The Riddle at Cana: Mary and the Biblical Mystery

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 gave out, 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” (John 2:1-5).

Jesus’s response to his mother in this famous passage is generally considered “the most perplexing verse about Mary in all of Scripture.”[1] It appears to express “a very definite, even harsh denial of any community between him and her.”[2] Yet even if it were credible that the perfect Jewish son could speak rudely to his mother, Mary’s instruction to the servants and the miracle that follows indicate that she did not take his reply as a “no.” Moreover, John puts the scene front and center as the archē (“beginning,” 2:11) of Jesus’s signs, echoing the opening phrase of the Bible and of his own Gospel (en archēi, “in the beginning”) and signaling the “beginning” of a new era. What are we to make of Jesus’s riddling words?

In an essay winsomely titled “Miss Marple Reads the Bible,” David Steinmetz discusses important similarities between detective fiction and biblical interpretation. He notes especially the “similarity between the kerygmatic retelling of the larger biblical story in the New Testament and the crisp retelling of the mystery narrative by the principal investigator in a novel by P. D. James or Agatha Christie.” In both genres, a coherent “second narrative” replaces the sprawling, mystifying first narrative, so that “at the end all of the small parts fall together into an intelligible pattern.” This phenomenon of enlightened re-reading is internal to the Old Testament as well, as when the “prophets offer their own second narratives to make sense of the earlier traditions they inherited.”[3]

To push Steinmetz’s analogy further, the New Testament comprises both a first and a second narrative. Its authors frequently play the role of the elucidating detective who interprets connections between the Old Testament and the life of Jesus Christ, sometimes explicitly (“so that Scripture might be fulfilled”), sometimes implicitly (such as by highlighting parallels between John the Baptist and Elijah). Yet the New Testament itself also constitutes a fresh, mysterious text—a notebook of clues crying out for a detective to explain the “intelligible pattern” that unites them. Each “kerygmatic retelling of the larger biblical story” can be seen as a model, challenging us as readers to produce a similarly “crisp” interpretation of the Bible as a whole.

Though Steinmetz does not mention this, another signature feature of the mystery novel is the Stubborn Fact. Like the shepherd of parable pursuing the one lost sheep, the detective must craft a narrative consistent with every piece of evidence; a solution that accounts for 99 facts but leaves a single, small contradictory one must be wrong. Moreover, the Stubborn Fact is usually the key to solving the case, often leading to a radically different interpretation (“The butler didn’t do it after all!”). We see this phenomenon writ large in Christianity. A philosophy or theology that provides a satisfying explanation for everything except the suffering of the innocent, the most intransigent Fact of all, cannot be correct. The solution to that perennial mystery (“puzzle”) can be found only in the paschal and nuptial mystery (“revealed sacred truth”) of the Cross, where the sacrifice of the wholly innocent Son to the Father through the Holy Spirit defeats sin and death and consummates his everlasting marriage to the human race—a good so tremendous that it gives meaning to and more than compensates for all pain and all evil, as the birth of a child more than compensates for the suffering of pregnancy and labor.

The riddle at Cana is another such Stubborn Fact. Miss Marple would have realized that if she thought she understood the biblical narrative, but could not explain the perfect son’s rudeness to his mother before his first miracle, then she must be missing something crucial in her interpretation of the whole story. Further investigation reveals that this riddle is merely the most salient in a constellation of Stubborn Facts surrounding Mary. The earliest Christians recognized that Jesus was the New Adam, a truth succinctly expressed by Paul’s formulation, “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). In the second century, Irenaeus connected this recapitulatio, “re-heading,” of humankind by the New Adam with that of Mary, the New Eve: her obedience freed us from the bondage to sin caused by the first Eve’s disobedience.[4] Like Jesus, that is, Mary represents humanity in a way that is both exemplary and unique. I shall argue that her marital relationship with God and spiritual motherhood of all people, a role sometimes regarded as an extrascriptural accretion, is in fact the unifying thread that provides the most cohesive “solution” to the biblical mystery.

The Overture

An important aspect of the Stubborn Fact at Cana that theologians have convincingly explained is the word “Woman” (gynai). Jesus addresses three other women as “Woman”—the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:21), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:10), and most importantly, Mary Magdalene (John 20:15)—in moments of tenderness and consolation; it is his first spoken word after his resurrection. The address has no trace of the rude overtones we English speakers unfortunately hear in it. Nevertheless, for a Jewish man to call his mother “Woman” is completely unparalleled, which gives the word special emphasis and significance here. As the Fourth Gospel makes painstakingly clear, the wedding at Cana occurs on the sixth day of the first week of Jesus’s public ministry, a recapitulation of the week-long Creation story in Genesis.[5] Jesus is addressing Mary as Woman, the New Eve who will fulfill the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, spoken to the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Jesus is the only “seed” to come entirely from a woman, taking his flesh from her flesh with no man involved.

