Skip to comments.Knowing Mary Through the Bible: New Wine, New Eve
Posted on 09/27/2007 11:58:52 AM PDT by NYer
According to customs of the time, a first-century Jewish wedding would not have been a private family celebration, but a public event recognizing the union of the bride and groom as well as the joining of the two families. The celebration typically took place in the groom’s own home, which was made open to guests for several days and thus open to public scrutiny.
It was the responsibility of the groom’s family to ensure there was enough food and drink for all the guests. To fulfill this public social role, most families needed to draw not only on their own family resources, but also on the help of colleagues from their social group. How well the feast went communicated to guests the family’s social status and honor. To run out of wine at a wedding feast, therefore, would have inflicted grave humiliation on the groom’s family, signaling that they were unable to fulfill their role adequately and that they lacked the social connections to preserve their honor.
This social context sheds much light on the crisis facing the bride and groom at the wedding feast of Cana. But it also gives us insight into Mary’s role in this scene. Mary is the first to notice the impending disaster. She alone is aware of what is about to unfold, and she brings this crisis to the one person who can solve the problem: Jesus.
This scene also serves as a pattern for Marian intercession. Just as Mary at Cana noticed the family’s needs before anyone else did, so Mary in heaven continues to notice our needs before we do. And just as Mary at Cana brought those needs to Christ, so does she continue to bring our needs to her Son through her intercession for us.
The Catholic tradition has pointed out how this scene expresses Mary’s compassion and attentiveness to others’ needs. Lumen Gentium describes Mary at Cana being "moved with pity." Pope John Paul II said Mary was "prompted by her merciful heart" to help this family by bringing her concern for them to Jesus: "Having sensed the eventual disappointment of the newly married couple and guests because of the lack of wine, the Blessed Virgin compassionately suggested to Jesus that he intervene with his messianic power."
This scene also serves as a pattern for Marian intercession. Just as Mary at Cana noticed the family’s needs before anyone else did, so Mary in heaven continues to notice our needs before we do. And just as Mary at Cana brought those needs to Christ, so does she continue to bring our needs to her Son through her intercession for us. In Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II wrote that this scene at Cana exemplifies "Mary’s solicitude for human beings, her coming to them in the wide variety of their wants and needs." He continues:
At Cana in Galilee there is shown only one concrete aspect of human need, apparently a small one of little importance ("They have no wine"). But it has a symbolic value: this coming to the aid of human needs means, at the same time, bringing those needs within the radius of Christ’s messianic mission and salvific power. . . . Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings.
No Wine, but Much Faith
Mary’s statement to Jesus—"They have no wine" (Jn. 2:3)—also reveals her great faith. Jesus is simply a guest at the wedding. He is not responsible for the festivities, and He does not have any wine at His disposal. From a human perspective, therefore, Jesus is not the person one would turn to for help. A more natural choice would be the steward in charge of the feast, the servants, or the bride and groom’s family.
Nevertheless, Mary’s instinct is to turn to Jesus with this predicament. In this moment of crisis, Mary seeks out Jesus and says to Him, "They have no wine." This indicates that she believes Jesus can do something about the catastrophe at hand. And since Jesus is not in charge of the feast and does not have a large quantity of wine with Him, Mary seems to be asking for more than natural help. She hopes Jesus will perform some kind of extraordinary work to solve the problem.
What makes Mary’s faith in Jesus even more striking is the fact that up to this point in the Gospel story, Jesus has yet to perform any public miracles. Though Mary has not witnessed Jesus do miraculous works before, she still has faith in His supernatural power and believes He can help. In this way, Mary anticipates the great faith Jesus spoke of to Doubting Thomas: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn. 20:29). As one commentator expressed, "Our Lord’s words to Thomas apply exactly to Mary’s attitude at the wedding feast of Cana; she had never seen a miracle, but she believed."
And as John Paul II pointed out, Mary here also anticipates the faith of the disciples who will come to believe in Jesus only after they have witnessed the miracle of water being changed into wine (Jn. 2:11). Mary, on the other hand, believed in Jesus’ supernatural power before she ever saw it manifested.
Calling Your Mother "Woman"
As one commentator expressed, "Our Lord’s words to Thomas apply exactly to Mary’s attitude at the wedding feast of Cana; she had never seen a miracle, but she believed."
