Mary at the Wedding of Cana

St. John begins his Gospel by reminding us of the beginning – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  He ties us back to Genesis 1:1 and “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  And as on the first day of creation (Genesis 1:3) God said “Let there be light” that separated the light from the darkness, St. John points us to Christ and says “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).  Jesus, who is the light of the world (John 8:12) had entered the world to create it anew (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But the parallel to Genesis does not end there.  St. John takes us through a series of days to highlight a new creation week, just as Genesis steps us through the seven days of creation.  John 1:29 begins with “the next day” indicating the second day.  On this day John the Baptist encountered Jesus and proclaimed him to be the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and baptized Christ in the river Jordan (John 1:29-34).

John 1:35 begins with “the next day” indicating the third day.  We see disciples begin to follow Jesus (John 1:35-45).  John 1:43 begins with “the next day” bringing us to the fourth day.  There we see more disciples begin to follow Jesus (John 1:43-51).

John Chapter 2 then references “on the third day,” which brings us to the full seven days of creation.  In Genesis after the seven days of creation we see Adam and Eve and the story of the fall of man (Genesis 3:1-24).  At the end of John’s parallel creation week, we see Jesus and Mary (the new Adam and the new Eve), and the beginning of Christ’s public ministry that will culminate in the redemption of man.  We see the continuation of the fulfillment of the promise made by God in Genesis 3:15“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The story of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) begins simply enough.  Jesus, his disciples, and Mary are all at a wedding, and the host ran out of wine.  Jewish wedding celebrations lasted for days, and to run out of wine would have been a great embarrassment to the family.  Mary brings this need to Jesus by simply telling him “They have no wine” (John 2:3).  Jesus in his human nature would have nothing to offer in this situation.  Clearly Mary has an expectation he will act. 

Jesus’ response to her is “O woman, what have you to do with me?  My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).  The explanations regarding that response are widely varied and can take the text in very different directions.  First, we must consider his reference to Mary not as “mother” but as “woman.”  As I reviewed in my last post, some try to lead us to believe Jesus distanced himself from Mary and refused to acknowledge her as his mother.  Instead, as Catholics we recognize the parallel to Eve, the “woman” in Genesis who contributed to the sin of Adam and the fall of mankind.  The idea that Jesus refused to acknowledge Mary as his mother is not defensible for many reasons that were covered in that post.  When Jesus referred to Mary as “woman” following John’s seven days of creation parallel, we are drawn to be reminded that in the new creation a “woman” also has a role in our salvation just as Eve contributed to our downfall.

Jesus’ next words – “what have you to do with me?”  have also led some to believe this was a public rebuke of Mary.  Scholars in general recognize this is not a literal translation but rather an idiom and arriving at a comparable meaning in English is difficult.  The translation I’ve cited is from the Revised Standard Version (RSV), but the New Revised Standard Version (NRSVA) translates it as “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” 

This Evangelical site provides this point of view:

“The question Jesus asks His mother isn’t rude, either.  It may sound rude in the KJV: ‘What have I to do with thee?’ (John 2:4), but it was a common idiom.  In the Greek, Jesus’ question is ‘Ti emoi kai soi?’ The phrase was used to ask of the connection between two people.  The question could be translated as ‘What business do we have with each other?’ Or, in less formal terms, ‘What does this have to do with me?’ (ESV) or ‘Why do you involve me?’ (NIV).  Again, Jesus is expressing the fact that He is independent of His mother; as eager as Mary was to see Jesus do a miracle, she had no right to determine the time or the manner in which Jesus publicly revealed His glory.  Jesus makes His point gently and without being rude, however.

Jesus concludes His statement to Mary with, ‘My hour has not yet come.’ The reference to His ‘hour’ or ‘time’ (NET) means that Jesus was constantly working from a divine timetable.  So, He wasn’t going to reveal His power sooner than God the Father intended (see John 5:30).  One of the points Jesus made in His temptation in the desert was that there is such a thing as doing the right thing for the wrong reasons (Matthew 4:1–10).  That is, it would be wrong to perform a miracle if the time and place are not according to God’s will.”

While this perspective recognizes the phrase is an idiom it claims Jesus rebuked Mary, albeit gently.  It portrays Mary as being “eager” to see Jesus do a miracle.  It also notes in Jesus’ response he told her his “hour has not yet come,” he was working from a divine timetable, and he wasn’t going to reveal his power sooner than God the Father intended.

The most obvious problem I see with this perspective is Jesus did in fact grant Mary’s request.  He provided a super-abundance of the best wine.  How can we conclude he was rebuking her, or that by “my hour has not yet come” he intended to convey it was not yet time for him to begin his public ministry?  If those conclusions are accurate, then no miracle would have occurred.