The interpretation of Jesus’s rhetorical question, however, is on shakier ground. It has been widely recognized that in producing copious wine for a wedding, Jesus foreshadows his identity as the Bridegroom of the human race. Bishop Robert Barron highlights the relationship between Christ’s passion and the nuptial mystery:

As is fitting in the Cana setting, the theme of human bride and divine bridegroom is being hinted at. But if she is the Woman with whom God seeks union, why the aloof and off-putting words? The best explanation, in my judgment, is that this is a narrative device that serves to highlight the importance of Jesus’s “hour” and shows the relation between what he does at Cana and what will transpire in that hour. Like “the third day,” “hour” is code for the Paschal Mystery, Jesus’s passage through death to life. In that event, God will effect the perfect marriage between himself and the human race, for he will enter into the most intimate union with us, embracing even death itself and leading us into the bridal chamber of the divine life (my emphasis).[6]

Much of this explanation rings true, but the part I have italicized strikes me as unsatisfying; Barron’s cautious language, “The best explanation, in my judgment,” suggests that he is not wholly satisfied either. Jesus could have used any number of narrative devices to highlight the importance of his “hour.” Would he have been rude to his mother merely for shock value? And how do “aloof and off-putting words” show the relation between Cana and the Cross?

A closer examination of the Greek and its biblical parallels will help to elucidate Jesus’s cryptic words. English translators almost invariably put “Woman” at the beginning of the sentence, presumably because it sounds more polite. It is especially striking that even Hilda Graef, in her magisterial history of Mariology, states that “the Greek words are ‘Gynai, ti emoi kai soi?’”[7] But this is a misquotation: the Greek says ti emoi kai soi, gynai, “What for me and you, Woman?”, with “Woman” directly following “you.” Though the word order may seem unimportant, it actually matters a great deal. For the three parts of Jesus’s reply—[1] What for me and you, [2] Woman, [3] My hour has not yet come—are the unfolding of a single thought, one that animates all of salvation history.

A holy widow, whose jar of meal was miraculously renewed to feed Elijah, herself, and her son, will illustrate how the idiom ti emoi kai soi is typically used. When her son becomes ill and (apparently) dies, she reproaches Elijah, “ti emoi kai soi, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” (1 Kings 17:18). After Elijah miraculously resuscitates her son, she declares, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth” (17:24). In both instances, she addresses Elijah as “man of God” to define his identity, especially as it relates to herself. The first time, she believes he has come to condemn her precisely because he is a “man of God,” and her awareness of her own sin makes her seek to distance herself from him. When she declares him a “man of God” the second time, however, it is in joyful acclamation, since the putative bringer of death has become the restorer of life.

The New Testament offers even clearer illustrations of the rhetorical purpose of ti emoi kai soi. The demon who asks “ti emoi kai soi, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7) is not giving Jesus an honorific title to be nice: he is pinpointing Jesus’s identity as an explanation for why there can be no relationship between them. The parallel scene with the legion of demons (Mark 1:24) presents an even more explicit sequence of distancing rhetorical question, identity-defining address, and further explanation of why that identity precludes relationship: “ti hēmin [“for us”] kai soi, Jesus of Nazareth? You have come to destroy us!”[8] Unlike the widow’s, the demons’ disavowal of relationship is permanent.

A similar sequence of thought appears at Cana. It is of central importance that Jesus’s first revelation of his divinity takes place at a wedding: as Mary well knows, for her son to provide the wine would place him in the bridegroom’s role. The purport of his question is “What relationship can there be between me and you, who are Woman, since my hour for revealing myself as the Bridegroom has not yet come?” What has not been sufficiently emphasized is that when Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come,” the implication is that when his hour does come, the relationship between himself and Woman, like that between the “man of God” and the widow, will be restored.

The miracle that caps New Creation week offers a foretaste of that restoration. In the tragic climax of the original Creation story, Adam’s attempt to shift the blame onto Eve and God, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree” (Genesis 3:13), encapsulates his estrangement from both his wife and his Creator. At Cana, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, plays both Adam and God. “What for me and you, Woman?” expresses the alienation both of humans from one another and of Woman—that is, the human race—from her divine husband (Isaiah 54:5, Hosea 2:16-20), the broken relationship between humanity and God. Like the absence of wine, the “aloof and off-putting words” instantiate the devastation of the Fall.

