Questions From Readers
Was Jesus being disrespectful or unkind in the way he addressed his mother at the wedding feast in Cana?—John 2:4.
Shortly after his baptism, Jesus and his disciples were invited to a marriage feast in Cana. His mother was also there. When the wine ran short, Mary told Jesus: “They have no wine.” In response, Jesus said to his mother: “What have I to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come.”—John 2:1-4.
Today, for someone to address his mother as “woman” and to say to her “what have I to do with you?” would likely be considered disrespectful, even insulting. But to lay such charges against Jesus would be to ignore the cultural and linguistic context of the event. An understanding of the usage of these expressions in Bible times would be helpful.
Regarding the term “woman,” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes: “Used in addressing a woman, it is a term not of reproof or severity, but of endearment or respect.” Other sources agree with this. For example, The Anchor Bible says: “This is not a rebuke, nor an impolite term, nor an indication of a lack of affection . . . It was Jesus’ normal, polite way of addressing women.” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology explains that the word “is used as an address with no irreverent secondary meaning.” And Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that such usage “is in no way disrespectful or derogatory.” Thus, we should not conclude that Jesus was being rude or unkind to his mother in addressing her by the term “woman.”—Matthew 15:28; Luke 13:12; John 4:21; 19:26; 20:13, 15.
What about the expression “what have I to do with you?” This is apparently a common Jewish idiom that appears a number of times in the Bible. For example, at 2 Samuel 16:10, we find David stopping Abishai from killing Shimei by saying: “What do I have to do with you men, you sons of Zeruiah? Thus let him call down evil, because Jehovah himself has said to him, ‘Call down evil upon David!’” Likewise, we read at 1 Kings 17:18 that the widow of Zarephath, upon finding that her son had died, said to Elijah: “What do I have to do with you, O man of the true God? You have come to me to bring my error to mind and to put my son to death.”
From these Bible examples, we can see that the expression “what have I to do with you?” is often used, not to show disdain or arrogance, but to refuse involvement in some proposed or suggested action or to express a difference in viewpoint or opinion. What, then, can be said about Jesus’ words to Mary?
When Mary told Jesus, “They have no wine,” she was evidently not simply informing Jesus of that fact but suggesting that he do something about it. Jesus used that common idiom to turn down Mary’s subtle suggestion, and his added words, “My hour has not yet come,” help us to see the reason for his doing so.
From the time of his baptism and anointing in 29 C.E., Jesus was keenly aware that it was Jehovah’s will for him, as the promised Messiah, to follow a course of integrity that would culminate in his death, resurrection, and glorification. “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many,” he said. (Matthew 20:28) As the time for his death neared, Jesus made this clear by saying: “The hour has come.” (John 12:1, 23; 13:1) Thus, in his prayer on the night before his death, Jesus said: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your son, that your son may glorify you.” (John 17:1) And, finally, when the mob arrived to arrest him in Gethsemane, Jesus roused the apostles from sleep and said: “The hour has come! Look! The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”—Mark 14:41.
At the wedding in Cana, however, Jesus had just embarked on his ministry as the Messiah, and his “hour” had not yet come. His primary objective was to do his Father’s will in the way and at the time that his Father directed, and no one could interfere with his determined course. In conveying this to his mother, Jesus was firm but in no way disrespectful or unkind. Mary, in turn, did not feel embarrassed or insulted by her son. In fact, sensing Jesus’ meaning, Mary told those ministering at the wedding: “Whatever he tells you, do.” Rather than ignoring his mother, Jesus performed his first miracle as the Messiah—turning water into quality wine—thus demonstrating a fine balance in doing his Father’s will and acknowledging his mother’s concern.—John 2:5-11.
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Jesus was kind but firm in speaking to his mother