MARY – SESSION 10

INTRO Having reflected upon the place of Mary in the three years of Jesus’ Public Ministry as expressed in the Synoptic Gospels, we turn to the Johannine Gospel. As we discussed in earlier talks, the Fourth Gospel can be divided into four parts – the Prologue that introduces the main thrust of Johannine theology; the Book of Signs, whereby Jesus’ identity and glory is seen through His ‘works’ of power which most often echo strongly the  Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist – but only by those whose love enables them to have eyes to see and ears to hear; the Book of Glory, as the Hour of Glory comes with the betrayal, Passion and Crucifixion and triumphal Resurrection; and finally a short Epilogue of Resurrection healing appearances. Mary appears twice – at the beginning of the Jesus’ ministry at the Marriage Feast of Cana; and then at the end – at the foot of the Cross in the Hour of Glory. Yet this Gospel never refers to Mary the Mother by name, but always as ‘Woman’.

[1] ‘Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”’ (John 2: 1-12). Mary is present at this ‘first sign of glory’ and plays a pivotal role in her Son’s emergence into ministry, His embarking on the Mission the Father has entrusted to him. As we have the story in the final editing of the Gospel of John (this passage has like many others in Johannine writing has gone through layers of editing), the main focus is to proclaim the Johannine community’s belief in the pre-existence of the Word which is made flesh in Jesus, that he is the ‘glory’ of God who has to some extent ‘laid aside His majesty’ and come into this world, sent by the Father. Mary is the collaborator with God in this immense event in human history. It is her flesh that enables the Eternal Word and Son to enter into the human story and begin the Mission of the Father to bring ‘Life in all its Fullness’ to the world. She is the servant who has and will ‘do whatever He tells you’ (John 2: 5). She is the servant of the Mission of her Son in the (public) hiddenness of her motherhood. However hidden our lives (because of age or personality or employment), all of us are called and can be servants of Mission. The only way to be a disciple of Jesus is to be a missionary disciple, joyfully part of a community, the Church, which is of its essence mission. It is thought that this story of the Marriage Feast of Cana might have been current in the Johannine community at the same time  as the composition of Mark’s Gospel. If as we think the originating communities of John’s Gospel flowed from the presence and ministry of the unnamed ‘beloved Disciple’ to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother (John 19: 26-27) and Mary had been among them, then it is not surprising that this community would have deeper insight into the role Mary played in the life and developing mission of Jesus – than Mark who contrasts sharply the ‘natural family of Jesus and their unbelief with the new model of family which is the family of disciples. In those first decades of the life of the infant church in scattered communities, guided and formed by a variety of ‘oral traditions’  there were differing insights, even beliefs, that only became unified, coalesced together, over a period of the first centuries. Just as the Johannine communities had a ‘high Christology’ of the pre-existent Word, so they probably had a deeper insight and devotion to Mary, the Mother of the Word made Flesh.

[2] ‘My hour has not yet come’ (John 2: 4) Jesus has come only to do the will of His Father as John repeats so often. So the human shame of this (presumably) poor young couple on their wedding day running out of wine for their guests is not sufficient motive for Jesus to embark on Ministry – but He comes to recognise in Mary’s request the voice of the Father urging Him to begin his life’s work! Note that it was the coming of the Greeks to meet him in John 12: 20 that signalled to Him that at last ‘the Hour had come’ – Hour of Glory. Jesus in his humanity discerned the will of His Father not only in the communion of prayer, but also in the voices of the world around him – and at Cana that voice was Mary’s and the plight of a poor couple on their wedding day. Mary not only hears the Word, ponders the Word, is enveloped by the Word – she also speaks the Word: and so do we!  Perhaps we can see in Mary’s words to the servants – ‘Do whatever He tells you’ words that she also utters to Her Son, challenging Him to begin the Mission entrusted to Him by the Father. Perhaps Jesus hears these words and recognises that He is the Servant and Son who has come only to do the Will of the Father and speak the Word of the Farther (a constant theme of John’s Gospel). This prompting of Jesus to begin His ministry, this bringing the need of this poor couple to Jesus attention, is the origin of the Christian community’s seeking the intercession of Mary (as well as of other saints and of one another!). This is not the place to enter into a discussion of the meaning of intercessory prayer, except to say that prayer is always the language of love and all love comes from God and is the presence of God (Who is Love) deep within us. Prayer is our participation in God’s loving of the world – hence our intercession is not so much changing God’s mind, or reminding Him of things he has forgotten (as some prayers – even in the breviary seem to suggest!!), but rather our participation in God’s loving intent and action in the world. 

[3] Mary is instructing the Church, urging us to be faithful as People of the Covenant in the words she utters to the servants. Discipleship is a call to serve, to wash feet, to heal wounds, to challenge injustice, to bring love where there is no love. As Mary brings the Word into flesh by the Holy Spirit, so she brings to birth the Church through the Holy Spirit as the community of loving and serving disciples. She says to us as to those Wedding servants – ‘do whatever he tells you’. These words appear to be quoting Pharaoh’s words to the people of Egypt when they bring their  hunger in the lean years of famine (Genesis 41: 55) – go to Joseph and do what he tells you. Joseph of Genesis is a living prophecy of the saviour Jesus, rescuing the People. They also echo the words of the People of God when they enter into Covenant at Sinai and again when the renew the Covenant conquering the promised land under the leadership of Joshua (the name ‘Jesus’ is a translation of Jeshua – Joshua) (Joshua 24: 14-23). Mary is the servant of the Covenant relationship not only of us as individual Christians but as the whole Church, the fulfilment of the Covenant relationship that began with Abraham. She is the disciple who  expresses the fulness of Covenant discipleship, being beloved daughter and loving servant as well as gathering Mother. She is among us to encourage us along the Way of Christ, enabling by the power of the Spirit the Mission of Christ, the Mission of the Father, to be continued and indeed completed by us the Church (by the end of time – working towards to the Final Coming of Christ in all Glory). 

Leave a Reply