James White in his anti-Catholic book “Mary – Another Redeemer” also portrays Mary as being eager to see Jesus perform a miracle:

“The years of reproach and rumor, and the longing in her heart for the world to know the true nature of her son (and hence to experience some level of personal vindication), may be seen in Mary’s comments to the Lord at the marriage celebration in Cana of Galilee….

The fact that Mary approaches the Lord to meet the need of the people gathered at the feast shows that she is desirous that He in some way manifest His true nature and mission.  Jesus rebukes her understandable impatience, reminding her that they are both bound by the Father’s divine timetable, and they cannot alter what he has determined.”

Again, I would ask, if Jesus’ point was to remind her they were both bound by the Father’s divine timetable and cannot alter what He has determined, why does he then proceed to grant her request? 

And was Mary in fact eager to have Christ launch his public ministry in order to provide “personal vindication” for what she had endured?  Let’s step back in the story a bit to consider that view.

When Mary took Jesus to the temple for their purification, she met there a prophet named Simeon (Luke 2:22-38) who professed profound thanksgiving that he had seen God’s salvation come into the world before he died.  And then he spoke to Mary and said “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

When Simeon told Mary “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” we must ask – where else in Scripture is a reference to a soul being pierced by a sword?  It’s only found in Psalm 22, the crucifixion psalm that beings with “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” and hears the afflicted one pray to “Deliver my soul from the sword” (Psalm 22:20).  Mary has known for all her son’s life the day would come when his mission would bring about great opposition, and she would share in his suffering in a way known only to a mother.

We can also look back to the time when Jesus was lost, and Mary and Joseph spent three anxious days searching for him (it would not be the only time Mary experienced three days of separation from her son).  They found him in the temple in Jerusalem, amazing the teachers there.  When asked by his mother why he had done this, his reply was “How is it that you sought me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  (Luke 2:48-49).  But the passage records he was obedient to them and returned to their home, while his mother “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:50-51).  At that time, Mary put an end to Jesus stepping forth to begin his ministry, and he was obedient to her. 

But now almost two decades later, we see the two together again.  And Jesus told Mary “his hour has not yet come.”  Did he mean the “hour” he was to start his public ministry?  That seems unlikely, since he did indeed perform the miracle she requested.  Rather, we need to understand that Jesus’ “hour” is referred to many times in John’s Gospel, and as we read on it becomes clear that Jesus’ “hour” is the hour of his passion.  We see for example when they sought to arrest Jesus they could not because his “hour” had not yet come (John 7:30, 8:20).  We see in John 13:1 that the “hour” had come for Jesus to depart out of this world to the Father.

When Jesus said to Mary that his “hour had not yet come,” it is a reminder to both of them of what lies ahead, and an understanding that what Mary has asked of Jesus will start them both on the path to his “hour.”  He was not asking for her permission, nor did he require it.  He was asking her if she was really ready.  Twenty years prior she was not.  I would guess in the deepest of her mother’s heart she still was not.  Rather than be “eager” to see him perform a miracle to increase her personal status, I have little doubt her choice would have been to once again have him return to her home and not yet be revealed to the world.  But unlike twenty years ago, now she simply responded by telling the servants to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).  Just as in order to bring Jesus into the world she had responded to Gabriel in Luke 1:38 with “let it be to me according to your word,” she now submitted herself to the will of the Father to give Jesus to the world, knowing what the personal cost would be to them both.  She was willing to walk the way of the cross with him for our sake.  And may we always appreciate and recognize that truth. 

John only records one other scene with Mary in his Gospel, and it is when she stood faithfully at the foot of the cross and Jesus placed her in the care of St. John.  He said to Mary “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26).  Once again, a reference to Mary as “woman” and the new Eve. The cross is the place where the new Adam and the new Eve fulfill the promise God made in Genesis 3:15 that He would place “enmity” between Satan and the woman, and between her seed and his seed.  As Satan tries to crush Jesus with the weight of the cross, we know he is simply bruising his heel, while Christ will strike his head.  And unlike Eve, Mary’s faithfulness never wavered as the sword pierced her soul also as foretold by Simeon.

At the time the world certainly didn’t recognize the battle between Christ and the apocalyptic “principalities” (Ephesians 6:12) that was occurring before their eyes; they simply saw another brutal Roman execution.  But St. John gives us a parallel view of this battle when he pens the book of Revelation, and we once again see a reference to the woman and her son.  That vision will be the topic of my next post.

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