I have to admit that I used to get a little hung up on the way Jesus talks to his mother in today’s Gospel. They are at the wedding at Cana, most likely the wedding of some relatives, and the bride and groom have run out of wine. They were on the verge of being pretty embarrassed, and yet they are oblivious to the fact that they’re about to run out of wine – a major downer on the party. And so Mary simply comments to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds to her – “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Well, it seems that Jesus is being a little dismissive to her. How can this be? Well, if something in Scripture doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s probably because there’s more to it than first meets the eye.
To explain, let me back up to the very beginning of John’s Gospel. It begins with these words, “In the beginning…” What do those words remind you of? How about the book of Genesis, which begins with the very same words. So, John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.” Let’s assume that’s day one. And then a few verses later, it says, seemingly at random, “the next day” – day two – and we hear about John the Baptist’s proclaiming Jesus’ coming. Again it says, “the next day” – now we’re at day three – and we hear how Jesus called his first disciples. A few verses after that, it says again, “the next day” – this would be day four – and we hear how Jesus called more disciples. And then we get to the wedding at Cana. Our Gospel reading today edits out how this passage begins. It actually reads, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee.” So what, you might be thinking. Well that would put us at day seven. In the book of Genesis, how many days does it say that God to created the world in? Seven. Let me suggest that John’s Gospel is modeling the first seven days of Jesus’ ministry on the first week of creation in Genesis.
Fine, but what does this have to do with how Jesus talks to Mary at the wedding at Cana, specifically how he calls her “Woman.” The creation story in Genesis also has a woman. In fact, she is called “Woman” eleven times, and only called “Eve” one time. In John’s Gospel, Mary appears twice – first at the wedding at Cana, when at her word Jesus performs the first of his many “signs” or miracles. The second and final time she appears in John’s Gospel is when Jesus is dying on the Cross, and he again calls her “Woman”.
What John is doing here is establishing Mary as the New Eve. Here are the parallels: Eve and Mary are both called “Woman”. Eve invites Adam to commit the first sin. Mary, on the other hand, invites Jesus to perform his first miracle, changing water into wine. Eve is with Adam at the fall, tempted by Satan to sin. Mary is with Jesus at the Cross, when he conquers sin through his suffering and death. Eve is called the “Mother” whose descendant would one day conquer the serpent. Mary is the woman whose son conquers the Devil by dying on the Cross.
In other words, Mary is no ordinary woman. And Jesus is not being rude or dismissive to her by calling her “Woman”. Instead, let me say it again: Mary is being identified in John’s Gospel as the New Eve, the one whose son would conquer the Devil. So Mary prompts Jesus to perform this first miracle. She doesn’t even ask anything of Jesus; she doesn’t say, “Could you use your powers to change the water into wine to help out this couple?” No, she simply says, “They have no wine.” She doesn’t need to say any more than that. And even though Jesus seems to dismiss her, what does she then say to the servants? “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s like Mary is saying, “Never mind what he just said; he’s got this.” So she prompts Jesus to perform this miracle, and then she tells the servants to listen to what Jesus is going to say to them and then to do it. So the servants have a role to play in this first miracle of Jesus! And, they are witnesses to it – apparently none of the guests are aware of the miracle that has taken place, but the servants are. John makes it clear that they knew; he says, “the servers who had drawn the water knew.”
Jesus doesn’t say no to Mary. He can’t say no to his mother! She brings this little need to Jesus and he takes care of it. And she instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. If they do it, it will make things right. The servants of course didn’t perform the miracle of changing the water into wine themselves, but they participated in it in a little way.
So what I am trying to say here? First of all, Mary is no ordinary woman – she’s the New Eve. She’s the Mother of Jesus. And Mary is a powerful intercessor before the Lord. She intercedes for us with Jesus; she brings our prayers and our needs to Jesus. She leads us to Jesus. And then she asks us to listen to Jesus, to do what He tells us to do. If we do that, we have the great privilege of participating in the saving work of Jesus. We are the servants. We are witnesses of Jesus’ work in the world, and we have a role to play in his work in the world as well. And if we listen to Jesus, like the water changed into wine, we too will be transformed in miraculous ways – we will become something which we were not before.
It’s very fitting that Jesus’ first sign was performed at a wedding banquet. There’s another big meal near the end of John’s Gospel – the Last Supper. And we ourselves re-enact the Last Supper right now in this Mass, when we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And finally, let me point to our first reading from Isaiah: “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” God calls us to another wedding banquet – a wedding banquet without end. And he will be the bridegroom, and his people will be the bride. There is so much to reflect on here. The Wedding at Cana is a starting point, the beginning of Jesus’ miracles. And it points to the eternal banquet the Lord desires to share with us. Listen to Jesus; do whatever he tells you.