The Marriage Feast At Cana: Bearing His Reproach

There is a curious exchange between Jesus and His mother Mary during the wedding feast at Cana in John 2. As with many of the stories in the Gospel written by John, there is more going on than what may first appear. Let us dig into this account of the wedding and unpack what the Spirit is saying to us. “It is the glory of Kings to search out a matter.” (Prov. 25:2)

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said unto him, They have no wine. Jesus said to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? my hour is not yet come. His mother said unto the servants, whatsoever he says unto you, do it. (John 2:1-5)

Now there is a great deal to be gleaned from a careful study of these few verses. Sometimes we miss the deeper messages of Scripture when we read too quickly. The first thing to notice is that Mary, Jesus, and also His disciples were invited to the feast. In Jewish culture, a family of very modest means would be able to invite only immediate family. If the family were of sufficient means, extended family members would also be included. If the host of the wedding feast was well-to-do, even acquaintances of friends might be invited to a large event. Because Jesus’ disciples were invited, we know this was an event of the latter type. Keep in mind that this wedding took place before any fame of Jesus had gone forth; therefore there would have been no reason to include His disciples unless the wedding was large and included the entire family, even distant relatives and their friends.

Secondly, notice that Mary was able to issue a command to the servants catering the feast. Furthermore, her command was acted upon. This can only mean one thing: Mary was related closely to the bridal party! In Jewish culture at this time, women had little or no social standing. Mary would have had no authority to tell anyone to do anything unless she was a very close family member. These two facts indicate that Mary and Jesus’ entire family was present at this large feast. Understanding of this detail is pivotal to grasping the significance of what is happening here between Jesus and Mary, and His apparent disrespect to His mother as well as her ignoring His response.

Now we must go back in time about 30 years prior to the wedding. We see a young and innocent, pure-hearted Jewish virgin who was probably a teenager. Mary is living her life, loving the God of Israel and maybe thinking about the promise of a coming Messiah. Perhaps it was the secret desire of every Jewish girl to be the one through whom Messiah would come. Mary is excited to be espoused (engaged) to a quiet but godly man named Joseph and she plans her wedding. Suddenly one day she is stunned by the appearance of an Angel of the Lord, Gabriel himself, who had given the promise of Messiah to Daniel centuries earlier! The angel delivers a message that is so shocking Mary can barely receive it: She is to conceive and bear the Savior of Israel! Mary asks how this can be possible, seeing that she has never had sexual relations with her espoused.

And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Ghost shall come on you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

Mary humbly accepts this Divine pronouncement and immediately travels to see her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant despite her advanced age. Elizabeth’s unborn child is John the Baptist, and the child leaps in her womb when he hears Mary’s greeting. Notice that Elizabeth acknowledges that Mary is carrying the Messiah:

And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43)

Mary is ecstatic that she has been chosen to birth the Messiah. Her response clearly shows how excited she is that all Israel will honor her and recognize her special status:

And Mary said, My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior! For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from now on all generations shall call me blessed. (Luke 1:46-48)

Right away, things begin to go in a different direction than Mary has envisioned. Her fiancée wants to divorce her! She tells him it was an angel, and he says, “It was someone but I doubt he was an angel!” Only a divine intervention saves the marriage, but the pain of distrust and rejection has been sewn into the relationship even before the wedding takes place. They quickly marry and the rumors and stories about the pregnancy spread.

Next, the young couple is required to travel a long distance to pay taxes just as the pregnancy is in the final stage. The child is born in an animal stall, and nobody from Mary’s family sees the star, the shepherd worshipers, the angelic proclamations, or the visits from foreign dignitaries. Mary is given a curious prophetic word in the temple when Jesus was circumcised (again, no family members present to hear):

And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:35)

It is commonly thought that the sword that pierced Mary’s heart was seeing her son crucified. While this would indeed be heartbreaking, I don’t think this is what Simeon’s prophetic utterance meant. Notice that the purpose of this sword would be to expose the thoughts of many hearts. While Mary’s pain at seeing the cross was real, this did not reveal any hidden motives in others. I believe the sword that pierced her heart was the stigma and shame of Jesus’ conception and birth that Mary lived with her entire life.

