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Sunday Week 2 Year C

Print Version January 14th, 2007

Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; I Cor 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

Here’s a quiz for you… How many times does Mary appear in John’s gospel? … Trick question: the answer is none. The ‘mother of Jesus’, however, appears twice. Isn’t that a strange way to tell the story? It’s not that John didn’t know her name – so something else must be going on here.

In fact, the way John tells the story today, the mother of Jesus is quite an ambiguous character. She has her eye on the dwindling wine supply and she has faith in her son to be able to put it right. And though Jesus seems quite rude to her with his ‘Woman, what is that to you or to me’, he still goes ahead and works a wonder with water and wine. But then John doesn’t mention her again until she stands with the other women at the foot of the cross.

So is she the hero of our little story or does she miss its meaning? I think John is trying to tell us she falls somewhere in between. She believes in Jesus and his power and she wants him to use it but she hasn’t grasped the one essential thing about her son. Nowhere in John’s gospel does Jesus do anything that anyone asks him to do. The one person he listens to is God. No one else.

And I think it’s the same here: the mother of Jesus asks for a domestic face-saver and Jesus tells her off — it isn’t his hour; instead of a conjuring trick Jesus gives a sign, he lets his glory be seen. He doesn’t do what his mother asks; he does what God says.

That’s why I think John never names her. Jesus is not defined by his parentage; he isn’t who he is because of his mother but because of God. And that goes for Mary too. As John writes it she isn’t important in her own right but only in her relationship to Jesus. And that’s true for each of us. Whatever the joys and gifts and blessings and burdens we have through family and friends, through history and experience – none of that is our identity, none of it names us truly. Our only true name rises from our relationship to Jesus. …

There’s another unnamed character in John’s gospel: the Beloved Disciple. The Beloved Disciple is there with the mother of Jesus at the cross. We tend to think that John means himself when he writes the Beloved Disciple but I think he means you and he means me. That is who we are. That is our true name. We are only known by who we are to Jesus – each of us is that Beloved Disciple. ‘Beloved of Jesus’ is our only true name.

Entry Filed under: Homilies,Loyola Hall

12 Comments

  • 1. Eifion  |  January 14th, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    I’m really not sure about Jesus being rude to his mother. His reply to me brings out his humanity: he’s unsure of himself at this stage and expresses this as anyone would at some stage – maybe awkwardly, but very humanly. I like this. I know he understands when I do the same.

  • 2. crystal  |  January 14th, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Like Eifion, I wonder about the rudeness. Last night I posted John Dear’s take on this. He says …

    Jesus calls his mother “Woman,” the normal, polite form of address for his time. His question is also a common Hebrew expression, literally meaning, “What is this to me and to you?”

    Is that so?

  • 3. Rob  |  January 14th, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    My memory fails me on details but i did some research on this maybe a dozen years ago (!) and found more support for the rebuke than the ‘polite form of address’. Certainly one of the standard ‘problems’ in the literature about this passage is Jesus’ dissociation of his agenda from his mother’s, focused in his words to her–so much so that one ‘solution’ is to hypothesise a source text with the dialogue missing which John bends to his own purpose. Even the eirenic Raymond Brown sees a parallel between this story and the synoptic one of Mary and Jesus brothers coming to take him away.

    There is a tendency to find ‘kind’ interpretations of both Jesus and Mary and I don’t think the text supports them too easily here. John writes a prose that is full of symbolic echoes rather than being a natural narrative and it is not one of his central concerns to bring out Jesus’ humanity.

    But this passage puzzles me which means I am not certain of a meaning but grasping at possibilities–I welcome other angles.

  • 4. crystal  |  January 14th, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    I notice myself really wanting a “nice” Jesus … so much for letting people be themselves.

  • 5. Eifion  |  January 15th, 2007 at 3:37 am

    When I commented I confused two issues.
    1) I said I wasn’t sure about Jesus being rude because it puzzles me that we question his use of “woman” here and not when he uses it on the cross.

