Jesus and Mary by James R. Coggins

There is a famous statue (called Pieta) by Michelangelo of Jesus’ mother Mary cradling the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. It is one of a number of medieval and Renaissance pieces of art reflecting the same theme.

However, it is all a sham. As far as we know, it didn’t happen.

After the crucifixion, Jesus’ body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and placed in a tomb (Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:42-46, Luke 23:50-54, John 19:38-42). Some “women who had come with Jesus from Galilee” (Luke 23:55) saw where the men had placed Jesus. After the Sabbath, they returned to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. They are identified as “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew 17:56), “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1), “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome” (Mark 16:1), “Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Cuza the manager of Herod’s household, Susanna, and many others” (Luke 8:2-3), and “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others” (Luke 24:10). The Gospel of John mentions several women (19:25) at the crucifixion, including Jesus’ mother, but does not identify them as those who followed Jesus, and John only mentions Mary Magdalene as going to the tomb (John 20:1).

Now it is possible that “Mary the mother of James (and Joses)” is Mary the mother of Jesus (since James was later a church leader and it might make sense to identify her by her human son rather than by her divine Son), but it seems strange for the Gospel writers not to make this clear, especially when Luke later identified Mary as Jesus’ mother in Acts (1:14). If Jesus’ mother Mary had been present for the burial, surely she would have been mentioned. Moreover, since she is never mentioned as one of Jesus’ followers, it is unlikely that she “had come with Jesus from Galilee.”

However, Mary was undoubtedly in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover like other devout Jews. And Mary did show up at the crucifixion, when Jesus told the apostle John to take her into his home and take care of her (John 19:26-27). If it is true that she had not talked with Jesus throughout most of His ministry, a couple of years, perhaps she came to see Him only because she had heard He was dying. The death would have been the terrible end she had feared when she had become convinced Jesus was insane and needed to be prevented from doing something foolish (Mark 3:21).

But even though she was present at the crucifixion, there is no evidence Mary stayed till the end. Perhaps she had to hurry back to prepare for the Passover. Perhaps she left at the point when Jesus gave responsibility for her to John, and she did not stay until Jesus had died. She was with the other women at this point but was not described as being one of the women who followed Jesus in His life and cared for Him after His death.

Mary’s absence may have been deliberately arranged by God so that people would not worship her. While she gave birth to Jesus, she was not His parent, one in authority over Him. This is where the Pieta is misleading. It shows a larger-than-life Mary caring for a powerless Jesus. This is theologically wrong. It is the all-powerful Jesus who ministers to weak and sinful human beings.

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is
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