But Mary’s “Do whatever he tells you,” showing her total confidence in Jesus despite his apparent refusal,[9] completely and perfectly reverses the human distrust of God that caused that primordial separation. Whereas Mary’s fiat (“let it be done,” Luke 1:38) reveals her as the model of trust and obedience, her facite (“do”) reveals her as the model of instruction and mission. No prophet or patriarch could have better summarized the correct human response to God, for the entirety of her authority derives from and points to that of Jesus. The command from her that initiates the process of water becoming wine, through human cooperation with divine action (John 2:6-10), prophetically anticipates the command from her son at the Last Supper (“do this”) that leads to wine becoming his blood (1 Corinthians 11:25; cf. Luke 22:19-20).[10] Through her intercession, her action-inspiring teaching, and her unwavering faith even in the face of a seeming rebuff, the wedding feast—the chief symbol of our ultimate reconciliation with God and one another (Revelation 19:6-8)—resumes in a superabundance of joy.

Like the Gospel’s prologue (John 1:1-18), the episode plays out in miniature the whole drama of salvation history. Even so, God has a still more brilliant and satisfying twist in store.

The Finale

Christianity is a teleological religion, constantly looking toward the telos, the final end at which something aims. The telos of an acorn is to be an oak tree; the telos of human life is intimacy with God, who is love. When Jesus summarizes his moral teaching, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), the word is teleios, literally, “having reached your telos.” When Jesus says, “It is finished” (John 19:30), the verb is tetelestai, “the telos has been reached.” The Greek also means “it is consummated.” It makes sense that the telos of Jesus’s life would be his death, the completion of the Passover ritual through which he became the efficacious sacrificial offering for our sins and sealed the new marital covenant with his people.[11] And yet, that is not what the Scripture says.

The account of Jesus’s death in the Gospel of John, the beloved disciple who was standing at the foot of the Cross, presents another puzzle. For the second and final time, Jesus addresses his mother as “Woman”:

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took (elaben) her to his own home (eis ta idia).

After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished (tetelestai), said (to fulfill [hina teleiōthēi] the scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished” (tetelestai); and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:26-30).

The words translated “finish” and “fulfill” are both from teleō. Though commentators tend to gloss over it, verse 28 contains a shocking surprise:[12] “After this, Jesus, knowing that everything had now reached its telos (tetelestai)” implies that this, the adoption ceremony, was the telos. We would expect the Gospel to say, “seeing that everything was about to reach its telos,” given Jesus’s subsequent action: “so that Scripture might reach its telos” (teleiōthēi, the only place in John’s Gospel where Scripture “fulfilled” uses the verb teleō rather than plēroō), he drank the Fourth Cup to complete the paschal sacrifice, and then with his dying breath said, “the telos has been reached (tetelestai).” In his meditation on The Way of the Cross, Josemaría Escrivá paraphrases the verse precisely this way: “Then, knowing that all things are to be accomplished, that the Scriptures may be fulfilled he says: ‘I am thirsty.’ (John 19:28).”[13] But the Gospel in fact states that Jesus knew the telos of everything had already been reached, the consummation already achieved, before he drained that cup.

The significance of the adoption ceremony becomes even clearer when we hear its echoes of the Gospel’s prologue. The phrase the RSV translates as “to his own home,” eis ta idia, does not contain the word “home.” The adjective idios literally means “one’s own”; eis ta idia thus conveys something closer to “into what belonged personally to himself.” The King James translation of the Gospel’s prologue is both more poetic and more accurate: 

He came unto his own (eis ta idia), and his own received (parelabon) him not. But as many as received (elabon) him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:11-13).

The same verb (lambanō) is used of those in the prologue who “received” (elabon) Jesus and of the beloved disciple who “took” (elaben) his new mother eis ta idia. As her adopted son—and note that his biological mother was alive and well, and probably standing nearby (Matthew 27:56)—the beloved disciple knew that to receive Mary spiritually eis ta idia, “unto one’s own,” is to receive Jesus, to become a child of God.[14] The gap between himself and Christ was closed when he, like his master, became a child of Mary as well. The reality of this new birth solves a third puzzle, the emphasis placed on the angel’s strange insistence that Elizabeth and Zechariah name their son “John” (Luke 1:13, 59-64). Of John the Baptist, Jesus had said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). John the beloved disciple, the spiritual firstborn of Woman, represents the beginning of the new kingdom.

