Since that day in 2000 when I surrendered my heart to the cross, perhaps the greatest obstacle to the purpose I have adopted is the received wisdom of Christian teaching. The ambiguity of ancient accounts means that they provide rich metaphors that reflect powerfully on the challenges that we face every day. That, in turn, makes scripture approachable, where if we were to face the events in their full psychological significance, we would feel like corks in a tidal wave, unable to apprehend at all how we might hope to play a role.
This means, unfortunately, that a thick veneer of common wisdom hides the personalities that must be unveiled if scripture is to be fulfilled. These people must be called out of the past, welcomed, and healed. To do that we must try to see them as people struggling against powerful forces, but people none-the-less, sensitive even more than most to the sorrows and joys of love’s action in the world.
To those that have followed my writing, this thread may appear lost in the flood. I have addressed it twice in recent memory: the reposting of Mary, Contrarily from my blog at anewgaia.ning.com, and again in On Following. But it was also there in the first posts I wrote in 2014, though I may have seemed to have been stretching in considering the personality of Christ himself in All the Vice of Jesus and We Can’t Say ‘Thanks’ Enough.
I wasn’t expecting to return to Mary, but two Sundays running I found myself in different settings listening to the story of the Marriage at Cana. In both cases, the speakers focused on the drama engineered by Jesus. The intensity of my sympathy to Mary’s predicament was unexpected, and in one case actually seemed foreign.
Consider the history: On the day of his presentation at the Temple, Mary is approached by Simeon, who prophesies:
This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Then in his twelfth year, after the festival, Jesus stays behind without permission to offer wisdom to the priests. When his parents discover his whereabouts, Jesus explains that he must be about his father’s business, but Mary rebukes him. Upon their return, Jesus grows in favor with God and men, but remains out of sight to the religious and political authorities.
So considering the authority of Mary in Jesus’s life, we may surmise that it was applied to protect this beautiful soul from danger. Against that benefit we have the realities of his era that he was sent to confront. The growing corruption of the temple would not have been unknown to Mary, who traveled annually to the festivals. Nor would the taxation that impoverished the families around them. And so a burden of guilt grows in Mary’s heart, that she trades the suffering of her people for the safety of the son sent to liberate them.
This is the context of the wedding, a rare communal rite, lasting for many days, at which provision of wine was considered essential in augmenting the joys of the occasion. Lack of wine was an ill omen, as well as being an insult to the company that had come from wide and far to share the celebration.
Why did the wine run out at this wedding? Merely a miscalculation on the part of the bridegroom? This strikes me as insufficient motivation. I imagine that this was known in advance, that the family was unable to provide enough due to reduced circumstances under the widespread social injustice suffered by the nation. Some limit is reached in Mary, the burden of the people overwhelms her motherly caution, and she tells Jesus to do something to salvage the situation. What she hears then shakes her in her inmost being:
O Woman, what has this to do with me? My hour has not come.
The first words are an insult to her authority, and might have brought anger, but the last ones: has she not told him this again and again over the years. Yes, he must do the work set by his Father, but not yet – the hour is not yet, let him remain with us just a little longer. And so she understands him as saying:
Dear mother, if you ask me to do this thing, I can no longer hold back the will of my father. Your authority over me will end.
The sword foretold by Simeon pierces her then, and unable in her heartbreak to face him, she turns to the servants and says:
Do as he tells you.