How Jesus Says “Woman”

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Every word can mean I love you

Last night in my cell meeting we read John 2:1-11. We were reading with the intention to see what Jesus is like (That’s the best reason to read the Gospels in my opinion). After we read the passage through three times, one brilliant cellmate, who I, immediately after this eloquent, lyrical observation, strongly encouraged to pursue a life as a poet, told the group that every word can be spoken to mean I love you. He listened to us read the word Jesus says to Mary, woman, and the memory of this capacity we have to speak I love you into every word came back to him. Yes, every word can be spoken to mean I love you.

Every word: “potato”, “Nashville”, “kitty cat”, “‘sup?” All these can mean I love you.

It has to do with how the word is said — the amount of breath used in sounding it, the shape of the mouth as it is sent,  the familiar pattern of pitch and intonation — that does this lingual alchemy. It works best to actually communicate I love you in the context of love itself — in relationship (by the way, this is really the only place I love you  means I love you as well). In a love relationship, the shared meaning of potato really can mean so much more than root vegetable. For example: “The potatoes are extra crispy.” “You substituted the potatoes,” “We made potato stamps,” “French fries are made of potatoes.”

John says elsewhere that God is love. And John records Jesus saying in John 14, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Doesn’t it make sense then that, somehow, every word that Love speaks would mean I love you? If we ourselves know just how tenderly we can use these words we have received — how much they can mean — how well they can be wielded for building one another up — how much more must Jesus mean I love you with every word he has ever said? Yes to this, but yes especially to this word here in John 2, woman.

How I said woman

My cellmate heard us read it and heard some kind of rebuke in most of our readings. I know I wasn’t careful to speak love into the word, and so it is likely that anti-love leaked right through my lips. The word woman must be gentled with the utmost tenderness, because it is so often launched as an attack. The very nature of half of humans is so quickly crafted into critique. The personhood of womankind is so easily stolen away. The fact of our existence together has made this un-love meaning of the word automatic, assumed. Womanhood, which requires no apology, is always being apologized.

When Jesus says woman, he must be saying something else. He is not tired, perturbed, frustrated or inconvenienced by Mary’s request. Otherwise, why would he have answered her prayer? He was going to reveal himself soon, why not now? His plan was to make himself widely known as the Son of God who is love, and to train a group of disciples enough to carry on speaking his Father’s love language when his mouth was no longer here on earth to shape words with breath, lip, tooth and tongue. Mary helped him choose the moment. This woman participated in designing the occasion. “Woman!”

If with Jesus, why not also with me?

I am convicted to be more careful with every word belonging to Jesus. His words, every one of them, must mean I love you. Even when he rebukes people harshly, for there are many octaves and melodies that sing the same message. Love can be consuming fire and demand, but Jesus’ words will always mean the same. And if his words, why not also all of mine. You cannot depend on mine so well as his, but I am seeing in this cell-meeting-revelation that I have but barely begun to try.

Jesus, Mother, Please

Jesus, mother me, as your mother mothered you in that moment. Make my moments ready, and me ready in them, to soak every word in love. Anselm, a 12th century Benedictine Monk, makes a nice attempt in this prayer below. He is uplifting a woman-adjacent word: mother.

So many things can be said with this one word as well, mother. I won’t list the seven that fly to the surface of my mind but you might pause again to consider the infinity living inside words like this one. Anselm means Jesus with it, which I believe is one way that he said I love you to every mother ever.  He speaks from many centuries in the past to confirm the always-true nature of Jesus’ forever-gentleness and constant love. Let this prayer shape your heart and words. Send them to your mother this weekend for Mother’s Day, whether she is alive or not, or send your own words, whatever means I love you  in ways that mean for you and her.

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.


Anselm (1033-1109) More about him on Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body Blog

P.S. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

4 responses to “How Jesus Says “Woman””

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