Lovely Tear from Lovely Eye: the Mothers of Jesus and Judas

Painting of the Mothers of Jesus and Judas by Nicholas Mynheer
The Mothers of Jesus and Judas by Nicholas Mynheer
Image copyright. All rights reserved. Used by permission

How often the poet and  painter see what we do not! Or perhaps it is simply that recent generations have seen too much blood, too many horrors, to think of the crucifixion in anything but the most brutal terms. Of course it was brutal, but the modern film-maker’s lingering on torn flesh and gaping wounds misses something an older age understood instinctively: how to enter imaginatively into the drama of the cross not as spectacle but as participant. From the Dream of the Rood to the Harley lyrics, the poet’s vision of the duel between good and evil is intensely personal. The cross is no mere gibbet but speaks of its hour of glory when it bore creation’s lord; Christ questions us, demanding to know how he has erred that we should treat him so; and the dropping of that ‘lovely tear from lovely eye’ is like a lance to the heart of the onlooker. With Julian, most poetic and most homely of theologians, we see the blood falling from his pierced head as raindrops fall from cottage eaves after a shower and feel the wind that blows over Calvary and dries his flesh. 

Our vision shifts and changes. We see the soldiers casting lots for Christ’s clothing, driving home the nails; taunting him, or maybe offering him some kind of sedative on a hyssop stick; we hear the thieves crucified with him and that gracious promise to the one popular tradition names Dismas to be with him in paradise; we watch the tender scene where he entrusts his mother to John and John to his mother; and finally, there is that last great cry, when Jesus gives up his spirit and the veil of the temple is torn in two as heaven and earth groan with one voice: the Son of God has died. What escapes us is the significance of what we see. It is too vast. Two thousand years of theological endeavour have not yet exhausted the meaning of what happened on Calvary, but I think Nicholas Mynheer’s painting captures one important element. 

The mothers of Jesus and Judas embrace. Both have lost a much-loved son; both know the grief of being outcasts. To take one’s own life is against the Law; to be crucified as a common criminal is beyond the pale. But there is more than that. These two women know that their sons are eternally linked, that the actions of the one led to the death of the other, but there is no room for accusations, no desire to perpetuate a hostility in which neither they nor their sons shared. They knew that Jesus and Judas were friends. They had probably fussed over them and the other disciples on their rare visits home, delighting in their companionship and banter. They knew the humanity of their sons, and were not afraid of their own. The cross stands as a symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation and we see in Mary and the mother of Judas that forgiveness and reconciliation at work. There is nothing but love between them, nothing but the desire to comfort, to lessen the agony each feels. 

The cross now stands empty, having done its work. Jesus descends into the underworld to seek and save the dead. Among them, surely, is his friend, Judas.

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9 thoughts on “Lovely Tear from Lovely Eye: the Mothers of Jesus and Judas”

  1. Thank you, as ever, dear Sr Catherine – I have always struggled with Judas’ role and both in your previous post and this wonderful one about the mothers – I’d never seen this before – you have helped me immeasurably. God bless you – always in my prayers.

    • Pam, thank you You have put into words exactly what I would like to express too.
      I send my gratitude to Dame C and offer prayers for the Community and all followers. A blessed Easter to one and all.

  2. I have often thought and pondered upon Judas being one of the most faithful, carrying out Jesus’ instruction. In this thought, Judas wasn’t a betrayer but someone carrying out the most difficult task. Thank you for your words and thoughts on Judas. Maybe he is the most misunderstood …

  3. Thank you . I had never considered the mothers .
    What has always struck me forcibly is the fact that Jesus lovingly washed the feet of his disciples knowing that they would forsake and betray him .
    For us a profound lesson of love and humility .

  4. Thank you, as always, for this fresh understanding. And thank you for introducing these wonderful images. The overall picture is indeed too vast for us, but in these works of art we can enter into a small place of great significance.

  5. What a beautiful image and thoughtproving reflection. I am always mindful of the mothers of young men caught up in knife crime.
    The media talk of the victims family but never mention the mother or family of tge obe who committed the crime. They too are grieving, they too have lost a child.

    I also wonder what might have happened had Judas not done what he had to do.
    If he had refused. Would someone else have pointed Jesus out to the authorities?
    Would Jesus have lived in til old age, no one betraying him?
    What would our theology have looked like.
    No more hymns based on atonement theology at least.

  6. What a beautiful embrace, and one I have never imagined. Thank you for your meditation and your inclusion of this powerful image.

  7. Thank you. It makes total and absolute sense. It is what Jesus’ mission as told in the Gospels was also about. I feel as if a weight has lifted of my shoulders as I always had a problem with the Judas story

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