Print Version January 14th, 2007
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.