By: Rev. Sam Harris
I’m a little confused; I don’t understand the language or the meaning of John 2:4—Jesus was speaking to his mother at the wedding feast in Cana: “Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come.”
The context of this verse is found in the first miracle that Jesus performed in turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Mary seems to have some responsibility at this wedding for she is concerned that the wine is all gone. At a wedding, the host would usually serve the best wine first, then when everyone was “happy,” he would bring out the “ripple.” (Remember “Sanford and Son?) Mary approaches her son with this dilemma.
At first glance, these sound like harsh words. If I was to say to my wife: “Woman, come here!” How do you think she would react? I’d better not hold my breath; probably should run! This phrase sounds disrespectful, and certainly Jesus would not respond to His mother in such an inappropriate fashion.
“Woman” in Greek is gynai, and it does translate “woman,” however, the word does not carry the harsh meaning of our word “woman.” As stated above, our use of this word usually shows a lack of respect. Jesus uses this same word with the woman at the well (John 4:21) and addressing his mother at His crucifixion (John 19:26). Our English language simply doesn’t have a word that translates very well. In the Greek, it is a gentle word, a term of respect with the best translation being “dear lady.”
“What have I to do with you” was a common conversational phrase. Again, it meant no disrespect. Jesus answers Mary’s request, not because she is His mother, but as part of His work as the Messiah. According to a footnote in the New Geneva Study Bible, “This indicates that Mary’s special role as Jesus’ mother gives her no authority to intervene in Christ’s messianic career.” Barclay suggests that Jesus was saying: “Don’t worry, you don’t quite understand what is going on; leaves things to Me, and I will settle them in my own way.” It must always be understood that Jesus was respectful of His mother, but He was beginning to distance Himself from His previous role as a dutiful son.
“My hour has not yet come.” This is the first time that this phrase is used. You will see again in 7:6 & 8. When he was nearing the cross, Jesus began to say that His hour had come (12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1). The phrase obviously refers to the time when He would go to the cross. It is obvious that the shadow of the cross was always there even in His early ministry. He knew that His power to save and transform lives depended on successfully completing His mission.
Hope this is helpful.