Next, we come to one of the most perplexing verses regarding Mary in the Bible. After Mary tells Jesus, "They have no wine," Jesus responds, saying, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come" (Jn. 2:4).
At first glance, these words seem harsh—as if Jesus is pushing His mother away. Imagine a mother calling her 14-year-old son to the dinner table for supper, and the son responding by saying, "Woman, what do you have to do with me? My hour has not yet come!" To our modern ears, these words sound more like those of a rebellious teenager than of the holy Son of God!
However, if we consider this verse in light of ancient Jewish culture and in the wider context of the story of the wedding feast at Cana, it becomes abundantly clear that these words reflect no opposition between Jesus and Mary, but rather something positive, indeed something beautiful, about their relationship.
Pushing Mary Away?
First, in John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the title "woman" to politely address other women with whom he has a positive relationship. This is seen, for example, when Jesus tenderly appears to Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday (Jn. 20:15), when He forgives the sins of the woman who committed adultery (Jn. 8:10), and when He draws the Samaritan woman to faith in the Messiah (Jn. 4:21). Given the positive way this address appears in John’s Gospel, Jesus calling Mary "woman" would not indicate a rebuke or lack of affection.
Second, in Biblical times a man might address a female as "woman," but nowhere else in the ancient Greco-Roman world or in ancient Israel do we have a known example of a son addressing his mother with this title. Jesus addressing His own mother as "woman" would be unique in all of antiquity. This suggests that Jesus has some particular purpose in calling His mother "woman"—a purpose that goes beyond the normal, congenial way He addresses other women. When applied to Mary, this title likely has some important, symbolic purpose (which will be considered below).
Third, consider how Mary herself interprets Jesus’ words: Does she walk away from the scene feeling sad, hurt, or rejected in any way? Just the opposite: She hears Jesus’ words and immediately says to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn. 2:5). Mary interprets Christ’s response so positively that she confidently believes Jesus is going to fulfill her request, and she tells the servants to be ready to do whatever her Son commands.
Finally, Jesus’ own actions indicate that He looks with favor on Mary’s petition. And He supplies much more wine than Mary or anyone at the feast would have imagined. The six stone jars used for ritual purification (Jn. 2:6) each would have held 15–24 gallons of water. Thus, when Jesus has those jars filled and changes all that water into wine, He ends up providing some 120 gallons’ worth for the wedding party. Now, if that tremendous overabundance is meant to be a rejection of Mary’s request, it is hard to imagine what fulfillment would look like! Far from denying Mary’s petition, Jesus provides in a way that exceeds all expectations.
A New Creation Week
Therefore, whatever Jesus’ words "woman, what have you to do with me . . . " may mean, they do not imply a negative relationship between Jesus and Mary. Now let us consider the positive significance that the title "woman" has for Mary in light of the opening two chapters in John’s Gospel.
He ends up providing some 120 gallons’ worth for the wedding party. Now, if that tremendous overabundance is meant to be a rejection of Mary’s request, it is hard to imagine what fulfillment would look like! Far from denying Mary’s petition, Jesus provides in a way that exceeds all expectations.
The Gospel of John starts with the words "In the beginning . . . ," which hearken back to Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In the next four verses, John goes on to write of light, life, creation, and light shining in darkness—once again, images taken right out of the creation story (Jn. 1:2–5). By drawing on these themes from Genesis, John introduces the story of Jesus against the backdrop of the story of creation, highlighting how Jesus comes to bring about a renewal of all creation.
Some scholars have noted how John’s Gospel continues this creation theme by setting up a series of days that establishes a new creation week. The sequence begins in 1:1 with the phrase "In the beginning." John then demarcates a second day in 1:29 with the words "The next day . . . " He then uses the same phrase to note a third day in 1:35 and a fourth day in 1:43. Finally, after the succession of these first four days, the story of the Wedding at Cana is introduced as taking place three days after the fourth day: "On the third day there was a marriage at Cana . . . " (2:1). The third day after the fourth day would represent the seventh day in the Gospel of John. Consequently, the wedding at Cana comes at the climax of the new creation week, the seventh day.
