I don’t often do biblical commentary posts, but this exchange from the Wedding at Cana had troubled me ever since I read it years and years ago. But this thought came to me recently about explaining it, and my husband said I should write it down, which is saying something. I offer an explanation and then a re-telling that might resonate more with modern listeners.
We all know the story of the Wedding at Cana; it is where Jesus does his first miracle; he famously turns water into wine. But there is a difficulty, on a surface reading, it really seems as though Our Lord is blowing off his mother. “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” he asks.
John 2:1-5 reads: On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus response to Mary in this translation sounds like a rhetorical question to our American ears, as though he does not actually mean it. It can seem like Christ is assuming the answer in the question and saying instead: “Your concern has nothing to do with me; it isn’t time for me to reconcile the world yet.”
Such a reading is troubling. Our Lord seems snippish and disrespectful. However, from what we know of the Faith and the rest of the Gospels, there is no good reason to believe that Our Lord is being insincere or rude.
How, then, can we read it in a way that makes sense with the whole of the Faith, a way that is true to the person of Christ Jesus, which is how the Faithful are meant to read Scripture? We can read it instead with the understanding that he truly means each of the words he speaks. On such a reading, he is sincerely asking Mary to explain how her concern affects him; he sees that she is worried, and is sitting there, giving her the space to make a request of him. In short, he is presenting the opportunity for her to intercede because he loves her and sees that she is upset.
Such a reading would mesh well with what we know about Christ’s divine and human knowledge. We know from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that Christ has infused knowledge since he is a member of the Holy Trinity. While he did experience his knowledge in space and time and did learn things that are only the result of human experience:
“at the same time, this truly human knowledge of God’s Son expressed the divine life of his person. “The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.”… The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.” (CCC 273)
Because Christ did have divine knowledge, it is not the case that he was unaware of what was about to happen or what he would do about it. This rules out the “blowing her off” interpretation of the exchange between Jesus and Mary because it would make his speech incoherent: if he knew he was going to help, it would be illogical to rudely reject her concern.
Further support for Christ’s sincerity here is that Mary does not take her son’s response as a rejection. She clearly takes it as acceptance because she then turns to the servants to direct them to follow his guidance.
If, then, we assume that the Lord Jesus is speaking in full sincerity and filled with divine love and knowledge, let me attempt a translation of this passage for modern ears:
Mary turned to her son, her brown eyes, which were usually so clear, were shrouded with worry for the wedding couple. She could see their embarrassment and how badly they wished the day to be joyful for their friends and family members. She hoped her son might be able to help. She looked at him and said, “They have no wine.”
Jesus beheld his mother, fully recognizing her concern for the couple and her love for them. He was touched by how much her tender heart cared. His kind, brown eyes radiated warmth and openness; he wanted her to know that he understood her heart and was willing to let her ask anything of him in order to help those in need.
He said, “My lady,” referring to her with the utmost respect, “Tell me if there is any way I can aid you in this concern that strikes you so deeply. The time for me to make all amends is still to come.” He knew already that he would perform his first miracle here, of changing water into wine while it was within the earthen vessels which were waiting, still unfilled by the servants. He knew this, but he wanted his mother to know that her worry mattered to him as well, that he was open to her asking simply because it weighed on her.
Mary could see in his eyes and smile that he felt her concern along with her and that he would do all he could, something which was bound to be incredible. Sensing his willingness, she exhaled in relief and went to the servants, “Do all he tells you,” she whispered softly, buoyed by perfect confidence in her enigmatic son, whom she would not fully understand until his death and rising three years later.
Such a re-telling adds many extraneous details, but perhaps it can help the modern reader to get a sense of the feeling between Jesus and Mary, as they both felt human emotions and both had human natures. The Gospels tend to be pared down versions of events; cultural and emotional contexts would have been understood by the early hearers. Today, however, we receive stories and literature very differently, and we have different cultural cues.
Nonetheless, the people and events of the Gospels were real, actual people who felt things as we feel things. So when a passage seems oddly discordant, it is worthwhile to seek out a reading of it that would make sense with the whole deposit of the Faith. Indeed, this is precisely how the Catechism, drawing on the First and Second Vatican Councils, instructs us to read Scripture: “Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation” (114).
The Christ of the Gospels was one person, a human and divine one. He cared for his mother as he cares for us; he gave himself for us; he loves us. It is worthwhile to engage our imaginations in such a way as to illuminate aspects of the biblical text which may not be stated outright, provided that we keep the unity of the faith in mind.
Had you ever pondered or been perplexed by this passage? Did this explanation help? Do you think it is accurate? Comment or tweet @StephaniesIdeas. I wanna hear from you!