Thursday, March 03, 2016

Mary at Cana

Last night I went to a talk at Boston College about the wedding at Cana. I had thought it was going to be about how Jewish wedding customs might help us understand better what was going on in the dialogue between Jesus and Mary. It turned out to be something different and I felt somewhat disappointed. But it did get me thinking more about Cana and what it reveals about Jesus and Mary. It's a very rich topic and it's provoked a lot of discussion because of the seemingly harsh response that Jesus gives to Mary.
Why did Jesus call Mary "woman"? The speaker said that there's no precedent for that in any of the ancient literature; it's quite unique. While she thought it shows a certain rudeness on Jesus' part, I don't think that is the case. Actually the word is very evocative and can be seen in relation to two other biblical accounts.

One is the text in Genesis where God forms Eve out of the open side of Adam, from his rib. He exclaims, "This one will be called 'woman'..." The other text is from John's Gospel. Just before Jesus dies on the cross, he entrusts the beloved disciple to Mary by saying, "Woman, here is your son." (Jn 19:26).

Jesus dies right after that, and then the soldier pierces Jesus' side, and blood and water flow out. That blood and water is highly symbolic; the Fathers of the Church endlessly reflected on how it represents the sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist. They also reflected on Mary being there and how Jesus was entrusting to her a special role in the Church.
The parallel between Eve and Mary goes back to the second century. Eve, "the mother of all the living," (Genesis) is compared to Mary, the woman standing beneath the cross who is not only Jesus' mother but now becomes the mother of all disciples, represented by the beloved disciple. Just as Eve was formed from Adam's side, Mary's new role is formed in her by the grace flowing from the side of Jesus as he hangs on the cross, as shown in the blood and water.

So what does this have to do with Cana? At the wedding Jesus miraculously changes water into an abundance of wine. The symbolism of wine is also very rich and was used by the prophets to look forward to the messianic age:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
       will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
        juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
       the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations.
He will destroy death forever.   (Isaiah 25:6-8)

 The wine that Jesus provides at the wedding feast at Cana looks forward to "his hour," which in John's Gospel is the hour of his passion, death, and resurrection, the hour of his glory, when Jesus will "destroy death forever." By calling Mary "woman," Jesus is hinting at the new role that Mary will take on. She becomes the new "mother of all the living" through the spiritual motherhood she exercises in the Church.

There's a lot more that could be said about this but for now these are just a few thoughts.

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