Mary, the stand-up
by Patrick Lafferty
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
The moment may be as comic as it is profound. The mother of Jesus, who's known from before He was even conceived that she would give birth to the "son of the Most High," displays the essence of discipleship: she ascribes to Him a majesty and power by asking Him to do what needs to be done and trusting that He will. "They have no wine."
But then Jesus adds a bit of tension to the moment, a little family squabble on its face. Addressing the one who bore Him as "woman" might seem lacking in warmth to us, but only because the English translation lacks the nuance of respect He intends; it will be the same word He employs in His final words to her from the cross.
What follows His direct address of her, though, bears a sharpness we should not diminish. In saying to her, "what does this have to do with me," Jesus isn't flouting her interest, but He is clarifying His loyalties, as off-puttingly as that might've resonated. To her Jesus owes an immeasurable respect, but not greater than that due His heavenly Father. She deserves unhesitating deference, but not at the expense of His primary purpose. The "hour" awaiting Him entails both urgency and prudence. His commission means some reasonable requests are at best distractions, while other ostensibly ancillary matters become primary. Ensuring an adequate supply of vintage wine for the wedding reception tests the bounds of His priorities, but Jesus ends up using the moment to profitable effect.
Mary's response on one level, at least to me, borders on the comic. We don't know her facial expression. We don't hear her offer any direct response to His clear but careful rebuke. Perhaps it's too anachronistic to hear the unruffled, quasi-yiddish, "meh," insinuated by the absence of either apology or defense. But unperturbed and unabated she recapitulates both her request and the respect of His power it implies: "His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'"
Her simple demonstration of true discipleship I think asks three questions of our own.
Whom do you know who knows Him well, and what are you doing to be with them? Mary makes a request of the servants to do whatever Jesus says, to trust in an authority they know little to nothing of. Yet implicit within the request is an understanding that she knows of Whom she speaks and therefore He is worthy to be followed, no matter how counter-intuitive it might seem. True, the servants know her no more (or less) than they know Him, but her familiarity with Him adds to His credibility; it makes a faith in Him more plausible.
God has given us His Word to guide us, His Spirit to persuade and enable us to follow. He's also given us His church—His people—to lay before us authentic and poignant pictures of discipleship. With whom do you spend time, what biographies do you read of those who know Christ like a mother knows her son? How might that frequent encounter with those familiar with Him add vibrancy and authenticity to your idea of what it means to follow Jesus?
Secondly, whatever responsibilities you oversee and whatever influence you wield, how do you ensure you understand your authority as one who is a servant? You know the episode in both Matthew's and Luke's gospel of the centurion who appealed to Jesus to heal his servant (Matthew 8:5f, Luke 7:1f). This senior official wielded great power in the Roman army but recognized that both he and Jesus were men "under authority"—in command but in submission to something greater. Jesus can only commend the officer for an unassuming expression of faith. We may not command anyone or anything but we all bear both responsibility and authority over something. How does our identity as a servant of the Most High shape our use of the power we possess?
Finally, what might He be telling you to do that you've as yet left undone? There are moments when the time for data-collection and analysis has passed. Obedience is both prudent and necessary. If Mary's request to the servants identifies a category for obedience simply because it is Jesus who calls for it, what simple act of discipleship does this moment call for? We do not follow Him to cover our guilt or compensate for His kindness—His cross makes both meaningless—but we do follow to express our thanks and find our joy in doing what we know pleases Him. What subtle or dramatic changes might be in order as an act of doing "whatever He tells you"?