The New Eve
Now we are ready to understand the profound meaning of Jesus calling His mother "woman" at the wedding feast of Cana. Highlighting how this scene takes place on the seventh day of the new creation week, John’s Gospel leads us to view Jesus and Mary in light of the creation story. And in this context, Jesus calls Mary "woman." With the Genesis themes in the background, this title would bring to mind the "woman" of Genesis, Eve (Gen. 2:23; 3:20).
This woman of Genesis played an important part in the first prophecy given to humanity. After the fall, God confronted the serpent and announced his eventual defeat, saying:
"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." (Gen. 3:15)
Given at the dawn of creation, these words, known as the Protoevangelium ("First Gospel"), foretell how the woman one day will have a seed, a son, who will crush the head of the serpent (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 410). Centuries later, at the wedding feast of Cana, this prophecy begins to be fulfilled. By calling Mary "woman" with the creation story in the background, Jesus in the narrative of John’s Gospel is not merely addressing her politely as He does Mary Magdalene or the Samaritan woman. Rather, He is identifying Mary as the woman of Genesis 3:15.
Far from rebuking His mother or distancing Himself from her, Jesus, in calling Mary "woman," honors her in a way no woman had ever been honored before. She is the New Eve, the woman whose long-awaited Son will defeat the devil and fulfill the prophecy of Genesis.
For reflection and discussion.
Here comes the usual suspects...
Luke 1:48 For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
Everytime I reflect on the wedding at Cana I can’t help but focus on Mary’s last words there (as well as her last word’s in the bible) “do whatever He tells you”. It is as though she knew this were the last words we would have from her and she wants us to follow them for eternity.
Do whatever He tells you... sounds easy enough.
Good essay, I think he gets most of it right. But . . . he doesn’t solve the mystery in it for me. What did Christ mean when he said “my hour has not yet come” and yet he performed the miracle? I have some ideas but I want others opinions. I think that refusing his mother would have been sinful, so Christ did not refuse her, even though his hour had not yet come. I think that it means that God’s plan is not as rigid as some might think, that a request, a prayer can alter God’s plan. But . . . I don’t hold these opinions strongly. Interested in other views.
Simple, but not easy. Love your enemies, deny yourself and take up your cross daily, sell all you have and give to the poor ... not easy.
Easy enough to remember ... not always easy to actually do.
It never bothered me, because in our Scottish tradition a Gaelic-speaking Highlander has always addressed his mother as "woman" -- "A bhean!"
Why bother your minds are made up.
Let's just agree that Mary was a wonderful woman who was given a special mission, to give birth to our Saviour Jesus the Christ, and leave it at that. ;-)
I’ve always suspected that “woman” in these cases was badly translated; that “Ma’am” or “Milady” would better convey the connotation of what Our Lord was saying.
Fair enough. Our minds are made up. ;-0
NYer, have you ever asked your pastor about this one?
Jesus and Mary: New wine, new skin.
Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth .... all old bags.
It only makes sense.... ;-)
It was a good essay yes; I hope someone has some insights into your question, I’d like to hear a good analysis too.
Or, is it something that helps to transform our natures, lifting our blindness, so we're better able to see God's work within us?
Senior Chief, pinging you to a discussion of John 2, the wedding at Cana.
Responding to your post Arrogant Bustard
I started to say “Playing devil’s advocate” . . . but it seemed wrong in this context. : )
What you say regarding God’s omniscience and prayer is orthodox, my problem is that I haven’t seen a good orthodox explanation of what Christ meant when he said “my time is not yet come” at the wedding at Cana. It’s there for a reason; I just don’t know what it is!
And as John Paul II pointed out, Mary here also anticipates the faith of the disciples who will come to believe in Jesus only after they have witnessed the miracle of water being changed into wine (Jn. 2:11). Mary, on the other hand, believed in Jesus supernatural power before she ever saw it manifested.
Wasn't the whole Jesus-being-conceved thing a miracle to Mary? :-P
LOL ... took me a minute....
So ... perhaps Christ is changing His mine (in His human nature).
I really can't accept the "changing God's mind" bit ...
Figured you’d appreciate it.
Jesus did a lot of turning water into wine (the message of the OT brought back from the dead). Also feeding multitudes with a couple fish and a basket of breadloaves (the NT parables). Too bad more of his listeners didn’t bother to write it down and most of what we have now is the general stuff and little of the particulars which is where he was most convincing.
