Woman – A Common form of Address in the Orient
Jesus addressed Mary with the word “Woman” as seen in the following passage: “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). In the Orient, a person calling his mother woman, was a common and polite form of address (19:26). Jesus was not disrespectful to His mother.
He who had commanded men to honor their parents (Exodus 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. “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them” (Luke 2:51).
And even on the cross amid the great suffering Jesus was going through, He made sure that she will be taken care. “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26, 27).
“What Have I to Do With Thee?”
The expression “What have I to do with thee?” shows that the one thus addressed has gone beyond the limits of what properly concerns him ( Judges 11:12; 2 Samuel 16:10; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 3:13; 2 Chronicles 35:21; Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Luke 8:28; etc.). Clearly, Mary was not offended.
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 confident that Jesus would supply the need in His own right 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 as the mother of Jesus.
Mary might have felt the need to direct Him in His mission (Matthew 12:46–50). On one occasion when He was told that His mother and brothers came to see Him, He responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).
Jesus, in these clear-cut but polite words tried to make His mother see the difference between His relation to her as the Son of man and as the Son of God. His love for Mary was unchanged, but now He must work every day guided by His Heavenly Father. Early in his life, Jesus affirmed to His parents the same truth, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (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 (Matthew 21:1, 2), and because of this claim He was crucified (Matthew 26:63–65; Luke 23:2; John 19:7; Matthew 27:63–66). Not until the night of the betrayal did Jesus say, “My time is at hand” (Matthew 26:18; John 12:23; 13:1; 17:1).
In His service,