Questions From Readers
● Was not Jesus showing disrespect for his mother by saying: “What have I to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come”?—C. B., U.S.A.
Jesus said this at a wedding feast in Cana early in his ministry. The account reads: “When the wine ran short the mother of Jesus said to him: ‘They have no wine.’ But Jesus said to her: ‘What have I to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to those ministering: ‘Whatever he tells you, do.”’—John 2:3-5.
First, let us consider Christ’s use of the term “woman.” In modern speech, to address one’s mother as “woman” might sound disrespectful. Yet, as translator E. J. Goodspeed observed, the Greek word used in John 2:4 “is neither as distant as [the modern word woman] nor as affectionate as” mother. It has a wide range of force and, as used in the case found here, it carries a degree of respect or affection.—Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott.
Both angels and the resurrected Jesus used this word in addressing Mary Magdalene as she was weeping in sorrow at Christ’s tomb; surely they would not have been harsh or disrespectful. (John 20:13, 15) And on the stake Christ used the same form of address for his mother when he showed his concern for her, placing her in the care of his beloved apostle John. (John 19:26; see also John 4:21; Matthew 15:28.) Consequently, Jesus was not being disrespectful when he used this word in Cana. Rather he spoke, we can be sure, with an awareness of his Scriptural obligation to honor her, just as he later emphasized to the scribes and Pharisees.—Matt. 15:4.
The expression, “What do I have to do with you,” is an ancient form of question often found in the Bible. (2 Sam. 16:10; 1 Ki. 17:18; 2 Ki. 3:13; Mark 1:24; 5:7) It can be translated literally: “What do we [or, I] and you have in common?” and it is a repellent form. Its severity would, of course, depend on the tone of the speaker. It indicates objection to the thing suggested.—Compare Ezra 4:3 and Matthew 27:19.
When Jesus used that expression he was already the Christ and God’s King-designate. He was not a young child living in his mother’s house and under her immediate supervision. Now he took his directions from God who sent him. (1 Cor. 11:3) Thus, when his mother, by her statement, in effect began telling him what to do, Jesus resisted or objected. In regard to his ministry and miracles he was not to be directed by friends or family. (John 11:6-16) Christ’s reply showed that when it was time for him to act in a certain situation he would do so. He knew the time for action in this matter and did not have to be prodded.
Evidently Mary did not regard Jesus’ words as a stern rebuke but understood his tone. She wisely left the matter in her son’s hands. It might be added that “in the Greek any abruptness in the question was softened, not heightened, by the use of the word [woman] with it, as a term of affection or respect.”—Problems of New Testament Translation, p. 100.