Yes, Ma’am! ~The Rev Dcn Scott Brown, OPI

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told the them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
— although the servers who had drawn the water knew —,
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him. JN 2:1-11


Picture it – Jesus and his mom are at a wedding, the wine starts running low, and Mary wants to help. Mary tells Jesus in a way that lets him know that she wants him to do something about it. Jesus replies “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” He wasn’t being rude to her, this is how it gets translated to English. In context, Mary has just come up to him and informed Jesus that the people running the wedding have no wine, so you might literally translate his response as “What [is that] to me and to you?” In other words: “What does that have to do with us?”

He’s not dissing her. He’s putting the two of them–both of them–in a special category together and questioning the relevance of the fact that people outside this category don’t have wine. He’s saying that it’s not the responsibility of the two of them to make sure they have wine.

Part of what makes it sound like Jesus might be dissing his mother is the fact that he refers to her as “woman.”

We don’t talk to women like that today–not if we respect them, and certainly not our own mothers.

But the connotations–of respect, disrespect, or other things–that a word has in a given language are quite subtle, and we can’t impose the connotations that a word has in our own language on another.

Consider: Suppose, in English, we replaced “woman” with a term that means basically the same thing but with better connotations. For example, the word “lady” or “ma’am.” Suddenly what Jesus says sounds a lot more respectful.

In British circles, “lady” has distinctly noble overtones (it’s the female counterpart to the noble honorific “lord”). And even in demotic America, a son can say, “Yes, ma’am” to his mother and mean it entirely respectfully. So what can we learn about the connotations of “woman” as a form of address in Jesus’ time?

But Mary is far from the only woman for whom this word  is used as a form of address. We also find the following:

  • Jesus uses it to address the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt. 15:28).
  • Jesus uses it to address the woman with a hemorrhage (Luke 13:12).
  • Peter uses it to address the high priest’s servant girl (Luke 22:57).
  • Jesus uses it to address the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:21).
  • Two angels use it to address Mary Magdalene (John 20:13).
  • Jesus uses it to address Mary Magdalene (John 20:15).
  • Paul uses it to address an individual wife among his readers (1 Cor 7:16).
  • Paul uses it to address the wives in his audience (Col 3:18, using the plural: gunaikes).
  • Peter uses it to address the wives in his audience (1 Peter 3:1, using the plural: gunaikes).

That’s quite a few uses, but none of them are disrespectful!

So, let’s move on to the miracle and the disciples. The disciples were at the wedding with Mary and Jesus: Mary is being a typical mother and Jesus is being a typical son by questioning everything His mom told Him to do. I can imagine she gave Him “THE LOOK” ….. you know that look that a mom can give that lets you know that if you don’t stop what you are doing and do what she tells you to do there is going to be trouble. Jesus agrees to help the wedding party out and make some wine for the guests. Long story short, Jesus makes enough wine for everybody and the disciples witness the miracle. This is His first miracle, and up until now the disciples knew that He was something special. Now they knew for sure that He was who and what he claimed to be. Although John acknowledged that Jesus performed many miracles, he describes only seven. Arguably this is not the most amazing of his miracles, it is the one that caused the disciples to know for sure in their hearts that they were truly in the presence of the Messiah, and that through this belief you may have life in His name. So too can we have eternal life through Jesus and his miracles, but most especially through His sacrifice on the cross, where He gave His life that we may have eternal life. Things we can take away from this miracle:

1: This miracle lets us know that Jesus is concerned about the little things in life as well as the big things.

2: This miracle assures us that God can take something ordinary and turn it into something really wonderful.

3: This miracle assures us that God’s love is abundant and plentiful as was the wine.

Heavenly Father, consider us as the empty vessels waiting to be filled with your love and grace. Take away our worries, and fill us with a new energy of trust and faith just as Mary and the disciples had faith that Jesus was the Messiah. Give us the gift of being filled with new wine and a new vision. Amen.

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