Here is a succinct and potent reflection from Stephen Beale at https://catholicexchange.com about the wedding feast of Cana (today’s Gospel). These are points that you have heard from me before because they are so illuminating vis-à-vis this passage and the continuity of Scripture.
May you know the peace of Christ,
When it comes to Mary in the Gospels, John 2:4 is a real head-scratcher.
It’s the wedding at Cana and the wine has run out. When Mary informs Jesus, here is the startling reply: Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.
It doesn’t sound like any way to talk to your mother, let alone any ‘woman’ for that matter. But many interpreters, including many evangelical Protestants, take this verse on face value, concluding it is some kind of rebuke. One well-respected evangelical scholar, D.A. Carson, takes it this way, suggesting that Jesus is putting some distance between Himself and Mary and signaling that He starts His ministry on His initiative alone.
Mary is mediator at Cana
Not only does this reading grate against the Church’s teaching on Mary, it also is completely at odds with the context. There are two glaring facts that argue for another reading. First, Mary does not shrink back as if chastised. Instead, she boldly charges off to the servants telling them to do whatever Jesus tells them. Not only is this not the behavior of someone who has just been chastised but it indicates that Mary expected Jesus to take action: she took his statement as a positive response to her request.
Was Mary right?
Well, we next see Jesus changing water into wine. This confirms her reaction.
Far from diminishing the stature of Mary, this confirms her role as a mediator and intercessor on our behalf with Christ…
Mary’s intercessory role is further confirmed in the very beginning of the Cana account. As John Paul II notes, Jesus’ appears to have been invited to the wedding by virtue of his association with Mary. Indeed, Jesus and his disciples are listed as guests after Mary. It is through Mary that Jesus comes to us. As radical as this may sound, it is simply a working out of the truth of the Incarnation itself.
And this is not just some random moment of John’s gospel. It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
And there’s more.
Mary: from Cana to the Cross
The word that at first blush seems derogatory—woman—turns out to be steeped in meaning.
Our first clue comes in the second sentence, in which Jesus mentions that His ‘hour’ has not come. To the uninitiated reader, Jesus’ reference to timing might seem to reinforce the anti-Marian interpretation: Now is not really a good time. But ‘hour’ in the gospel of John, when not referring to a specific hour of the day (such as the “tenth hour” in John 1:39), is always a symbolic reference to Jesus’ death and hidden exaltation on the cross (His ‘last hour’ if you will).
The word ‘hour’ thus connects this moment—this beginning of His public life—to its climax on the Cross. Now, Mary’s intercession takes on even greater significance: it sets off the chain of events that lead right to the Cross. In John 19, we see Mary at the foot of the Cross—she has not receded into the background. She has not decreased as Christ as increased because she is not in competition with her son (as Catholic scholar Matthew Levering well notes in his new book Mary’s Bodily Assumption). Instead, at the foot of the cross, Mary’s connection with Christ’s saving work is confirmed.
And, at the crucifixion, Jesus happens to again address her as ‘woman’—this time in the context of making provisions for her to stay with the Beloved Disciple. (By the way, this tender moment further argues against taking ‘woman’ to be a derogatory term.) This reminds us again of Mary’s intercessory role at Cana. And it reminds us of this role at a crucially important moment.
Mary as the new Eve
But why is Mary addressed as ‘woman’ in the first place? Besides linking Cana to the cross, what does this form of address itself mean?
John Paul II notes that the word ‘woman’ recalls the prophecy in Genesis 3:15, in which Eve is described in similarly anonymous language: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.
Mary as Woman
To call Mary ‘woman,’ then alludes back to this passage, which is sometimes called the protoevangelium—or proto-gospel—because it looks forward to Christ. As John Paul II notes, “By his redemptive death Jesus Christ conquers the evil of sin and death at its very roots.” But, as Genesis 3:15 makes clear, this cosmic drama between Christ and Satan also involves another person involved: ‘woman.’ In addressing Mary in this way, then, Christ is confirming her universal role is this conflict between heaven and hell.
Suffice it to say, in terms of Marian theology, this connection to Genesis 3:15 is enormously important. The typological connection between Mary as the new Eve has bearing upon just about every Marian teaching of the Church.
To take just one example, consider the Immaculate Conception, the dogma that Mary was spared the stain of original sin. How does her status as the new Eve figure into the picture here? As strange as it sounds, it is a biblical fact that Adam, Eve, and Mary are the only three human beings ever to have been born without original sin. Remember, original sin came after the first sin of Adam and Eve. Just as Eve was without the stain original sin, so also was Mary, thanks to the pre-emptive intervention of Christ.