'The Mother of Jesus' in St John's Gospel

'The Mother of Jesus' in St John's Gospel

Anne Lastman

In the absence of Annunciation stories, birth stories and an infancy narrative in St John's Gospel, the introduction of "the mother of Jesus" (Jn 2:1-12) at the beginning of his public ministry and again at the end of Jesus' life at Calvary (Jn 19:25-27) is intended to alert the reader of the Gospel that the role of Mary is pivotal.

There is something important in the way her character is placed, her actions and her responses. The mother of Jesus is mentioned only twice in John's narrative, and both times she is addressed as "woman".

The Cana narrative is important to the whole of the Gospel of John because within this setting will be given the reason for the birth of Jesus, namely to reveal the returned kabod (glory) of Yahweh to His people.

The kabod has returned after a long absence (Ez. 18-22 11:22-25) and John's gospel seeks to show that the divine presence, Jesus, is again among His people "He lived among us" (Jn 1:14).

He set up his dwelling place, his tabernacle, among them again. The language of John when referring to "presence" is the language of the tabernacle.

Within the Cana narrative will be shown the beginning of the transformation from the old to the new. The old wineskins having completed their task, new wineskins must be made available for the new wine.

The transformation for John begins at Cana, and thus he injects many meanings into the narrative.

Further, within the Cana narrative, will be introduced not only themes which will be developed throughout the Gospel but characters who also represent themselves and "others". Added to this will also be introduced the mysterious "hour", which also unfolds throughout the Gospel and culminates at Calvary with Jesus' glorification (Jn. 19:25-27).

The "mother of Jesus" (Jn.2:1) is introduced and is immediately linked to the Genesis narrative through the title accorded her as "Woman", as well as "mother of ..." which in Semitic culture was and is an honorific title.

It is the title accorded to a woman who has been blessed with a son of distinction.

John prefers to leave out her name and refer to her as the "woman" and "the mother of Jesus" in order to indicate that he is leading the reader to a deeper reality of who she is, that is, "the woman" of Genesis, the new Eve and a symbol of the bride (Gn 3:15; Rev. 19:7).

The Cana narrative sets in motion the journey towards that mysterious "hour" where again will be found the mother next to her son. The roles are important to one another because each contributes to the "hour" of the other.

Public mission

The role of the "mother of Jesus" is vital because she sets out the conditions (miracle) by which Jesus responds and begins his public mission. Indeed her suffering was the knowledge that this time she had to let him go, to fulfil the words he uttered, when only a young boy, "Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father's affairs?" (Lk 2:49).

He obeyed her as a child, returned home and grew in wisdom. And now again he obeyed his mother and her intuition that the hour had arrived for him to begin that work for which he had come. The new springtime of teaching about his Father had come, and he must begin.

Her permission for him to leave her and his anonymity and now begin obeying his Father's will meant that all was in order. The Father gave his permission through the miraculous transformation of water into wine, and so did the Mother.

By performing the miracle of the changing of water into wine, he was subjecting himself to her for this one last time.

"His mother suddenly presented Jesus with the occasion of performing a public miracle, an occasion for manifesting his divine mission to the world, for beginning that public career which would end on a gibbet" (Giordani).

Some scholars have suggested that the title "woman" in the Cana narrative was used by Jesus as a form of rebuke and as a sign of distancing between them. However, "they have no wine" (Jn. 2:4) is not a demand but a statement, and while some exegetes have suggested that a request for a miracle is implied and therefore the ensuing rebuke, it is my contention that it is not a request but notification of an observed reality.

It is also the opening for Jesus to begin to do what has to be done.

At a symbolic level, Mary's "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5) is the language engaged when covenant memory is recalled, especially memory of the Exodus and Sinai . When Moses relayed to his people God's instructions they answered, "Everything the Lord has said, we will do" (Ex 19:3-8).

Just as the original "mother of all living" was part of the hour of birth and days of creation, so too the new woman was to be part of the new hour of birthing and moment of re-creation. Indeed, as the first woman said "no", so the new woman was called to utter her fiat.

At each crucial moment in the life of Jesus is to be found his mother and the "woman" uttering her yes. This is not to suggest that she knew what the hour contained, or exactly what her role was to be, but whatever it was she would be required to be beside him and to give her assent.

The response of Jesus to his mother's "they have no wine" (Jn 2:4) was to remedy the situation; yet in this response would be the knowledge that his identity would be revealed, that his anonymous status would change and that thereafter his relationships would also be changed.

Even his relationship to his mother would be changed because the revelation of his identity would mean that his Father's work had begun in earnest and her work as "mother" had to diminish, at least until "her hour" and "the hour" at some time in the future had come.

After Jesus' revelation, like others, his mother would need to stand back from his immediate presence and follow him from a distance as he completed his work.

St John's treatment of the "mother of Jesus" needs to be read at different levels from the most shallow to the deepest. Jesus by addressing his mother as "woman" invested in her person the role of his co-worker and helper (Gn 2:19).

"Woman," rather than "mother", elevated her status above the human meaning of motherhood to incorporate "mother of all living." It was not a ploy of the author to elicit rebuke and a distancing between the mother and her son (at Cana). Rather it was the author's intention to weave the various meanings around the relationship between Jesus and his mother and the new "woman". With her would be formed his new family which would incorporate not only the beloved disciple but all those who would believe in him (Jn 1:12.)

The new members of his family, born at the foot of the cross, would have his own mother as their own mother and his own Father (God) as their father.

The mysteries of the "hour" (suffering) and the "woman" reveal the new familial relationship with God through the intervention and suffering of Jesus and his mother.

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