Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What is it between you and me, Woman?

Someone explained to me that after Mary says "they have no wine", Jesus, who has grown weary of his mother's constant nagging, tells his mother to get lost with the rather odd phrase "What is it between you and me, Woman?" Methinks this person has read into the Scriptures something that cannot be read out of them.

In this second luminous mystery of the wedding at Cana, we have the last dialogue between Jesus and his Mother which appears in scripture (the first we already saw in the fifth joyful mystery of finding Jesus in the temple). In the first luminous mystery we struggled with why Jesus needed to be baptized (a problem of systematic theology) and ended focusing on our relationship with the Lord and how it begins with our consent but needs to mature to the point where we totally relinquish control of our own lives to the Lord. In the same spirit, let us struggle with the meaning of the phrase "what is it between you and me, Woman?" (a problem of exegesis) in hopes that we will learn something of the relationship between Mary and Jesus. For just as Jesus gives us the perfect example of what we should do and believe, the relationship of love between Jesus and Mary gives us one of the very best examples of what our own relationship with the Lord should be like.

If I learned anything from my days at Regent College, it was extreme caution against drawing any kind of connotative meaning from a literal translation of biblical text. Language is usage and changes quickly. King George VI remarked less than a hundred years ago that a piece of art was "awful, contrived, and artificial". And this was meant as a compliment! Yes, "back in those days" awful meant it inspired awe, contrived meant that deliberate effort had been spent to produce noticeable beauty, and artificial meant that it had the splendour of a beautiful work or artifice. So when a phrase uttered "back in those days" gets translated into English, what sounds like an insult may not in fact be one.

My cousin tells me that the original Greek which gets rendered "what is it between you and me?" is actually a Greek phrase which continues to this day and gets uttered when someone wants to express a sentiment roughly like "that's amazing, I was thinking the exact same thing" (Yes, I know Petersen takes the "it's none of our business" interpretation but then we have the trouble of explaining why Jesus acts the way he does in response to Mary's "disobedience" rather than dealing with the difficulty of "my time has not yet come" - and therein lies the inherent difficulty with exegesis - you ask two biblical scholars and you get three answers).

If we, for the moment, take the interpretation that Jesus is expressing a consonance rather than dissonance of thought between himself and his Mother, we have a beautiful picture of a well-functioning team led by Our Lord. Like many other of Our Lord's commands, this one seems positively ludicrous. Fill the jars intended for ablutions with water and give it to the chief wine taster? How would you react if you ran out of wine at a party and someone told you to go fetch some water from the toilet bowl tank and start giving that stuff out? (like the ablution jars, technically it's clean but sure has some strong associations with very dirty stuff) I know I didn't really believe in this "turn the other cheek" and "bless those who persecute you" that I heard every Sunday until the Pope went and visited Ali Agca to forgive the man for attempting to murder him. Before believing in the promises of the Bible, almost every convert tells of how they met a person who believed in the promises of the Bible. While the words of Our Lord are truth in of themselves, the witness of just one person who believes the words of Our Lord can carry more weight with the undecided than the entirety of the Sacred Scriptures themselves. It is almost as if when someone believes the words of Our Lord, the word is made flesh once again. Now Mary knows from many years of experience (starting perhaps with finding him in the Temple) just how shocking and unexpected Jesus actions can be. And so she proactively and confidently tells the servants to "do whatever he tells you".

In this narrative of Jesus, Mary, and the servants bringing new wine to the wedding, we see here a perfect picture of what happens during "evangelism". It begins with someone who already has a relationship with the Lord noticing that many people are "without wine" and approaching the Lord with this concern. Why Jesus waited until Mary said something constitutes as much of a mystery as why Jesus often waits for us to pray for someone by name before converting them. The Lord then takes over and starts saying things which stretch the our bounds of credibility. And yet, a key witness still plays a part and says "we can trust Jesus and do whatever he says". People decide to trust because someone else also trusts - and the best wine ever brings new life to the party.

What is it between you and your Lord? It is your relationship with him, built on trust, united in concern for others, and a source of great blessing to those around you.

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