Widows appear throughout the Bible and were present at some of the most significant moments — from a widow present at the temple soon after the birth of Christ to a widow standing at the cross at his death, and many in between. These women have mentored, encouraged, challenged, and inspired me over the last 22 years as I have navigated my own personal widowhood.
The widow at the cross
As we approach Easter, I am reminded of the widow at the cross on Good Friday. She was not called by name but “woman” instead. Mary, Jesus’ virgin mother chosen to carry the son of God was there as a woman left alone.
Oh, I cannot imagine her pain, but she knew this day would come as it was prophesied when He was a baby, “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:34-35).
Jesus’ last words capture our attention:
“So when Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:26-27).
Scripture does not share when and how Joseph, Mary’s husband, died, as he quietly disappeared from the scene of the story. It is evident; however, that Mary is a widow at the cross because Jesus made provision for her care.
Women were designed to have covering
Fathers are meant to provide provision and protection in the days of youth and then husbands take this role as head of the home in marriage. But in God’s provision, single ladies and widows come under His umbrella of protection. He promises to be a Defender of the widow—women left alone due to death, divorce, or desertion (Psalm 68:5).
When a woman becomes a widow—bereft of a husband—she finds herself in a desolate place without the protective covering she is used to. But God shows compassion for the widow throughout the Bible giving instructions for her care, even promising blessings for those who bless her (Deuteronomy 14:29). Scripture shares that her biological family should first take on this responsibility. In fact, if they don’t Scripture says they are worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:4, 8). However, the family of God is also mandated to visit the widow and fatherless in their distress (James 1:27).
In Mary’s instance the most likely family member for taking on her care would have been her biological son, James. As the half-brother of Jesus, he shared Mary as their mom. Yet interestingly, we find that Jesus established a new relationship between Mary the bereft and John the beloved. John became her adopted son!
Commentators believe the reason for assigning care of widowed Mary to John is because at the time of Jesus’ death, James was not “of the faith.” Even though he grew up in the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, it wasn’t until the resurrection of Christ that James believed.
What is the message of Mary, the bereft and John, the beloved?
There are several pictures used in the Word of God to depict His relationship with man. The physical and covenant relationship between a husband and wife in marriage is one type and it parallels His relationship with the church—the bride of Christ.
Another symbol of this important relationship is found in the Old Testament where the nation of Israel is His chosen bride. Sin, rebellion, and spiritual adultery resulted in spiritual widowhood and she was left alone. God compares His bride, Israel, to a forsaken widow and refers to Himself as her husband (Isaiah 54:4-8 ESV):
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.”
Alongside marriage, the plight of the widow provides another piece of Gospel centered imagery—a picture of our own spiritual widowhood. Sin separates us from God, leaving us desolate and alone. In this place we come to realize that we are in need of a helper and savior. We are each in need of a personal, intimate, and saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
At the cross, everything changed! The blood of Jesus paid the price for sin that separates us from God. We are rescued and delivered from the reproach of spiritual widowhood! Jesus paid the price for redemption. No longer are we spiritually bereft of God as our Husband. Jesus conquered the grave and He will return to claim His bride!
A new family was established by Jesus at the cross on Good Friday showing the importance of the relationship between the bereft (the widow) and the beloved bride (the body of Christ).
I believe the words spoken by Jesus at the cross are rich with meaning and symbolism for it is because of the cross we no longer face eternal separation–spiritual widowhood. At the same time in Jesus’ last hour, He set forth a model for the relationship between widows in the world and the body of Christ when He entrusted Mary into the care of His beloved disciple, John.
We don’t know exactly what this looked like. Mary was nearing her 50’s at this time. Did John simply put a roof over her head? Did he wipe her tears or mentor her fatherless children still in the home? Did he do things sons do with their moms?
Scripture doesn’t give us this information. However, it is interesting to note the perspective James, as the biological son of Mary and Joseph, must have experienced as he watched John care for his mother. After truly accepting the Gospel, he was led to pen James 1:27,
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (KJV).
True religion is evaluated by our care of the widow and fatherless.
The message at the cross as it relates to the widow is two-fold:
- It is at the cross where the reproach of our spiritual widowhood is over. This is the grand finale to Isaiah 54! God’s compassion, and the joy set before Him, led Him to the cross. The “brief moment” of abandonment is over. He has paid the price for our redemption.
- Caring for the fatherless and women who are bereft/desolate is vital. The interaction of visiting them in their distress reminds us of our own spiritual need for an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
If Jesus took time to make provision for his widowed mother at the cross, we must follow His example and seek to care for the widows in our families, churches, and communities:
- Start – make a list of the widows and fatherless in your church or community.
- Seek to know their needs.
- Serve the Lord by caring for them.
- Show the world the love and compassion of God through the important relationship between the widow and the body of Christ.
Just as the Lord’s supper is a sacrament, reminding us of the cross, so also is the command to care for the widow and fatherless–a reminder of our spiritual desolation and need to be adopted as a child of God.
Not only does the widow need the body of Christ, a new family, but the church also needs her.