    2) I suspected I would be challenged about John not being concerned with the humanity of Jesus. I wasn’t concerned with John’s theology! Neither was I looking for a nice Jesus. I was simply describing the Jesus I see in this passage: at the start of his ministry, unsure what’s going to happen, surprised by his mothers suggestion, not acting as the unreal perfect son who jumps to attention with a “Yes, Mum” every time. I like to imagine him as a boy asked to go to the well while he is playing and replying “Do I have to?” This time it is different. He knows he has to listen to his Father and that in doing so he has to tread on the toes of even those closest to him and he maybe expresses this badly. He doesn’t sound particularly nice but it’s very believable – even if John didn’t have this in mind!

  • 6. Tin  |  January 15th, 2007 at 9:52 am

    what is the difference between a homily and a sermon?

  • 7. Rob  |  January 15th, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Tin: There is probably a technical difference though dictionaries tend to not distinguish them too much… but I think of a sermon as being longer and maybe more thematic than a homily. A homily is more focused on doing something with the particular bit of scripture presented for a particular day. You could do a sermon on ‘suffering’ or ‘peace’ but a homily would have to emerge from what is going on in ‘this’ text as Jesus for example says ‘blessed are the peacemakers’.

    Eifion: Further to the above I’d add that a good homiletic principle which I would like to embody more fully is to respect the text. I mean to make homilies on John echo John’s concerns and style, to resist ‘solving’ parables, to keep the poetry in preaching on Isaiah, the pithiness in Proverbs, and the oddness in the Apocalypse. It’s a principle which can conflict with other valid aims like finding the humanity of Jesus.

  • 8. Helen  |  February 15th, 2007 at 12:28 am

    I strongly disagree with this post. Jesus was who he was because of his humanity and he got that where? Mary!

    This post borders on the insane at best. Bad theology at worst.

    Sorry, but it stinks.

  • 9. Clay  |  February 28th, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    I agree about the humanity part of Jesus. I really do think that he was very capable of being ticked at times, but maybe not in the way we think. I recently was feeling very smothered by my mother and told her of my needed space. You would think I told her I hated her by her reaction. I realize this may add an element of what we believe about Mary’s nature or even Jesus’, but what about her sort of pushing in on Jesus’ boundary and he calling her “woman” as a way of pushing back and enforcing his boundary? This is surely informed by my experience with my own mother, but I wonder if it has any substance to it.

  • 10. Clay  |  February 28th, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    I agree about the humanity part of Jesus. I really do think that he was very capable of being ticked at times, but maybe not in the way we think. I recently was feeling very smothered by my mother and told her of my needed space. You would think I told her I hated her by her reaction. I realize this may add an element of what we believe about Mary’s nature or even Jesus’, but what about her sort of pushing in on Jesus’ boundary and he firmly saying “woman” as a way of pushing back and enforcing his boundary? This is surely informed by my experience with my own mother, but I wonder if it has any substance to it.

  • 11. Helen  |  February 28th, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    I just re-read this post again, and with each time I do, I get more convinced that this is a subtle seed planting of heresy.
    Readers, please read this again but each time the authour mentions Mary or mother of Jesus please insert the word Holy Catholic Church in it’s place and you will see where this is headed.
    Note all the negatives the authour has connected to Our Lady.
    It’s a fine example of what is wrong with most Jesuits today.
    Their failed mission to eliminate Protestant Heresy was just the start. Look how that one turned out. They did not do the job then, and many are now steering the Church into the abyss with the subtle and not so subtle agenda they push in their warped theology. Thankfully, Jesus Christ promised the gates of Hell will not prevail.
    Mary, pray for us!

  • 12. Paul  |  June 18th, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Have just been wandering through some of these older posts, and was sorry to read Helen’s comments.

    “This post borders on the insane at best”.

    No, at best, it seeks to give an honest reading of the text from John’s Gospel.

    It seems sad that pointing out what does seem reasonably plain from the gospel text should cause such a sense of panic and alarm.

    Thanks for the homily though Rob.
    “Our only true name rises from our relationship to Jesus”
    🙂


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