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The Deeper Meaning of Mary’s Intercession at Cana

Woman, what have I to do with thee?

This question—posed by Jesus to Mary after she asks for His intervention at the wedding at Cana in John 2:4—is often cited by Protestants attempted to refute Catholic devotion to Mary. The translation above—which dates back at least to the King James Bible—has even seeped into some Catholic translations.

Of course, as Catholics we know that in addressing her as ‘woman’ Jesus was universalizing Mary’s role in salvation history, identifying her both as the New Eve and looking forward to her role at the crucifixion and later in the Book of Revelation. We know that, even though He hesitates, Jesus relents and performs the desired miracle, thereby marking the start of His ministry and confirming His mother’s intercessory role.

But there’s an even simpler reason why the Protestant interpretation is so wrong: Jesus did not actually say that to His mother.

The original Greek yields a different reading. The most literal translation goes like what the Douay-Rheims Bible has: ‘Woman, what is that to me and to thee?’ This reflects the Greek where the pronouns for ‘me’ and ‘you’ are used with an ‘and’ connecting them.

This seemingly minor error in translations has immense ramifications.Suddenly, rather than seeming like a rift between Jesus and Mary, Jesus’ words make it seem like they are in this together. A fair paraphrase of their words might go something like: How should we intervene? What should we do about this?

His response thus intensifies Mary’s intercessory role. Rather than balking at it and only later giving in to her request, Jesus affirms Mary’s participation in His redemptive mission.

This dynamic recasts our interpretation of His address to her as ‘woman.’ Not only is He affirming the universality of Mary as the New Eve, He is also using a form of royal address. As one commentator notes, the Greek tragic writers employed ‘woman’ in “addressing queens and persons of distinction” and the Roman historian Cassius Dio quotes Augustus as doing the same with Cleopatra.

The reality of Mary’s queenship is relevant because in the Old Testament one of the functions of the queen mother was to intercede on behalf of others for her son. This is illustrated in 1 Kings 2:

Adonijah, son of Haggith, came to Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon. “Do you come in peace?” she asked. “In peace,” he answered, and he added, “I have something to say to you.” She replied, “Speak” (verses 13-14).

Adonijah proceeds to ask her to pass on a request to Solomon that he be allowed to marry Abishag the Shunamite. She then refers to the matter to Solomon. Notice how he responds to her:

Then Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother, who sat at his right. She said, “There is one small favor I would ask of you. Do not refuse me.” The king said to her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” So she said, “Let Abishag the Shunamite be given to your brother Adonijah to be his wife” (verses 19-21).

Intriguingly, this Old Testament precedent is also wedding-related. It also occurs at the very beginning of the reign. In fact, it is the first story of Solomon’s reign recorded in 1 Kings. The verse immediately preceding this one reports that Solomon had just been seated and that his thrown had been ‘established.’

Read more at Catholic Exchange. 

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