was-mary-rebuked-by-jesus-1

Carlos Caso-Rosendi

Those who read the Holy Scriptures without any knowledge of biblical languages, sometimes fall into serious misinterpretations of the text. One good example of such misunderstandings is “Jesus’ rebuke of Mary” at the time of the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Was Jesus ever disrespectful of his mother? Did he ever rebuke Mary? No, Jesus never did such a thing. He is the Son of God and as such, in his human nature he embodied the perfection of what a son should be. He never failed to honor Mary, for he came to perfectly fulfill the Law of God (Deuteronomy 5, 16).

John 2, 1-12 — On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples; and there they stayed for a few days.

To avoid forgetting the immediate context of this episode, let us examine St. John’s report. We must remember that the Gospel of John makes use of many symbols to point at the essential mission of Jesus. Here Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry. He starts his ministry with a feast, in this case a wedding. Later he will end his ministry with the feast of the Passover, another supper. A union is the center of both celebrations. First the wedding of his friends at Cana and then later the first communion between Christ and his disciples in the Last Supper. In both passages wine is a prominent symbol.

During the wedding the family runs out of wine. This is embarrassing for them. Somehow Mary learns about the problem and approaches Jesus, letting him know that there is no more wine for the feast. Jesus responds to his mother with the words: “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”[1] The same phrase is translated as follows: “Jesus said to her, ‘How does that concern us, dear lady? My time hasn’t come yet.'” (ISV) The term γυναι (gunai) is by no means disrespectful. On the contrary, it is equivalent to the term “lady” in modern English. The expression “What do I have to do with you is also used in other parts of the Bible. In Kings 17, 18 the widow of Zarephath uses the same expression to request the prophet Elijah to cure her son: “So she said to Elijah, “What do I have to do with you, O man of God?” Obviously the poor widow was not being disrespectful with the prophet who had shown so clearly to be a man of God.

Luke 8, 27-31 — And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.

In another well known passage the demons address Jesus in the same way, “what have you to do with us.” Obviously the demons are not disrespecting Jesus, since they know Christ has the power to send them where they do not want to go.

Likewise in his response to Mary, Jesus treats his mother with special deference by calling her “my lady” (gunai) in front of all his disciples. That is the proper way the King of Israel would address the gebirah, the Queen of Israel. Jesus does this in front of his disciples, thus gently revealing to them that Mary is deserving of a special, gracious treatment as the Queen of the Church in which her Son is King. Remember, this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and everyone is watching every move he makes and every word he says. In fact, St. John calls this action of Jesus, “the first of his signs”.

After being alerted to the problem by Mary, Jesus proceeds to miraculously solve the problem by turning into wine the water reserved for ceremonial cleansing. This is a sign that points at both the purifying power of Jesus’ own blood and to the upcoming pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Church as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice (Acts 2, 12-13; Acts 2, 1-21). Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, has reserved the best blessings for last. The “old wine” of the Old Covenant is now exhausted and it is replaced by the “new wine” of the New Covenant. Contrary to what is to be expected the “new wine” is better than the “old wine”—Read also Luke 5, 34-39 where Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom providing wine for his friends at his wedding.

The passage is a good example of how all the blessings that come from Jesus are brought to mankind by Mary, the Blessed Mother of God. She is forever bringing God’s attention to mankind through her humanity. She shares our troubles, pains and concerns, lovingly interceding in favor of the sons and daughters of Eve whom she has now adopted as her own. In giving her the name gunai, Jesus also points at Mary’s destiny to be a mother of all those who live in Christ. He does this by using the same word used in Genesis 3, 15 when God addresses the Serpent: ” I will put enmity between you and the woman” (gunai, in the Septuagint.) Certainly, Jesus is not rebuking Mary or being disrespectful with her. He is calling our attention to her exalted state before God.

Matthew 12, 46-50 — While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Mark 3, 31-35 — And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Luke 8, 19-21 — Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Luke 11, 27-28 — As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Here the Greek word μενουνγε (menounye) is translated as “rather.” This affirmative Greek word literally means “additionally” or “even further.”[2] Jesus here is agreeing with the woman who blessed Mary. He also explains that those who hear the word of God and keep it can share the same blessings by following Mary’s perfect example (see Luke 1, 48). For those present, this phrase of Jesus could never be interpreted as a rebuke of Mary. Here Jesus had just finished relating the parable of the sower (Luke 8, 5-15). In that context Jesus is teaching his audience that they have to be like Mary. Like the “fruitful soil” of the parable, she is bearing good fruit by obeying God in a perfect way. Jesus points that woman who praise him in the right direction: the blessings of God do not come merely by being part of the chosen people—while that is a good blessing—greater blessing come from humble obedience to God. Mary is the perfect example of a human being submitting to God’s will. Again, Jesus is not rebuking or disrespecting his mother: he is exalting her and her mission.

Exodus 20, 12 — “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

Deuteronomy 5, 16 — Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

Ephesians 6, 1-3 — Children, obey your parents in the LORD, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.”

Jesus could not be disrespectful of his mother because that would have been a violation of the fourth commandment. Since his childhood he had been perfectly obedient to his earthly parents (Luke 2, 51). He had to fulfill the Law of Moses perfectly to be the unblemished sacrifice required to redeem mankind. He says that himself:

Matthew 5, 17-19 — Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

We conclude that all these passages that are wrongly understood to represent Jesus rebuking Mary, are in reality the opposite. The ancient tongues in which the Bible was written are sometimes hard to render in modern languages. That is why we must deepen our understanding of Holy Scripture by trusting the judgment of the Magisterium of the Church if we want to understand the true meaning of these difficult passages.


[1] λεγει αυτη ο ιησους τι εμοι και σοι γυναι ουπω ηκει η ωρα μου (legei autē o iēsous ti emoi kai soi gunai oupō ēkei ē ōra mou)

[2] αυτος δε ειπεν μενουνγε μακαριοι οι ακουοντες τον λογον του θεου και φυλασσοντες αυτον (autos de eipen menoun makarioi oi akouontes ton logon tou theou kai phulassontes auton)

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