Why did Jesus say to His mother, “Woman, what have I to do with thee” (John 2:4)?

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In the Orient, a person calling his mother woman, was a customary, dignified, and respectful form of address (19:26). Jesus was not disrespectful to His mother. He who had commanded men to honor their parents (Ex. 20:12) was Himself a living example of the principle. For 30 years He had been a loving, obedient, attentive son (Luke 2:51, 52). Throughout His private life in Nazareth, Jesus had honored the authority of His mother; in fact, He ever remained a dutiful son in the sphere where that relationship properly prevailed (John 19:26, 27).

The expression “What have I to do with thee?” implies that the one thus addressed has exceeded the bounds of what properly concerns him ( Judges 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chron. 35:21; Matt. 8:29; Mark 1:24; Luke 8:28; etc.).

Further, Mary did not understand Jesus’ reply as a refusal. And this is evident in her instruction to the servants “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5). She was satisfied that Jesus would supply the need in His own good time and way. Jesus all through His private upbringing, honored His mother. But now He was no longer a private individual, and Mary did not appreciate fully the limits this placed on her authority over Jesus.

Mary might have felt, to some degree, to direct Him in His mission (Matt. 12:46–50). But Jesus, in these clear-cut but courteous words sought to make clear to her the distinction between His relation to her as the Son of man and as the Son of God. His love for her was unchanged, but now He must labor from day to day under the direction of His heavenly Father (Luke 2:49).

Mary apparently hoped that Jesus would, upon this occasion, proclaim Himself the Messiah (John 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; etc.), but the time for such an announcement had not arrived (Mark 1:25). There was an appointed time for each event in His life (Luke 2:49). Not until the very close of His ministry did Jesus publicly claim to be the Messiah (Matt. 21:1, 2), and because of this claim He was crucified (Matt. 26:63–65; Luke 23:2; John 19:7; Matt. 27:63–66). Not until the night of the betrayal did Jesus say, “My time is at hand” (Matt. 26:18; John 12:23; 13:1; 17:1).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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