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The Mother of Jesus, the Perfect Disciple, and the First Sign
The wedding at Cana is the first of the seven signs presented in the Gospel of John, and it shows us how to be true disciples
The Gospel of John presents faithful readers with seven “signs,” or miracles, performed by Christ. The first of these signs—the wedding at Cana—is by no means the least, because the story reveals many Scriptural insights and foreshadows Jesus’ divine mission.
The basic premise is well known: Jesus’ mother, along with Jesus and His disciples, are attending the wedding of an unnamed couple in the Galilean town of Cana. During the course of the celebration, the wine runs out; in the social setting of the ancient Near East, this lack was a serious and embarrassing oversight on the part of those responsible for ensuring an abundance of food and drink.
When Mary calls this situation to Jesus’ attention, His initial response seems to be that of respect yet dismissal: “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).
Yet Mary, in her purity of faith and ever-devoted love, is unfazed.
It’s interesting to note that the Blessed Mother doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything to help the socially-compromised newlyweds. Instead, she utters a simple statement, “they have no wine” (John 2:3b). She knows how her Son will respond to her words, she understands that His reaction to authentic faith will always be that of “ask, and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7).
Even after it seems as if her words have been dismissed, Mary realizes that when praying there’s no need to “heap up empty phrases … for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:7a,8). Yet her faith extends even further as she grasps a deeper truth; prayer consists not in changing God’s mind or persuading Him to do what we want, but is rather a direct and loving communication with Him, a demonstration of our personal insight into the needs God already knows we have.
Because human beings were created with free will, it’s crucial to realize, understand, and acknowledge our authentic desires. In prayerfully doing so we’re aligning our petitions to God’s will, thereby ensuring that if we ask, we receive; if we truthfully seek, we find; by knocking, the door will be opened and we will find Christ, eager and waiting to lovingly receive us.
Rather than being hurt by her Son’s response, the Blessed Mother realizes the truth of the situation and uses it to show others what authentic faith looks like. She not only intercedes on behalf of others, but she goes a step further, remaining with them to demonstrate how true faith manifests, especially during times when it appears as if prayers won’t be answered.
Instead of beseeching her Son further—she understands that He already comprehends the need—she turns to the servers. “Do whatever He tells you” (2:5) she states in matter-of-fact confidence. This shows her secondary role in redemption, while underscoring that she’s a part of God’s divinely ordained plan for the salvation of mankind.
Through Mary’s maternal mediation, Jesus’ public ministry is inaugurated. Just as the physical incarnation of the Messiah was accomplished through Mary’s fiat—her complete and unreserved submission to God’s will—so now does her continued faith bring His mission of salvation closer to fulfillment.
It’s through Marian intercession that God chose to save humanity, and as such she becomes a model of faith, hope and love.
Mary shows us how to fully and authentically live the theological virtues, how to be genuine Christians by truly incorporating Christ into the innermost reaches of our personhood. Because she’s the only human without sin—in other words, she never once deviated from the will of God—she is therefore able to intercede on our behalf so that we, too, may become perfected in Christ.
Mary’s entire life resembles one of the vessels at the wedding at Cana. Emptied of self and therefore wholly receptive when God’s hour of incarnation finally arrived, she was able to receive the full overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and become completely filled with the richest Wine, the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ.
The Blessed Mother gives humanity the means of salvation not by giving us an impersonal idea of Divinity, but actual flesh and blood. In the words of thirteenth century theologian Albert the Great, “through the Mother we have access to the Son, and through the Son to the Father. With such guides to lead us, let us have no fear at all of being refused reconciliation.”
As early as the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyon considered Mary the “cause of salvation,” in contrast to Jesus, who is salvation. The miracle at Cana is the first event ushering in that salvation, through the intercession of the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
Biblical scholar Raymond Brown has rightly pointed out that Jesus, in His love and mercy, “can never resist faith.” Despite previously stating “my hour has not yet come” (2:4), Jesus proceeds to order six stone jars to be filled with water.
Turning this water into the finest wine for the sake of others, Jesus performs the first of His seven signs in the Gospel of John. This is the moment in which a dramatic shift in the relationship between Jesus and His mother takes place. She is now no longer primarily His mother, but His disciple and follower, His faithful and faith-filled companion.
Later in His ministry Jesus will say, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? … Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt. 12:48b,50).
Through Mary’s uncompromising, perfect surrender to God, she is her Son’s primary, perfect disciple. She is mother by birth, actuality, biology; she is family through Faith.
The role of the Blessed Mother at the wedding at Cana shows all disciples how to develop true trust. “Do whatever he tells you,” she instructs the servants (2:5), a crucial line that is at the core of her motherly intercession.
Through her intercession in this, the first of the messianic “signs” in the Gospel of John, “[Jesus’] disciples began to believe in Him” (John 2:11b). By extension, through the guidance of our mother Mary, we too learn to believe in Him.
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