“…Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5)
I believe that another reason we are often confused about devotion to Mary is because we have a poor understanding of Family and the role of a Mother in the household. We call God “Father”. And Christ is our brother because he taught us to pray, “Our Father” (Mt 6:9). He also calls each of us to behold our mother (Jn 19:27). If we see our relationship with God and the saints as a family affair, we will come to appreciate our faith in God more deeply and how much he wants us to be a part of his divine household.
Ideas about Mary fill the pages of Scripture from the beginning of the first book through to the end of the last. She was there, in God’s plan, from the beginning of time, just as the apostles were, and the Church, and the Saviour, and she will be there at the moment everything is fulfilled. Still her motherhood is a discovery waiting to be made.
In Scripture, there are only a handful of passages referring to motherhood, matriarchy and maternity. This contrasts with the hundreds of citations about fatherhood, patriachy and paternity. What is wrong with this picture? Perhaps motherhood is so little understood and appreciated because mothers are so close to us. Infants, for example, do not even understand that Mother is a separate entity until they are several months old. Some researchers say that children don’t fully come to this realisation until they are weaned. It is admissible that we may never be able to distance ourselves psychically from our mothers, except of course, you don’t have a first hand experience of a mother. But I doubt that very much. We shall speak about motherhood in details later. For now, we must catch up on one motherly trait that we see in Mary – loving concern for the welfare of others.
The stage is set for Jesus’ first public sign. He arrives at the wedding feast with His mother and His disciples. A wedding celebration, in the Jewish culture of the time, normally lasted about a week. Yet we find, at this wedding, that the wine ran out very early. At which point, Jesus’ mother points out the obvious to her Son: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). It is a simple statement of fact. But Jesus seems to respond in a way that is far out of proportion to His mother’s simple observation. “O woman,” he says, “what have you to do with Me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4).
In order to understand Jesus’ seeming overreaction, we need to understand the phrase “what have you to do with me?” Bear in mind that after the brief chit-chat between them, Jesus fulfills the request He infers from Mary’s observation. If He intended to reproach her, he surely would not have followed His reproach by complying with her request. A commentary note in the New American Bible on this verse tells us that “Woman” is a polite and normal form of address and not a way of putting someone down.
Some people make a case about Jesus’ choice of words. “What have you to do with me?” It has two connotations. It is a Hebrew expression of denial of common interest (cf. Hosea 14:8,9; 2Kg 3:13). The expression is also used to express permissiveness. The expression was also used by a man possessed by a demon to address Jesuus and acknowledge his authority over the man and the demon. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” “I beseech you, do not torment me,” he continues, thereby affirming that he must carry out whatever Jesus commands (Lk 8:28; Mk 5:7).
At Cana Jesus defers to His mother, though she never commands Him. She, in turn, merely tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you”. Some saints and spiritual writers see in Mary’s action at the Wedding in Cana, a display of a high degree of charity. “So great was Mary’s charity when on earth,” Saint Alphonsus Ligouri says, “that she succoured the needy without even being asked; as was the case at the marriage feast of Cana when she told her Son that family’s distress: ‘They have not wine’”. Since goodness is always worthy of emulation, we should imitate Mary’s loving concern for others.
Ours for the Asking
John the Evangelist as well as the spiritual writers are pointing to the fact that this woman knows the way to her son’s heart. And we should take advantage of it. Mary for her part is not presumptuous of her Son’s kindly nature and tells us to approach him after she has alerted him to our request. Mary is clearly not our mediatrix with God the Father but she is our mediatrix with her Son. It will be presumptuous of us to think that we can ask Jesus for anything by our own strength. Jesus is God and the prayer of a sinner is an abomination before God (Prov 15:8). You stand a better chance brokering a deal with his mother, who incidentally is your mother too. Anyone who grew up in a home knows that a mother has a special key that unlocks the heart of any member of the family.
The functional home, with a Father, Mother and children (and even extended family members), is the closest analogy we have to the inner dynamism of our relationship to God and the saints (cf. Eph 2:19). God is our Father, Jesus is our Big Brother and Mary is our Mother. Her place in God’s household is undeniable. I like to quote Scott Hahn as a way of closing this piece. He says that, “The breakaway Christian churches that diminish Mary’s role inevitably end up feeling like a bachelor’s apartment: masculine to a fault; orderly but not homey; functional and productive—but with little sense of beauty and poetry.”