A Very Odd Conversation

What are we to make of the conversation between Jesus and his mother as recorded by John?

“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 2:3–5 ESV)

It’s bizarre on so many levels, at least to the modern ear.  Why does Mary go to Jesus when the wedding party runs out of wine?  He’s never performed a miracle before, surely she doesn’t expect one, but clearly she expects something.  Then Christ’s even stranger response: Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.  Huh?  Excuse me?  It seems to have only a passing connection with Mary’s comment that the wedding party ran out of wine.  Mary’s command to the servants seems to come out of nowhere: Do whatever he tells you.  How did she come up with that response from Christ’s statement?

A. W. Pink [if memory serves] points out that, while Mary surely did not have in mind what followed, her going to Christ with such a difficult problem did not come from left field.  She had, after all, been raising him for the past 30 years.  Pink says that she had seen, if not completely understood that:

  • Christ was meant for greatness (Lk 1.32,35,43)
  • An angel had prophesied to her about Christ (Lk. 1.25-38)
  • She had observed his unusual development (Lk 2.40,51)
  • Future generations would call her blessed because of Jesus (Lk 1.48)

In other words, she understood that there was something special about Jesus.  Why not go to him in such a crisis, because running out of wine at a wedding would have brought great shame on the family involved.

Jesus’ response points us to a couple of developments.  First, by addressing her as “woman.” This is not as distant as it sounds in English, a better translation that captures the softness of the word might be “ma’am.”  Why not call her “mother?”  I think it is because Jesus is beginning to create a distance between himself and Mary, up until this point, she has been his mother, but with this first great sign, Christ embarks on the purpose for which he came into the world.  Mary will need to understand that she needs a Savior and that her own child is that Savior.  She will not come to grasp this until she first sees him as something other than her son.

Second, when Christ says: Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come, he is gently rebuking Mary.  The Jewish New Testament Commentary says:

Yeshua’s comment is meant to aid her in the transition from seeing him as her child to seeing him as her Lord, to keep her from undue pride, and to indicate that he as Lord sovereignly determines when he will intervene in human affairs-he does not perform miracles on demand merely to impress his friends, or even to give “naches” to his mother. [Not “nachos” okay.  When I first typed this out autocorrect helpfully made the word “nachos!”  It is a Yiddish word that means “the kind of joy a mother feels.”]

Mary humbly accepts the gentle rebuke.  We understand this because of her response to Jesus’ statement.  She tells the servants: Do whatever he tells you. The conversation has not created a fracture in the relationship, though it is changed forever.  Interestingly enough, John will not mention Mary again until the crucifixion.


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