Who was the Mother of Jesus?

This final section is prompted by two considerations already introduced in this essay. First, the identity of the mother is raised by the third motif from the passage in the Song adopted by John, a motif that was an integral part of that verse:

Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in travail with you.

Second, we’ve seen that it was Lazarus/John, the beloved disciple, who was at the foot of the Cross with the women, and that it was to him that Jesus committed the care of his mother (Jn 19,25-27). There is credible tradition that the Evangelist did take the earthly mother of Jesus to Ephesus and cared for her till her death. But earthly facts are often symbols for higher spiritual meaning. The late Raymond E. Brown, in perhaps his last publication, An Introduction to the New Testament, enumerates six stylistic features of John’s Gospel, his third feature being “twofold meanings.” Brown says, “In the Fourth Gospel the author frequently intends the reader to see several layers of meaning in the same narrative or in the same metaphor.”

If the tradition mentioned is correct, then surely there is duality in this passage, for a higher meaning is widely read out of it. Not only does Brown, in his Anchor Bible commentary on this verse speak of a higher meaning, but The New Interpreters’ Bible (NIB) does also. The NIB, however, notes that the higher meaning derived by Catholic and Protestant interpreters tends to differ. Catholic interpreters have tended to see in this commitment an emphasis upon Mary as “the Mother of the Church, the New Eve, or the New Israel,” while Protestants have tended “to put the emphasis on the role of the beloved disciple as a symbol of the church and faithful discipleship.”

Without meaning to disparage either of these notions, Steiner gives what I take to be a higher meaning than either of them. Before looking at that, however, it is well to consider what is said elsewhere in the Gospel accounts, particularly in all of the synoptics. Mark’s account (Mk 3,31-35) is representative of the others (Mt 12,46-49 and Lk 8,19-21), reading (italics mine):

31 And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

This passage is a doubly powerful indication of higher meaning for “the Mother of Jesus.” Perhaps according to conventional theological wisdom, it could support either the Catholic or the Protestant interpretation. But only an anthroposophical understanding of the birth stories in Matthew and Luke can lead us to a meaning which is higher than either of the conventional views. The complex string of events that constitutes the only account in two thousand years to fully unite in complete conformity the entirety of both Nativity accounts, is set out in The Incredible Births of Jesus (based upon “The Nativity” essay in The Burning Bush). There one can see that after the Christ Spirit entered Jesus of Nazareth at his baptism, the Ego (Soul/Mind) of Jesus Christ was not related to any one human being more than to any other. This realization makes Jesus’ question “Who is my mother?” inexpressibly poignant, penetrating and profound. The soul that uttered it was no less than the Christ Spirit, the Dove that descended upon Jesus of Nazareth at his baptism, a soul with no earthly parent (see Heb 7,3), the creator of all (Jn 1,3).

As pointed out earlier, nowhere in John’s Gospel is the Mother of Jesus called Mary. And only twice is she mentioned, first at the Cana wedding,1 then in this passage. Let us now hear what Steiner said in lecture nine of The Gospel of St. John (May, 1908) (footnotes are mine): 

The manner of speaking of the “Mother of Jesus” in the Gospel, is usually overlooked. If the ordinary, average Christian were asked: who was the Mother of Jesus? He would reply: “The Mother of Jesus was Mary!” And many indeed will believe that there is something in the Gospel of St. John to the effect that the Mother of Jesus was called Mary. But nowhere in this Gospel is there anything to indicate that the Mother of Jesus was called Mary. Wherever reference is made to her, she is quite intentionally called just the Mother of Jesus. The meaning of this we shall learn later. In the chapter on the Marriage in Cana, we read: “and the Mother of Jesus was there;” and further on, it says: “His Mother saith unto the servants.” Nowhere do we find the name “Mary.” And when we meet her again in the Gospel of St. John, when we see the Savior upon the Cross, we read:

There stood by the Cross of Jesus, His Mother, and His Mother’s sister Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

It is clearly and definitely stated who stood by the Cross. The Mother was there, then her sister who was the wife of Cleophas and who was called Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Whoever thinks about it at all, must say to himself: It is extraordinary that the two sisters are both called Mary! That is not customary in our day. It was also not customary at that time. And since the writer of the Gospel calls the sister, Mary, it is clear that the Mother of Jesus was not called Mary. In the Greek text, it says clearly and distinctly: “Below stood the Mother of Jesus, and His Mother’s sister Mary who was the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.”2 For a proper understanding the question arises: “Who was the Mother of Jesus?” Here we touch upon one of the most important questions in the Gospel of St. John: “Who was the real father of Jesus, and who was His mother?”

Who was the father? Can this question be asked at all? Not only can it be asked according to the Gospel of St. John, but also according to St. Luke. For it would show an extraordinary absence of thought not to see that at the Annunciation it was proclaimed:

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Even in the Gospel of St. Luke it is pointed out that the father of Jesus is the Holy Spirit. This must be taken literally3 and those theologians who do not recognize it cannot really read the Gospel.

Then in lecture twelve he deals with verse 27:

The Mother of Jesus—the Virgin Sophia4 in the esoteric meaning of Christianity—stands at the foot of the Cross, and from the Cross the Christ says to the Disciple whom He loved: “Henceforth, this is thy Mother” and from this hour the Disciple took her unto himself. This means: “That force which was in My astral body and made it capable of becoming bearer of the Holy Spirit, I now give over to thee; thou shalt write down what this astral body has been able to acquire through its development.” “And the Disciple took her unto himself,” that means he wrote the Gospel of St. John. And this Gospel of St. John is the Gospel in which the writer has concealed powers which develop the Virgin Sophia. At the Cross, the mission was entrusted to him of receiving that force as his mother and of being the true, genuine interpreter of the Messiah.

This then brings us full circle. We can now close where we opened. From out of the loneliness of the soul (the “wilderness”), leaning upon the higher “I Am,” the Christ, Lazarus/John was initiated, “awakened under the apple tree,” where the Divine Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia, had been long in travail in delivering the higher “I Am” to him (and to humanity). It was under the apple tree where the trees of knowledge and life were separated, and the long journey of the Prodigal Son began. It was to the Evangelist John that the Virgin Sophia, the Mother of Jesus, was delivered by Christ to show the meaning of Christ’s mission of salvation and make the Prodigal’s return home possible.

What Happened to the Two Johns?