We must understand that the shame attached to fornication and illegitimacy in ancient Israel was far different than what it is in our own postmodern, fallen culture. These days such things don’t even cause a blip on the moral radar for most people. Mary raised Jesus with the shame of sexual sin on her. In fact, she could have been stoned to death under the Law for fornication. To put it plainly and in modern English, her Jewish family considered her to be an adulteress raising her little bastard child. She lived with this shame for 30 years. Just imagine it… the little comments, the glances, the rejection and cold treatment from self-righteous relatives… all for saying yes to God and being chosen by Him for a rare blessing. Mary was the first person to suffer falsely for having Christ formed in her.

Fast forward to Cana. Mary’s entire extended family is gathered together, probably for the first time since Jesus has matured. The only people who knew that Jesus is the Messiah are dead (Zachariah and Elizabeth were old when Jesus was born and no mention is made of them once John was born, and Joseph has apparently died also), and John himself is in the wilderness beyond Jordan and probably not the sort to attend (or be invited!) to a wedding feast. This is the background and context for the exchange between Jesus and Mary at the wedding.

I want to suggest that when Mary tells Jesus they have run out of wine, she has an ulterior motive. And Jesus knows the thoughts and intentions of every heart! Mary wants to use her position to manipulate Jesus into an action that will vindicate her in the eyes of her family. And Jesus responds to her with a question and a statement, “Woman, what have I to do with you? My time has not yet come.” In other words, Jesus tells her that His power is not to be used to solve her pride issue. And really, that is what we all come to grips with when we are falsely accused; our pride is hurt when our reputation is sullied. Jesus uses the term “woman” to address his mother; this is not disrespect but a calling out of her humanity. At this moment she was more His disciple needing correction than His mother. But Mary is not deterred- this is a rare opportunity to have the stigma lifted from her in front of all the family and she is not to be denied. “Do whatever He tells you”, she instructs the servants.

We all know the story. The water pots are filled with water, the servants draw out wine, the governor of the feast exclaims that the best wine has been saved till the end, and nobody knows about the miracle except for the servants who filled the pots. Beloved, sometimes God will give us what we ask and we still won’t be happy with the outcome! This is because God’s purpose will always come to pass in our lives regardless of what we receive from Him. And God was more concerned about Mary’s heart than with her reputation. The feast ended, everyone went home, and a frustrated Mary still bore the stigma. “Adulteress.” “Making up stories about angels.”

The greatest danger to our hearts when we are falsely accused, lied about, and rejected for His Name’s sake is bitterness and offense. There is some indication that Mary wrestled with these issues. Once, she came to a place where Jesus was teaching, bringing along the Lord’s brothers who we know from scripture did not believe in Him. (If you think your family presents challenges, imagine growing up in that household!) Mary and the boys did not enter, but waited outside and called for him to come out. His reply is not the warmest of responses:

And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brothers? And he looked round about on them who sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:33-34)

There was a group of women who traveled with Jesus and sustained His ministry financially. His mother is never named among this group, nor is she ever identified as sitting at Jesus’ feet as He was teaching.

How does this story end? Did Mary overcome her heart issues, offenses, and come to grips with the cross she had to take up as part of God’s assignment for her life? I am so joyful to be able to report that she did! How do we know? Of all the multitudes that heard Jesus, saw His miracles, and were moved by His love, only 120 attended the prayer meeting that He commanded on the day He ascended back to the Father. 120 people, all in one accord and in one place, praying and seeking God for ten days until the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost. And guess who is named among those in that upper room prayer meeting? Mary! The blessed mother of our Lord, under the care of John the beloved, was there. She overcame the shame, the hurt, the rejection, the stigma, and entered into the promise of the Father. Hallelujah! And do you know what else happened? She is now called blessed by all generations, just as she prophesied as a young, enthusiastic teenaged virgin visiting her cousin. It just didn’t happen the way she thought it would. It never does.

Beloved, if our Lord did not let His own mother off the hook, then we can have assurance that He will deal with us in like manner. Notice how in His love, the Father actually orchestrated the events of Mary’s life so that her honor was hidden: She was alone when the angel came; her cousin was advanced in years and so was dead when Jesus was matured; taxation forced the birth and all that accompanied it to be far from family; her husband died prematurely; and ultimately her Nation rejected her Son.

Accepting the assignment of God for our life may seem exciting when we first hear the call, but following Jesus will cost you everything: Your friends, your reputation, your honor among men, your worldly security. It cost Jesus everything; it cost His mother everything too, and we are not exempt. It was the religious people who rejected Mary and killed her Son; they won’t treat us any better. A sword pierced Mary’s heart, revealing the thoughts of many. Will we bear the stigma for having Christ formed within us?

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. (Hebrews 13:13)