The Woman

Is there some specifically, or especially, esoteric reason, you ask, for Christ’s seemingly harsh words to His Mother in John 2:4? The setting, of course, is the marriage feast at Cana, and in the preceding verse Mary has informed Her Son that the wine has run out. Then come the words that concern you, and that have concerned many others: “Jesus saith unto Her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”

Here are a few points worth considering.

In the first place, the KJV translation you quote, and which I’ve reproduced here, seems to miss the point of the Greek. What Christ actually says is ti emoi kai soi—literally, “what (is this) to me and you?” I don’t mean to suggest there is nothing koanic about the question; it’s a curious response, to be sure. Nonetheless the Greek makes it clear that Christ is by no means opposing Himself to His Mother; on the contrary the passage serves to remind us that these two avataric Personages are together opposed to the other wedding guests. They are in an altogether different category, for She and He are alike in being “not of this world” (John 18:36).

Be that as it may, the very next verse proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ’s words were in no way a rebuff or rebuke of Mary. Here we find Her only recorded public utterance, and what She says would be a total non sequitur if Her Son’s words had been intended to “put Her off”, as we say, or silence Her. Far from demurely withdrawing, Her response is to manifest something of Her celestial authority by issuing a command to the servants—a command to the effect that Christ’s own as-yet-to-be issued, but anticipated, injunction be obeyed: “Whatever He says unto you, do it.”

Some have worried about the mode of address in which the Son speaks to the Mother: “Woman”, He says, rather than something (apparently) more endearing or personal. I have seen it argued that at the time this would have been a more or less typical way of addressing any woman, even one’s mother, without there being anything derogatory about it. But whether that is the case or not—I shall leave it to the linguists and cultural historians to address this point—what I can say is that, esoterically speaking, it is surely more appropriate to address the Virgin in an impersonal rather than a personal way, for what She is essentially or metaphysically is indeed Woman, “the eternal Feminine”, with all this signifies and implies.

Finally, I would remind you of what Schuon had to say regarding the necessary “parsimony” with which Mary is treated in the Scriptures; it is not unreasonable to suppose that the exchange at Cana between Her and Her Son serves much the same purpose: namely, that of veiling Her true reality. As Schuon points out, the Virgin “lived in effacement and refused to perform miracles; the almost complete silence of the Gospel in regard to her illustrates this effacement.” But it illustrates as well—however indirectly and allusively—something of this Woman’s true greatness, for in their very reticence the scriptures provide us with a first and most important hint that “Maryam is identifiable with esoteric Truth (Haq?qah) inasmuch as she is a secret Revelation” (see my “Colorless Light and Pure Air“, p. 5).

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