A Good Question About an Unusual Response


A question arrived here the other day regarding why it was that Jesus appeared short with his mother when, at a wedding party, she informed him that the host’s wine had run out. This is an excellent question, and one that has perplexed people for centuries. The passage reads:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-5 ESV)

The point of concern centers on the words with which Jesus responded to his mother. At first glance it appears that he was rude to her, or at the very least, dismissive of her concern about the lack of wine at an important party. Indeed, his response does feel terse and disrespectful, especially to American ears.

However, in the context of the world in which Jesus and his mother lived the response was not rude at all. Jesus uses the same kind of expression elsewhere, for instance, when on the cross he lovingly directs her toward the care of the disciple John (John 19:26). According to one Greek lexicon (Liddell and Scott) Jesus’ use of “Woman” is “a term of respect or affection.” It might be akin to the expression “ma’am” found so commonly in the southern United States. When used in John 2 his mother heard something like, “Ma’am, what does this have to do with me?” It more likely had a playful ring to it, not uncommon to that relationship shared between a mature son and his mother.

But let us presume for a moment that despite any playfulness something more was intended. I think it is safe to expect that Jesus was being very respectful, perhaps playful with his mother, but that he was also seeking to establish something critical in her mind, and therefore in their relationship. Simply put, the relationship they shared was now different. Yes, he was her son. But he also needed to reinforce that along with being her son, he was God’s Son, and as such was formally stepping into the mission that brought him to earth in the first place. Since this moment in Cana at the wedding feast is the first recorded miracle performed by Jesus, it evidences an inauguration of his public ministry, particularly coming right on the heels of the pronouncements of John the Baptist as recorded in John 1. From these points onward, Jesus was walking straight to Calvary.

And for whatever it is worth it appears his mother took no offense at all. She seemed quite content with his response to her, and confident in her immediate request to the servants who had gathered around. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says. Clearly, she understood the heart of her son, and was more than willing to defer to his good judgment about the matter at hand.

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