In the light of the Cross, then, the true meaning of the scene at Cana is finally made clear. Jesus’s mysterious response could be paraphrased,

Why are you asking for me and you to be joined so soon, making me reveal myself as the Bridegroom prematurely? It isn’t yet time for our wedding. But at my hour, when the wine that is my blood is to be poured out, it will be time. Then I and you—the New Adam and the New Eve, Bridegroom and Woman—will be united at last in the intimacy of shared suffering. Our union will be fruitful. For my life, like yours, is one long pregnancy; when our hour comes, that torture will be the labor pain through which I am born into eternal life, and you become the mother of the one beloved to me, which is everyone.[15]

By giving us a mother, Jesus fulfills the prophecy enfolded in the words “Our Father,” since it is not possible for a living being to have a father without also having a mother. Yet a truth even more momentous, more staggering in its implications for the human person, is that we are his gift to her. The defining paradox of the divine economy is that we gain things, including our lives, only by giving them away (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). But what if the sacrifice is of something more precious than our own lives? God rewarded Abraham’s willing surrender of his favorite son by making him the father of nations, his descendants numberless as the stars. God rewarded Mary’s willing surrender of her only son by making her the mother of every child ever conceived, flooding her with an ocean of love as unimaginable as heaven itself.

Mary’s new role is also the fulfillment of Simeon’s enigmatic prophecy—a fourth puzzle. I have numbered the prophecy’s four components, the third of which is generally punctuated as parenthetical:

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

“[1] Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,

[2] and for a sign that is spoken against

([3] and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),

[4] that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

In the encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II treats [3] as a separate element (RM §16):

Simeon addresses Mary with the following words: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed”; and he adds with direct reference to her: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (cf. Lk. 2:34-35).

Yet the first part of Simeon’s prophecy (29-32), like most Hebrew poetry, consists of antiphonal verses whose second element supplements or responds to the first. Why would the end break that pattern, with [2] supplementing [1], but [4] augmenting [2] after a parenthetical [3]? Why would the “sign that is spoken against” cause the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed? Finally, why would Simeon, addressing Mary directly in what should be the prophecy’s climactic conclusion, put her shocking destiny in parentheses? These problems disappear if we understand [4] as responding not to [1] or [2], but to [3]. After the sword tears open her soul at the crucifixion, the labor pain of her new motherhood, Jesus will reveal the hearts of her children to her. This helps clarify the referent of “also” in verse 35: the spear that pierces Jesus’s side and the sword that pierces Mary’s soul together will bring to birth the new Church. Consonant with the invariable dynamic of Christianity, extremity of sorrow makes way for extremity of joy.

Who We Are

Recognizing the crucial importance of spiritual motherhood, encompassing both Mary’s unique role and her exemplarity for all of us, helps solve a final scriptural puzzle, the two occasions where Jesus appears to be dismissive of his mother in public. First, “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 (menoun) are those who hear the word (logos) of God and keep it (phylassontes)!’” (Luke 11:27-28). Greek menoun means “rather” in the sense not of “instead” but of “actually, still more.”[16] Hence, Jesus is not denying that Mary is blessed in her biological motherhood (an idea absurd in itself and contradicted by Luke 1:42, 48), but affirming that those who “keep safe the logos of God”[17]—a motherhood of the heart, of which Mary herself is the exemplar (Luke 1:45, 2:19, 51)—are still more blessed.

Second, both Matthew (12:46-50) and Mark (3:31-35) relate that when Jesus’s “mother and brothers” stood outside and asked to speak with him, he gestured toward the crowd he was teaching and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mark 3:35).[18] Since the narration of the episode ends here, there is no reason to suppose he did not speak with his actual mother afterward; if anything, the scene provides evidence of her continuing involvement in his public life. But more importantly, his startling words, far from rejecting Mary, signify that she is the model of discipleship—that like hers, our task is to mother Christ. We all are called to let him grow within us, to bring him forth into the world, to structure our life around him, to spend hours gazing at him in wonder and gratitude.[19] And to suffer in his suffering.

