The Wedding at Cana: Does Jesus Rebuke His Mother?

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

Jesus and his mother Mary were at a wedding feast at Cana (as recorded in John 2). There is what seems to us a tense interaction between them. Mary observes that they have no more wine. And Jesus says to her, Woman, how does this concern of yours affect me? My hour has not yet come.  (Jn 2:4).

To modern English ears this response of Jesus seems terse and off-putting. Is Jesus annoyed by his mother’s request?  A little study of culture reveals that his repsonse ot his mother is not disrespectful but is in fact a sign of respect and readiness to comply with her request. In order to understand this we need to look at the cultural context of Jesus’ remark.

In the first place Jesus is using a Jewish expression as he speaks to his mother. The English translation we use at Mass renders it rather poorly. The Greek text of the Jewish expression is τί μο κα σοί (ti emoi kai soi) which is literally rendered: "What to me and to thee?"  What this expression does it to denote a relationship between the one who is asking and the one who is asked. In effect it is something that someone says when they are reluctant to do what the asker wants but,  based on their respect for the one who asks,  they agree to do it. Maybe the closest English expression is, "What is that between friends?"  or  "You don’t even have to ask!"

So in this interaction between Jesus and Mary we DOnote some reluctance on Jesus’ part for his hour had not yet come. And yet, because it is his mother who asks he does it. After stating his reluctance he says,"But what is that betweeen you and me?"  Mary clearly takes it as an affirmation not a rebuke for she never misses a beat and turns right to the steward and says, "Do whatever he tells you" (jn 2:5).

There are other occurrences of this Jewish expression in the Old Testament. For example in Genesis 23 Sarah had just died and Abraham wanted to bury her in Hebron in the Cave of Machpelah. But the Hittites were in possession of the Land. So Abraham offers to buy the cave from them. The King of the Hittites holds Abraham in high regard and wants to give him the cave for free. But Abraham insists on buying. After further attempts to give it to him fro free, the King of the Hittites reluctantly agrees to sell it to Abraham and utters the phrase, "if you insist on buying it, what it that between you and me (μο κα σο τί) and he accepts the money (Gen 23:15). Again, note the pattern, a request is made that a person is reluctant to do, but, based on their respect and relationship with the one requesting, they agree to do it. If you wish, there are other occurrences of this phrase (e.g. 2 Kings 3:13 & Mark 5:7 inter al) which you can consult.

So, in the end it is clear that Jesus IS a bit hesitant at his Mother’s request but out of respect for the fact that it is she who is asking he works the miracle. Far from disrepecting her  he is actually indicating respect for her in a tender way that acknowledges that she is his mother and that this fact will make him reconsider and ultimately reject his reluctance. Hence we seem on good grounds for concluding to the power of Mary’s intercession!