By: Rev. Paul Scalia
And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:1-11).
Perhaps it is the seemingly rude form of address: Woman. Or the bluntness of the question itself: What have you to do with me? Most likely it is the combination of both that makes this question so shocking. And, granted, a certain shock value is intended. But neither the form of address nor the question should offend. The word “Woman” is used as an honorific, a term of respect — something akin to “my Lady.” The question itself is not a dismissal of His mother’s request, but rather an invitation to consider its implications more deeply.
Although Mary simply states a fact — “They have no wine” — her words carry the weight of a petition. She is clearly interceding, asking Him to do something that only He — not the headwaiter, not the sommelier, not the vintner — can do. This will be the first of His signs, by which He manifests His glory and His disciples believe in Him. This miracle will set into motion His public ministry, lifting the veil from the simple Carpenter of Nazareth and bringing Him to the Cross. And the instigator is His mother and her simple words of intercession.
So Jesus, by His striking but inoffensive question, calls her attention to what this will mean for her personally. Her request will change her, not only the events outside of her. “Woman,” He says, because she will become not only His Mother but also The Woman prophesied in Genesis (cf. Gen 3:15). “What have you to do with me?” He asks, because from this point on she will be not only His mother but also the New Eve to complement Him, the New Adam, in the work of redemption. His miracle will bring her to the foot of the Cross and to hear Him say, “Woman, behold your son.” There she will become not only His mother but Mother of the Church.
Thus, our Lord’s question asks, in effect, Are you willing to be changed? Are you willing to be not just My mother, but also the New Eve, My cooperator in the work of redemption, and Mother of the Church? She, of course, is undaunted by His question and yields to the work of grace work within her. As always, the Virgin Mary demonstrates in a unique and unrepeatable way what is true for all Christians. In this case, that intercession calls for a personal investment, a willingness to be changed, to be more closely bound to the One to Whom we intercede.
We tend to view intercessory prayer in a mercantile manner: If I spend this amount of time in prayer, say this many rosaries or novenas, then I will get what I ask. Even better, we would like to deposit our request and be on our way. But when we pray for someone, we ourselves have to be invested in that prayer. Otherwise we become like pagans, who “think that they will be heard for their many words” (Mt 6:7). We ourselves have to be willing to be changed, not just the things outside of us. How much of our intercession is blocked or stifled because of our unwillingness to be changed! What an odd prayer of intercession, to beg God’s grace for others, and be unmoved by it ourselves.
Mary intercedes for this nameless couple…and our Lord calls attention to the change to occur in her. What we learn from our Lord’s question is that our prayer of intercession hinges on our union with Him and, even more, on our willingness to be transformed by that union. We cannot pray for a change and then be unwilling to change. As often as we intercede, we — wittingly or not — draw close to the Intercessor, to the one Mediator, Who alone obtains answers to our prayers. And we cannot remain the same in proximity to Him.
This is the last of seven posts that will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.