Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mary and the Wedding

Here is a really good teaching that I received (and in receiving it I may have elaborated on it a bit). Jesus famously works his first miracle at a wedding, but the story is a bit bizarre on the surface. Jesus is at a wedding and they run out of wine. Then Mary asks Jesus to fix it. So she either knows that Jesus can do miracles (possibly he has been practicing at home), or she knows that Jesus is a very intelligent person who is generally good at solving problems, or she knows that Jesus is a drinker (as elsewhere reported) and that he has a tab with the local wine merchant. Jesus is not really interested in doing this and says so. Then Mary, who ignores Jesus’ protests, tells the servants to do whatever he says. Jesus then commands them to fill up a lot of big jars with water and turns it into very good wine.
There is a lot in this story. It sets up the rest of the gospel where the wedding theme has deep symbolic significance. It also teaches that following Jesus will be rewarded, symbolized by the very large amounts of excellent wine (which refers to inner not outer rewards). However, it is also very important for understanding the relationship between Mary and Jesus. Mary cares about our earthly life, she cares that the wedding will be ruined, whereas Jesus does not. Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems indifferent to what Buddhists would call attachment based suffering (e.g., let the dead bury the dead). Instead he is concerned with helping people to transcend their earthly life (where earthly refers not to the physical earth but to a life conditioned by attachment). Mary cares in a more direct way. She knows that the people having the wedding, probably friends of hers, will be devastated by this social disaster, so she gets Jesus to fix it.
Mary represents our normal compassionate response to suffering. This is symbolized most strongly in her role as a parent. When a (good) mother (or good father) sees their child suffering they have an overwhelming urge to remove the source of that suffering. In contrast, Jesus expresses compassion by trying to get us to let go and transcend the attachment-based source of our suffering. Jesus cannot identify with our normal suffering or condone focusing on it. So Mary is very important for dealing with our normal response to suffering and that is why people pray to her to intercede with Jesus, instead of praying directly to Jesus. Mary allows us deal with our normal feelings of compassion without loosing site of the fact that this is not the ultimate solution (represented by Jesus).
Needless to say, if you think that praying to Jesus can get you a new car, you are deeply misguided, I don’t think even Mary could get him to do this (more on what “prayer” means later).

Note - I realize that some Christians do not pray to Mary. I'm not saying you have to do this. I'm just explaining one understanding of this passage that relates to the theme of this blog

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