“It is in Our Lady that God fell in love with Humanity.”[20] Caryll Houslander’s simple and stunning insight is a key to interpreting the biblical narrative, for Mary, like her incarnate son, represents the human being in right relationship with God the Father. What makes that love story so baffling is that it conflicts with our intuition about what the perfect relationship should look like. The Incarnation begins with Mary’s fiat, her full and free consent to God’s proposal of marriage, echoing his fiat lux (Genesis 1:3) at the dawn of Creation; but it also foreshadows Jesus’s fiat voluntas tua (Luke 22:42) in the darkness of Gethsemane, after his prayer that the cup of suffering might pass from him—a request the Father refuses. Mary twice calls herself the Lord’s doulē (Luke 1:38, 48), (female) “servant,” just as Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a doulos,” a (male) servant (Philippians 2:6-7).

Of her love song to God (Luke 1:46-55), C. S. Lewis remarks, “There is a fierceness, even a touch of Deborah, mixed with the sweetness in the Magnificat to which most painted Madonnas do little justice; matching the frequent severity of His own sayings.”[21] Mary does not understand God’s purposes immediately (Luke 1:29, 34, 2:50). Jesus, too, grows in wisdom as he matures (Luke 2:52), and even though he and the Father are one (John 10:30), he does not share the Father’s omniscience (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32).

The one recorded episode from Jesus’s late childhood shows that intimacy with God even includes an occasional sense of abandonment. Mary experiences the almost unimaginable terror of having lost her son:

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” (Luke 2:46-48)

Her astonishment in finding him after three days, teaching in the Temple, adumbrates that of the embryonic Church when he opens the Scripture to his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27), himself having become the new Temple (John 2:19-22). But any mother who has feared her child was lost will also hear in Mary’s question, “Son, why have you treated us so?,” the memory of an anguish like that in Jesus’s cry from the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Both questions have the same answer: because, for reasons beyond our comprehension, a descent into the hell of feeling ourselves separated from God is a necessary precursor to the heaven of reunion with him.

The Book of Revelation, the prophetic vision of Mary’s first adopted son, culminates in that triumphant reunion. At the book’s center (Revelation 12), the “woman clothed with the sun” gives birth in agony to a male child who is immediately taken up to God’s throne—a heaven’s-eye view of the crucifixion.[22] After angels cast the dragon down to earth, he tries to fight the woman, but she is rescued from his clutches; he then makes war on the rest of her offspring. The New Oxford Annotated Bible commentary notes that the woman “appears to be the heavenly representative of God’s people, first as Israel (from whom Jesus the Messiah was born, v. 5), then as the Christian Church (which is persecuted by the dragon, v. 13).”[23]

Nevertheless, the ancient mystical equation of Mary (Bride of God and our Mother) with the Church (Bride of God and our Mother) follows naturally from all I have said.[24] If we re-read the rambling “first narrative” of the past two millennia in light of this prophecy, it becomes clear that many of the great movements of history can be understood as the dragon’s attempts to diminish or distort Mary’s importance. He knows the human family will remain broken until we come to realize that we have a loving Father and Mother. For the avatar of Pride, it must also be particularly irksome to have been defeated by a human girl.

And Mary is indeed human, “truly our sister,” as a prominent work of feminist Mariology reminds us.[25] She is clothed with the sun, but she is not that sun; it shines around and through her. Gerard Manley Hopkins beautifully explores the paradox of her sublime humility in his poem “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe”:

[She] mothers each new grace           
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,     
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is     
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who  
This one work has to do—    
Let all God’s glory through,      
God’s glory which would go 
Through her and from her flow           
Off, and no way but so.         

Duns Scotus’s conclusive argument for the Immaculate Conception was that Christ’s preserving Mary from sin is a more perfect testimony to his power than his liberating her from it. A comparably simple, intuitive argument for Mary’s Co-redemption and Mediation of all graces is that a story in which the continuing marital relationship of Bridegroom and Woman brings salvation is a more perfect story—even if their roles are as different as those of male and female in generating a new life, or of sunlight and air in sustaining one.[26] At Cana, Jesus chose to perform his first, iconic miracle through Mary’s intercession. From the Cross, he chose to expand that intercession to include the wants of every human being. God chooses to let his graces flow to us through her hands so that her joy, and ours, may be full. It is in gifting Mary with the dignity of causality that he most perfectly reveals his love for all his children, who we are and who we are meant to become.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The author dedicates this essay to Michelle Oberman, whose courage in crossing enemy lines set miracles in motion.

[1] Edward Sri, Rethinking Mary in the New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius 2018), 153.

[2] Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion (London: Sheed and Ward 1985), 19.

