Monday, January 21, 2013

The Wedding at Cana

Yesterday's gospel reading recounted the Wedding Feast at Cana, site of Christ's first public miracle and the beginning of his path to the Cross. While the changing of the water into fine wine is absolutely miraculous, and reflective of God's generosity, something that has always struck me about this passage from John's gospel is the way Jesus seems to speak to the Blessed Mother. When she points out to him that "They have no wine," his response is "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." It almost seems rude, or even petulant.

Maybe it's my Southern upbringing. My mom was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama. Both her parents hailed from the state as well, so it should come as no surprise that manners and respect for elders were instilled in my younger brothers and me, especially -- being raised to act as a lady --  from a young age. And, because my mom, not easily riled (she teaches middle school students, so generally has the patience of a saint) usually is such a slow burn when it comes to outbursts of temper, the one time I called her "Woman" in a moment of teenage angst is one I won't forget, probably because I was so surprised by it. While I don't remember why I addressed her as such, I can still hear her response: "I am NOT a woman!" she said -- this not being an appropriate time to point out her gender, I stayed silent. "I am your mother, and you will address me as such."

This now long-past exchange between myself and my mom typically flashes through my head whenever this reading is proclaimed at Mass. But maybe I'm just reading too much -- or too little? -- into it. Perhaps (and this is the more likely scenario), not being a Biblical scholar, there is more to it than I am even aware of.

Back in September of last year, Mark Shea wrote about this exact thing in his blog for the National Catholic Register. He talks about how some see Jesus' response as a rebuke of Mary, or think that Mary was trying to "show off" her son. But neither of those is correct. And since Mark Shea is clearly more knowledgeable than me, I'm going to let him speak for himself. Here's an excerpt:

"A Catholic reading would urge us away from the assumption that Jesus and Mary are in conflict at all. ... What we’re seeing here is not Jesus the Teenage Messiah hagridden by mom and her neurotic need to impress the ladies from the Women’s Auxiliary with “My son, the Miracle Worker.” ... We’re seeing a piece of conversation—almost banter— between two people who are both acutely aware of who Jesus is and what he is called to do. Mary, after all, is no fool. She knows her Bible. She knows the meaning of the mission of Israel. And most of all, she knows her Son. ... Every word both Jesus and Mary speak is spoken in light of their shared awareness of that messianic mission and of the words of the prophets who taught Israel to await his coming. With all that as the backdrop of their conversation, Mary is revealed to be using language laden with double meaning to lovingly call Jesus to get on with his mission, not to impress the neighbors with a special effect or publicity stunt. Her point is not simply that the wedding guests have no wine. It’s that the whole nation has no wine."

So instead of getting stuck on specific words, the point here is to instead see the way Christ acts in response to his mother's prompting.  

Shea continues: "So Jesus acknowledges Mary’s messianic expectation by replying that his “hour” has not yet come (a reply that makes no sense unless he knows Mary is calling him to begin his messianic mission). More subtly still, he acknowledges his messianic mission by calling her “Woman.” This is more than simply a polite address. It is, like all the rest of their exchange, as allusive to larger Old Testament prophetic realities as Mary’s request is. For in addressing her so, he is reminding us of another woman and the promise she and her seed were given long ago (Gen. 3:15) to “crush the serpent’s head.” The whole conversation makes it clear that Mary believes it’s time for Jesus to announce his identity as Messiah and inaugurate the final decisive battle ... with “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9); that Jesus knows perfectly well this is what she means; and that she knows he knows it. Rather than some inane request for drinks all round followed by a meaningless “rebuke,” what we’re really looking at here is a profound conversation in which Jesus and Mary know and understand each other perfectly."

Jesus says it's not yet his time, that this isn't how he planned to begin his life of public ministry, but he does what the Blessed Mother suggests anyway. He is an obedient son, not a snarky one. Just as she tells the waiters to "Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you," Jesus does as his mother suggests "and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him."

You can read Mark Shea's whole post on the Wedding at Cana here:

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