young man and some of the words of Jesus, the Word made flesh.
All the blurred lines in these stories become clearer in Jesus Christ.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus spoke repeatedly of obeying God’s word, drinking living water, giving his body for the life of the world, and laying down his life for his people. Like the young man in Maccabees, Jesus was raised by a devout, God-fearing mother; and he was encouraged by the words and presence of his mother even in the hour of his death.
On U2’s album The Joshua Tree U2 there appears a song called Mothers of the Disappeared. Bono has explained that it was written for the mothers who had lost their children to death squads in Central and South America. Some were enslaved, others were killed. Lending his voice to those desperate mothers, he sings a lament from their point of view:
Midnight, our sons and daughters
Were cut down and taken from us.
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat.
In the wind we hear their laughter
In the rain we see their tears.
Hear their heartbeat, we hear their heartbeat.
Night hangs like a prisoner
Stretched over black and blue.
Hear their heartbeats
We hear their heartbeats.
In the trees our sons stand naked
Through the walls our daughter cry
See their tears in the rainfall.
Like all those desperate mothers and the mother of the young man in 2 Maccabees, the mother of Jesus was also a mother of the disappeared.
She witnessed the death and destruction of her son, who was cut off and taken away; whose arms were stretched over the world; who stood naked on a tree; who was disappeared into death and darkness.
Nevertheless, in the true Story of the Gospel, it was better for one man to die for the laity, better for the Son of God and Son of Man to lay down his life for the whole nation, better for one to perish than for the whole ethne (people-group) to perish.
Why? Because in this Story, it means that God sees your tears and weeps with you; he hears your fears and answers you; he feels your pain and comforts you — even in the darkest of stormy nights.
The Word became flesh to help you; he was made black and blue to heal you.
In this way, God the Father showed his deep love for the world: he gave his one and only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The good news is that all the ones who disappear into death and darkness may reappear in Light and Life. How?
By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
He is the resurrection and the life.