Sunday Scriptures

Heeding Mary’s Words

By Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz

I am surprised at how little Mary has to say in the Gospel according to John. All told, in the translation of the Scriptures used at Mass, she has all of two complete sentences – a total of nine words altogether between the two of them – and we hear them all in this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Stepping back for some perspective, it is more surprising that these are nine words more than she speaks in Mark’s Gospel, where she appears only once and is quoted not at all (Mark 3:31-32).

Baffling Silence

We might want to let Mark’s Gospel off the hook because it starts with Jesus’ public ministry, and not with His conception and birth. Yet Mary’s silence in Matthew’s Gospel is even more baffling given her key role in giving birth to Jesus, who was conceived – as the angel tells Joseph – by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20).

It is in Luke’s Gospel that Mary has the most to say. When the angel announced that she would conceive and bear a son who will be called the Son of the Most High, she asked in understandable astonishment, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34)

When the angel explained how the divine plan was to unfold, Mary replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Informed by the angel that her relative Elizabeth had conceived a son, Mary went to see her. Greeted by Elizabeth’s words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45), Mary answered with the glorious prayer that we know as The Magnificat, in which she praises God both for the favor bestowed on her, and for God’s special mercy poured out on the poor and the lowly (Luke 1:46-55). Set to music countless times by the world’s most famous composers, these words of Mary are now the prayer of the Church, used each day at evening prayer.

We hear from Mary once more in Luke’s Gospel. When she and Joseph found their missing 12-year-old in the Temple after three days of searching, the exasperated Mary had a few choice words for Jesus that were anything but meek or mild: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety?” (Luke 2:48).

Jesus turned the tables and took Mary and Joseph to task with words spoken in a tone that every parent of an adolescent would recognize, words that make it clear he is growing in consciousness of his identity as God’s Son. Yet, Luke tells us that Jesus returned to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph “and was obedient to them.”

As for Mary, we learn that “she treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51), marveling at how God’s plan was unfolding, and maybe even holding on to that story for the time when she might want to remind Jesus of what happened that nerve-wracking day in Jerusalem.

Returning to John’s Gospel, Mary’s nine words are all found in the account of the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, which begins by telling us that “the mother of Jesus was there,” and then that “Jesus and his disciples were also invited” (John 2:1-2).

A Pregnant Statement

“They have no wine,” Mary informed Jesus. Four short words, not a request but just a statement – or so it seems until we hear Jesus’ reply: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” I could never have gotten away with answering my own mother like that! Was it Mary’s tone of voice, or was it the look in her eyes that made it clear to Jesus that she expected Him to do something?

Despite His protestation that His hour had not yet come, there was no down time for the Word-made-flesh, and His mother’s next words made it clear that she would not take no for an answer. “Do whatever he tells you,” she counseled the servants.

Doing as Jesus instructed them, knowing neither what He was up to nor the intended outcome of their chore, the servants filled to the brim six stone water jars, each with a capacity of 120 to 180 gallons. When they finished that task (remember: there was no running water), Jesus told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”

Clueless about what had just happened, the headwaiter called out a compliment to the equally baffled bridegroom, “you have kept the good wine until now.”

First Sign

For the guests, the fresh supply of wine meant that they could party on. Yet, for Jesus’ disciples and His mother too, this was the beginning of something big, the revelation of Jesus’ glory in the first of a series of signs that John’s Gospel shares with us.

As the evangelist explains, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

The deeds of the Word-made-flesh are convincing testimony that Jesus, born of Mary, came that we might have life, life in overflowing abundance. As disciples of her Son, we also do well to heed Mary’s few but well-chosen words to the servants at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.”


Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 62: 1-5

Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10

1 Corinthians 12: 4-11

John 2: 1-11


Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University

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