What God Has Joined
“Now on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.” So begins the second chapter of John’s gospel. This is the story where Jesus turns water into wine. As with many biblical stories, it’s a highly symbolic and artistic telling of an event that, like a good poem, invites us to linger and mine its many treasures. I’m going to discipline myself and restrict my reflections to the theme I highlighted in my last post: the role of women in the God’s Kingdom or New Creation. Luke (last post) and John (yesterday’s lectionary reading) each have their unique and surprising ways of coming at it.
The wedding at Cana story contains a fascinating dialogue between Mary and Jesus. Both were invited to the wedding, along with a few of Jesus’ disciples. When Mary points out that the wedding wine is beginning to run out (a major disaster), Jesus replies, “Woman, my time has not yet come.” Addressing his mother as “woman” wouldn’t have been as disrespectful in that day as it would be today, but it still seems pretty strange. My take? This story is about something bigger than a local wedding, and Jesus’ interaction with his mother about something more than a tug-of-war over whether they should get involved.
When God made and gave to Adam his life partner, Adam called her “woman.” Coincidence? Let’s see.
Yesterday, while traveling, Sharon and I heard Tim Mackie at The Bible Project talk about the three roles every person made in God's image was designed to play -- royal, priestly and prophetic. Instead of being a "royal priesthood," human beings -- either out of fear, neglect or disobedience -- have tended to dumb down and give up these roles to people in particular "offices." Most of the Old Testament is about various people (mostly men) playing one of these three roles -- and it's not pretty.
In comes Mary. Clearly there is nothing passive about Mary’s words or role in Cana. Even though it’s not “her place,” she takes responsibility when the wedding wine starts to dry up (her royal role). Rather than trying to solve the problem on her own, she appeals to her divine son (priestly role) on behalf of God’s creatures (the wedding party and guests) and creation (wine). Finally she plays a prophetic role by being the instrument through which the Father’s will is revealed to Jesus.
So it is in Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother, that these three God-designed, image-of-God roles converge – royal, priestly and prophetic.
Like mother, like son.
The interaction between Mary and Jesus also corrects some misunderstandings about women, often grounded in the story of the fall. It’s often suggested that women can’t be trusted to lead, and that Eve’s giving in to the serpent’s temptation proves it. Theoretically, women are too emotional, fickle, illogical, naive, seductive and gullible.
How then do we explain the massive mess men make of things from that point on in the biblical story?
Adam and Eve both screwed up. One of the ways both of them went wrong is by failing to consult with one another. Eve ate the forbidden fruit before consulting with Adam, and Adam just played along. He should have said, “Hey, wait a minute. Let’s talk about this.” The narrator says he “was with her” while all this was happening. In other words, he failed to play his role as a covenant partner. They both failed to consult and collaberate.
Eve is her own responsible agent, and so is Adam. Both are at fault. And the rest of the story, as they say, is history.
Which is why I find Jesus’ interaction with his mother so fascinating. Mary tells Jesus the wine is running out. Jesus responds, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.” Then Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” If Jesus was a good evangelical (or whatever) he probably would have thought, “My mother is tempting me, just like Eve. I see what’s going on here. It's like when the devil tried to get me to turn stones into bread. My mother doesn't know her place. I’m not going public until my Father tells me directly.”
But that’s not what happens. Instead of allowing his male pride to be wounded by his mother’s assertiveness, he sees and seizes this moment for what it is – his Father’s will is being revealed. And his royal, priestly, prophetic mother is the one taking the lead.
How cool is that. The curse is being reversed. Later, the new wine of God’s Spirit will be poured out on both men and women. Both will become“anointed ones” (i.e. messiahs, little Christs, Christians).
I'll let your imaginations take it from here.