John Adams addressed his wife as “Madam.” These days, the term doesn’t convey the respect it did in the 18th Century ...
You make an interesting point. Have you ever wondered why our Lord did not instruct His Apostles to document events in writing. Had He intended that these be the foundation of faith for future generations, it seems He would have written them down Himself. Instead, He sent His disciples out to preach.
When we think of convincing others, doubting Thomas comes to mind - "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." How weak we are! We need portents and signs to believe. St. John recognizes human weakness and writes:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
I’m approaching the topic obliquely ... can God change His Mind (in His Divine Nature)? I think not ...
So ... perhaps Christ is changing His mind (in His human nature).
That’s a good take on it. It doesn’t require process theology. I threw that out as a possibility, a changeable plan of God, or a plan with alternate paths, because it is a mysterious statement about it not being his time by Christ. Since he was talking about “his time” I viewed it as the eternal plan of salvation. I can more comfortably put this within the mystery of the human and God nature within Christ and how they interact, the same place in my disordered mind as I keep “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” rather than in a nascent process theology.
It still is mysterious though, in that his human nature would have a plan that was preferred to the plan of God. Sort of like his prayer: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will but what you will.”
Matthew is thought to be an eyewitness, although the book of that name was apparently written and translated from his account and not by Matthew. Mark and Luke were possibly also written from the same Matthew document and appear to be collections of folksy daily doings. John was also an eyewitness and wrote his book directly in passable Greek and in a different and systematic manner. But, we have what we have in writing and the essentials are there. The eyewitnesses are long gone, but that shouldn’t matter.
It's one of my favorite NT passages ... you can almost see Jesus saying, "Awww, Mommmmmmm!"
It's an example, I think, of a couple of things. First, there's that whole Jewish thing: "Obey God, obey your parents." So you can see it in that context.
There's also something else, though, and to me it's reminiscent of this story:
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, "Who was it that touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!" But Jesus said, "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me." And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace." (Luke 8:42-48)
It's almost as if Jesus is "powerless" to resist those who show faith in His power. And Mary showed similar faith, so it's like he had to follow through.
As a side note, Jesus made a couple of hundred gallons of wine at the wedding in Cana....
I think it's Christ's way to ask for cooperation and belief before he works a miracle. Over and over again he challenges people, and when they respond in faith and truth, he commends and rewards them. The Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, the two blind men in Matthew 9 . . . I'm sure we can think of more.
Mary was just the first one (I do think I can see that 'mom look' before she turns to the servants and says, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.")
Our Lord lovingly seems to decline: "What is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come." Why? In order to call attention to that all-important element which made Him advance, as it were, the hour of His miracles - namely, Mary's abiding faith in His Divine Omnipotence. How much faith, indeed, is concealed in those words. "They have no wine;" "Whatever He shall say to you" - although you may not understand the motive of His command - "do ye." It was very important to call attention to this persevering faith in His Divinity, lest it appear that He was performing the miracle from a social motive, for the private benefit of His friends and acquaintances. Since Christ was not testing Mary's faith but rather showing unto us its perfection, He used a Hebraism which conveyed the idea at once of an importunity and an assurance of a request granted.
It's conjecture but you make an excellent point, one that the Eastern Church Fathers recognized decades ago. Look upon their icons of the Blessed Mother and what do you notice? In all of them, she is pointing to her Son.
Just for you three because you’ll really appreciate this:
“The Holy Virgin is herself both an honourable temple of God and a shrine made pure, and a golden altar of whole burnt offerings. By reason of her surpassing purity [she is] the Divine incense of oblation, and oil of the holy grace, and a precious vase bearing in itself the true nard; [yea and] the priestly diadem revealing the good pleasure of God, whom she alone approacheth holy in body and soul. [She is] the door which looks eastward, and by the comings in and goings forth the whole earth is illuminated. The fertile olive from which the Holy Spirit took the fleshly slip of the Lord, and saved the suffering race of men. She is the boast of virgins, and the joy of mothers; the declaration of archangels, even as it was spoken: “Be thou glad and rejoice, the Lord with thee”; and again, “from thee”; in order that He may make new once more the dead through sin.” +Gregory the Wonderworker
**This scene also serves as a pattern for Marian intercession. Just as Mary at Cana noticed the familys needs before anyone else did, so Mary in heaven continues to notice our needs before we do. And just as Mary at Cana brought those needs to Christ, so does she continue to bring our needs to her Son through her intercession for us. In Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II wrote that this scene at Cana exemplifies “Marys solicitude for human beings, her coming to them in the wide variety of their wants and needs.” **
The Blessed Virgin Mary — our intercessor. Just as she interceded for the bridge and groom at the Wedding at Cana, so she intercedes for us upon our requests. But we have to ask!
While praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary one night, I paused in reflection on the Announcement to Mary. Suddenly, it hit me that the Creator of this ...
Who also created Mary, would ask for her permission to become the mother of His Son, the Savior of the World.
- 10 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
- to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.
- And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."
- But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
- Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
- Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
- He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, 11 and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
- and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
- But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" 12
- And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
- And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived 13 a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
- for nothing will be impossible for God."
- Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
How many times had I heard this Gospel proclaimed or read it at home. But that night was different. It was as if someone had suddenly turned on a light. There it was ... Mary's "yes" when she could have said no. More importantly, there was the Creator of the Universe asking for her permission, when He could have simply said "it's done".
This was no ordinary woman. This is the Mother of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. How many swords pierced her loving heart as a result of that fiat. What greater love can there have been than between Mary and her Son, a true gift from God. How can anyone render her any less dignity than that which she deserves.
Holy Mary, Mother of God
pray for us sinners
now, and at the hour of our death.
Thank you — what a blend of holy and homely images!
Ping to #39.
"Rejoice, Uplifting of men.
Rejoice, Downfall of demons.
Rejoice, you who trampled upon the delusion of error.
Rejoice, you who censured the deceit of the idols.
Rejoice, Sea which drowned the symbolic Pharaoh.
Rejoice, Rock which refreshed those thirsting for life.
Rejoice, Pillar of fire, guiding those in darkness.
Rejoice, Protection of the world, more spacious than a cloud.
Rejoice, Nourishment, successor to manna.
Rejoice, Minister of holy joy.
Rejoice, Land of promise.
Rejoice, you from whom flows milk and honey."
I will think differently of the name "Olivia" from now on.
I would add that when Jesus addresses Mary as “Women” at Cana .
Jesus is telling her that she is Universal Mother of everyone who Jesus redeemed.
When Mary asked Jesus to perform His first miracle,thus declaring Himself as the Son of God,Mary is the co-redeemer and UNIVERSAL MOTHER to all that Jesus redeems.
It goes as follows....
Jesus comes to Saint Peter and says..”Peter who let these people into Heaven?I gave you the keys Peter,but you are to use great discernment.
Peter replies .... “It’s not my fault Lord! Every-time I shut the door to Heaven on someone your Mother opens a window to let them in”
There are several instances in Scripture where it reads as if God did change His mind. The one I can think of off-hand is Jonah and Ninevah: “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Jonah 3:10
The evidence of Mary’s faith and the effectiveness of that faith is definitely there in the wedding at Cana, and by analogy the effectiveness of our faith. It must also be true though, that Christ’s hour truly had not yet come since that is what Christ said. God would not lie to make a demonstration.
The study that NYer posted sort of skirts the issue by saying “In order to call attention to that all-important element which made Him advance, as it were, the hour of His miracles - namely, Mary’s abiding faith in His Divine Omnipotence.” The “as it were” there is precious since it skirts any explanation for the mystery of God’s interaction with prayer and human free will . . .
I’m sort of drawn to the vision of Leibniz of the best of all possible worlds with God solving the “problem” of existence and salvation in the best possible way . . . with events such as Mary asking him to perform a miracle before “his time” factored in . . . so that there was a “better” outcome if he could have waited, but that outcome could not be within his plan, which was the best plan possible incorporating all actual exercises of free will, including Mary’s action. Of course I’m out on a limb, and sinking fast, with the shore barely in sight, and the fog is getting thick . . . which is why it might be best to just say something like “as it were” . . . instead.
Thank you for your time. Do not take my views with anything less than multiple grains of salt.
God was going to destroy the people and Moses asked him to change his mind. And he did.
Likewise, God was going to destroy the entire scene, but Moses questioned him about the righteous people there and wherer he would save it for five people? Since only four righeious people were found, Lot and his wife and their two children, God did destroy it.