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Gospel of John--High Christology

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2:1 - 11--Water Into Wine


Mary's Role


Most people are at least vaguely familiar with this initial narrative (if nothing else than by the vernacular term "turning water into wine"), though not as many people may be aware that this was Jesus' first miracle. Even fewer understand the underlying meaning to it, because the underlying meaning is much debated. We will discuss those possible meanings next week; this week, we concentrate on the interaction between Jesus and His mother.


Jesus' interaction with His mother is of particular interest--and perhaps confusion--here. First, it is worth noting that Jesus' mother is never referred to by name in this Gospel. Furthermore, she only appears twice: her first appearance being here at the wedding; her next appearance at the foot of the cross, when Jesus entrusts her to the care of a likewise unnamed disciple, the author of this Gospel. Perhaps it is significant that she is present at the beginning, and present at the end.


We're not entirely sure what Mary expected when she came to Jesus with the situation about the wine. On the one hand, the assumption is that she expected a miracle; on the other hand, if this is Jesus' first miracle, it calls into question such an expectation. To which one might counter: Mary knew, from the beginning, about Jesus' special role on earth--i.e., she knows what He is capable of (even if He has not yet manifested said abilities); in response to this, though, we note that it is strongly implied in all the Gospels that Jesus, during His ministry, had a strained relationship with His family, who did not fully understand (see Mark 3:21 for one such example). Which then puts us back to square one: we don't entirely know what Mary expected, other than she expected Jesus to do something--even if only to provide some resourcefulness in an earthly manner.


Return for a moment to the subject of Jesus' strained relationship with His family. It may very well be that the strained family relationship began, in earnest, at this very moment (or perhaps not, taking also into account Luke 2:48 - 49). Jesus' address to His mother ("Dear woman" in the NIV) has a poignant underlying tension not present in the English translations. It is a term that conveys courtesy, but generally in the Greek writings of the time it was not the warm language one expects between mother and child. The next statement, Jesus' question, furthers this perception. The manner in which the question is phrased in the Greek implies a certain distance between the two parties speaking, perhaps even a bit of a rebuke. Again, it is not a rude statement, but it is also certainly not typical between mother and son.


D.A. Carson suggests that part of the issue here might have been an underlying assumption on Mary's part: that, as the one who raised Jesus, she is somehow entitled to an "inside track" to the Messiah. Perhaps Jesus feels the necessity of making clear that His life now must solely be focused on his role as Messiah, and family ties can't play into that. Carson may be correct on this point; Jesus will go on to make direct statements to that effect (Luke 14:26 - 27). Furthermore, we note again Mark 3:21, and that Jesus' family did not seem to understand what Jesus was doing. If Mary is in that camp, then perhaps Jesus senses in this request a misunderstanding about the nature and purpose of His ministry on earth--and feels the need to speak sternly, so as to clarify what He is, and is not, here to do.


This tension is paralleled later in John's Gospel, 7:3 - 10. Here, Jesus' brothers try to goad Him into going to Judea. As with His mother here, Jesus initially rejects the proposal--yet later reverses course and does it. Carson's suggestion is that Jesus feels it important to do His ministry on His terms, not the terms of His family: in chapter 7, He will go to Judea, but not in a way that suggests it was in response to the teasing of His brothers; here, Jesus does see merit in the act of providing the wine, but not in a way that suggests it was because of his mother's request.


What, then, was the merit in this miraculous act? We will discuss that next week. For this week, we close with a final observation by Carson. When Mary initially approaches Jesus, she approaches as a mother--and is rebuked. Irregardless of this, though, she turns to the servants and says, "Do whatever He tells you." This, now, is the response of faith--and it is this response Jesus honors when He turns the water into wine. It can also serve as an contemporary example, this message (however inadvertent) from Jesus' own mother to us today: "Do whatever He tells you."


Mary's story is not yet done, and we will return to her in chapter 19. Next week, we explore the theological significance of the passage. See you then!


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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