At Cana in Galilee, Mary is mother of the new creation

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January 26, 2015

In setting the scene for the beautiful story of the wedding feast at Cana (John 2.1-11), the evangelist writes first that the mother of Jesus was at the wedding, only then adding that Jesus and his disciples were also present.

This would lead one to believe that the story is to be about the mother of Jesus – in John's Gospel, she is never called Mary – with Jesus playing a secondary role.

In one sense, this is true. It is the mother of Jesus who first takes note of the fact that the wine has run out, and it is she who informs her son of this fact. In doing so, she receives what can only be interpreted as a stiff rebuke.

"O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come," Jesus responds. This is not the only place in the Gospels that Jesus speaks abruptly to his mother. Nor is she the only one who receives a sharp response from Jesus to a request. The Canaanite woman (Matthew 15.21-28) is compared with a dog when she implores Jesus' help.

Both women make their requests, and Jesus then fulfills them. The two stories are turning points in their respective Gospels. In Matthew, the Canaanite woman pushes Jesus into a mission that extends beyond the people of Israel.

At Cana in Galilee, Mary sparks Jesus into performing the miracle which begins his public ministry.

DIVINE MESSIAH

It is not the miracle which is most important to the evangelist, however. Rather, the entire event serves as a sign which points to Jesus as the divine messiah inaugurating a new creation.

The Cana story begins with the Gospel writer noting that it took place on "the third day." The reference to the third day points ahead to Christ's resurrection from the dead; it also points back to the day when God came down upon Mount Sinai to give his Law to Moses (Exodus 19.11).

In referring to his mother as "woman," Jesus, some scholars maintain, is linking her with Eve of the first creation. Mary becomes the mother of the new creation.

ASTONISHED STEWARD

Moreover, this is a wedding feast, a feast at which the astonished steward tells the groom that he has kept the best wine for last. One commentator, Thomas Brodie, wryly remarks, "Jesus did not multiply vinegar at a funeral." Indeed!

The six stone vessels – holding 90 to 130 litres each – which Jesus had the servants fill with water before he transformed that water into wine were jugs used in Jewish purification rites.

Now, Jesus initiates humanity into a realm in which eliminating ritual impurities is no longer the main concern. We are ushered into the eternal banquet in which there is a massive abundance of the best wine possible. This is the fulfillment of the hope of the prophets. In fact, it goes well beyond that hope.

What is Mary's role beyond having the eagle eye that spotted the original batch of wine running out?

Mary is the woman of faith, the first one to believe in her son. Undeterred by his rebuke, she brings forth a situation of need to him. She asks nothing, but Jesus' response indicates his awareness that a request is implied in this passing on of information. Perhaps too Mary's gentle raising of the issue is intended to move her son beyond his fear of entering into his public ministry.

The Church has long seen Mary's action at Cana as an indicator of the power of her intercession. When she places a situation before him, Jesus will respond.

ALL THAT HE ASKS

"Do whatever he tells you," she says to the servants. Do everything that he asks.

In making that request, she lets the servants know, lets all of us know, that no halfway response is permitted. The servants do not object or question; they simply obey, having no idea that a miracle is about to be performed.

The mother of Jesus has placed herself on the side of human need. She has also spurred her son into moving forward into the wider public sphere.

The story ends with the evangelist's comment that Jesus' sign "manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him." Mary's faith came first; when she led Jesus to act, the disciples had faith as well.