[3] David Steinmetz, “Miss Marple Reads the Bible: Detective Fiction and the Art of Biblical Interpretation,” in Taking the Long View: Christian Theology in Historical Perspective (Oxford 2011), 15-26, at 25, 16, 24.

[4] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 19.1.

[5] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah (New York: Image 2018), 27 spells out the first week of Jesus’s ministry described in John’s Gospel: Day 1, Testimony of John the Baptist (1:19); Day 2 (“the next day,” 1:29), Baptism of Jesus; Day 3 (“the next day,” 1:35), Jesus meets Andrew and Peter; Day 4 (“the next day,” 1:43), Jesus meets Philip and Nathanael. Since the biblical authors counted inclusively, “the third day” (2:1) after Day 4 would be Day 6 (pace Pitre, who calls it Day 7).

[6] Robert Barron, The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic 2007), 74.

[7] Graef (n. 2), 19.

[8] The RSV makes this a question: “Have you come to destroy us?” Manuscripts are divided about the punctuation, but the parallels I have cited weigh in favor of a statement. The demons know what Jesus has come to do; even fallen angels are angeloi (“messengers”).

[9] Throughout the Gospels, it is generally women who demonstrate this dogged persistence, such as the Canaanite woman who tells Jesus that even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30), the nagging widow in the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8), and of course the women who remain near Jesus during the crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 15:40-41, John 19:25), the crowning instance of God’s apparent refusal. The only man to show such unfailing devotion is the beloved disciple.

[10] The emphatic and prophetic nature of Mary’s command comes across more clearly in the ancient languages, where the imperative falls at the end of the sentence: “Whatever he may say/will have said to you, do.” In Latin, the verb forms used by Mary and by Jesus are identical (facite). Greek has same verb (poiein), but with different aspects: Mary’s aorist imperative poiēsate means “do once,” while Jesus’s present imperative poieite means “do and keep doing.”

[11] See Scott Hahn, The Fourth Cup: Unveiling the Mystery of the Last Supper and the Cross (New York: Image 2018); Brant Pitre, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (New York: Image 2014), 46-54.

[12] My translations in this paragraph.

[13] Quoted by Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God. Vol. 2: Lent and Eastertide (London: Scepter 1994), 286.

[14] On the beloved disciple receiving Mary eis ta idia as a reversal of the rejection described in the prologue, see Sri (n. 1), 188-91.

[15] On the crucifixion as the birth pangs of both Jesus and Mary, see Pitre (n. 5), 132-58.

[16] J. D. Denniston, The Greek Particles, 2nd edition, rev. by K. J. Dover (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1950), 479-80 notes that menoun “is used both in rejecting, and in accepting, the words of a previous speaker,” and suggests as a “bridge” between these two uses that “to disagree by substituting a stronger form of expression is virtually to agree.”

[17] The primary meaning of Greek phylassein (Latin custodire) is “guard, protect, keep safe.”

[18] For conclusive Scripture-based arguments why “brothers” (adelphoi) here refers to Jesus’s “kinsmen,” see Pitre (n. 5), 116-25. “Whoever does the will of God is my cousin” would have been a rhetorical disappointment.

[19] See John Saward, The Redeemer in the Womb (San Francisco: Ignatius 1993), 103-17. Jesus even likes it when people kiss his feet (Luke 7:45), something we can imagine his mother doing often when he was a baby.

[20] Caryll Houslander, The Reed of God (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press 2006), 32.

[21] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1958), 6.

[22] See Pitre (n. 5), 132-58.

[23] Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Revised Standard Version (New York: Oxford University Press 1962), 1503.

[24] Joseph Ratzinger, Daughter Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Belief, trans. John M. McDermott (San Francisco: Ignatius 1983), 43: “[Mary] is the true Israel in whom the Old and New Covenant, Israel and Church, are indivisibly one. She is the ‘people of God’ bearing fruit through God’s gracious power.”

[25] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (New York: Continuum 2006).

[26] On Mary’s Co-redemption, see the papers by Franciscans of the Immaculate, Mary at the Foot of the Cross – V: Redemption and Coredemption under the Sign of the Immaculate Conception (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate 2005). As the authors frequently emphasize, this “co-” means “with and dependent upon,” not “with and equal to.”

Featured Image: Juan de Flandes, Wedding at Cana, 1500; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Julia Hejduk

Julia D. Hejduk is the Reverend Jacob Beverly Stiteler Professor of Classics and Associate Dean of the Honors College at Baylor University. Her latest book is The God of Rome: Jupiter in Augustan Poetry.

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