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MARY AND THE WORD OF GOD: “Do Whatever He Tells You” (John 2:5)

By: Fr. Simon Peter Nnamdi Okanumee, SMMM

The year 2017 marks the Centenary (100th) anniversary of Marian Apparitions at Fatima, Portugal. There are about nine major Marian Apparitions of modern times, based on their approval by the Roman Catholic Church and the importance they have assumed over time (cf. "Apparitions" in Fr. Michael Carroll's Theotokos, A Theological Encyclopaedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, p.47). In October 1917, Mary appeared to three children: Lucia de Santos (10 years), and her two cousins - Francisco Marto (9 years) and Jacinta Marto (7 years). She appeared at six different occasions, between May and October. This explains the origin of May and October devotions in the Roman Catholic Church.

During the Fatima Apparitions, Mary described herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary," called for prayers, particularly the Rosary, for peace in the world, as well as penance for the conversion of sinners, and the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Likewise, in the Scriptures, Mary spoke six times in four different occasions. The statement “Do whatever he tells you,” which contains the last words of Mary, has been described as the best advice by a mortal recorded in the Scriptures. It is the general theme for the celebration of the Marian Year in Nigeria and the theme of reflection in this write-up. This statement challenges us to have faith in the Word of God and the Church’s Magisterium.

Mary’s six powerful statements are found in the Scriptures (the Word of God). They are recorded in four different passages in the Gospels of Luke and John. Three out of the four occasions are from the Gospel of Luke: the Annunciation - when she speaks with the angel (cf. Luke 1:34; 38); the Visitation- when she sings the psalm of praise known as the “Magnificat” in Elizabeth’s house (cf. Luke 1:46-55); and the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple - the moment Mary expresses concern over Jesus (cf. Luke 2:48). We also find her words in the Gospel of John, which is the fourth occasion, during the Wedding at Cana where Mary tells Jesus “there is no more wine” (John 2:3) and turning to the servants, she tells them, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). This is a call to faith for all Christians.

In the first occasion, St. Luke gives an account of the Mary’s dialogue with the Angel at the Annunciation (cf. Luke 1:26-38). In the dialogue, Mary spoke twice. Responding to the Angel, Mary asked: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34). Having received insight into God's plan, Mary gave her consent: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38).

In the second occasion, after having been greeted by her cousin Elizabeth during her visitation, Mary intoned her song of praise (Magnificat), where she recounted God’s intervention in her life as well as the fulfilment of God's promises made to Abraham and his generations forever (cf. Luke 1:46-55)

The third occasion where Mary's words are recorded in the Scriptures was when, at the age of twelve, Jesus got missing and was found in the Temple. Mary words expressed motherly concern: "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." (Luke 2:48).

The fourth occasion where Mary's words are recorded is in the Gospel of John, precisely her involvement in Jesus' first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Here Mary spoke twice. Turning to her Son she said: "They have no wine." (John 2:3). Trusting her Son to forestall the embarrassment about to befall the newly wedded, she told the servants: "Do whatever He tells you." (John 2:5).

The abovementioned words of Mary (Do whatever he tells you) point towards her Son. Her command has profound effects on the servants; thereby inspiring them to faith - trusting and obeying Jesus in a radical way. Hence, she teaches that there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey Him. Jesus gives two orders. First, He tells them, "Fill the jars with water." John points out that the servants not only obeyed Christ’s command, but did so perfectly, thus "they filled them up to the brim" (John. 2:7). Secondly, John’s Gospel notes: Jesus tells them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast," and "they took it" (John. 2: 8; 9). This would take a lot of faith! Imagine what the servants were thinking: "Fill up the jars with water”? And He said: “Serve it to the guests”?

One may ask: How was this going to solve the problem? Are these stone jars not meant to be used for ritual washing of hands and feet? Why would Jesus tell the servants to fill up the very jars with water and then present their liquid content to the president of the feast to be served as drink to the guests, instead of real wine? From human perspective, the idea does not make sense. Yet first and foremost, Jesus was asking the servants not to understand Him, but to trust Him. Similarly, we may not always grasp the ways of Jesus in our lives. We may not see clearly where He is leading us to. Yet, as St. Pope John Paul II reminds us in his General Audience on February 26, 1997: “Mary’s command ‘Do whatever he tells you’ challenges us to trust Him without hesitation, not only when it makes sense to us, but especially when one does not understand the meaning or benefit of what Christ asks."

Letter to the Hebrews defines faith as the assurance of what is hoped for and the belief in what is not seen (cf. Heb 11: 1). It goes on to highlight the two dimensions of faith, namely: Believing in God and Believing God (cf. Heb 11: 6). The former has to do with the existence of God as the Creator of heaven and earth while the latter borders on belief (having faith) in the Word of God and keeping it. Mary’s call on us to do whatever Christ (the Word of God) tells us is rooted in her real and lived experiences of faith. She gave her consent to God and demonstrated total surrender of her will to that of God.

Her faith reminds me of a story told of a fellow who once slipped while climbing a cliff, but was lucky to grab a protruding stone as he fell. The cliff was about a hundred feet to the ground and there was no way of climbing up without external aid. In an agony of fear, he cried out: “Is there anybody there?” No answer came. Again the climber shouted even louder: “Is there anybody up there?” After a moment of silence, a voice came: “Yes, this is the Lord.” Frantically, the man yelled: “Well, if you are the Lord, make haste and come to my rescue.” Again, a brief moment of silence, and then the voice came back: “Let go your hand off the stone, and I will come and rescue you.” At this there was another brief moment of great silence; after which the climber shouted again from below the cliff: “Is there anyone else?” The latter remark shows that this climber “believes in God” but does not “believe God.”

Having believed God's Word to become the Mother of God, not minding the mystery of the Annunciation, Mary gave her consent to God’s plan by saying: "May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38). This is a statement of faith, a total surrender of one’s will and of complete obedience to God. This is described theologically as Mary’s “fiat.” That is to say, we can “do whatever He tells us” when we have faith in His Word. This is because trust and obedience go hand in glove. To trust someone, you need to know the person, to a certain extent, at least. So, for us to do whatever Christ tells us, we need to build our faith (trust) in Him and we can do this simply by knowing Him deeply through His Word. Little wonder St. Paul holds that “faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God” (Rom 10: 17). To support the foregoing, St. Jerome says: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is the ignorance of Christ.”

Thus, in this article, Mary’s (F. I. A. T) stands for an acronym: (F: feeding on the Word of God; I: internalising the Word of God; A: accepting the Word of God; and T: trusting in the Word of God).

Feeding on the Word of God: Doing whatever He tells us is nurtured by feeding on the Word of God since man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (cf. Mtt. 4: 4). Much as we need physical food to keep the body alive, we equally need spiritual food to keep the soul alive. We feed on the Word of God by reading it and by listening to it when it is proclaimed or preached. In the case of Mary, she was very attentive to the Word of God brought to her by Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, the Shepherds at Christ’s birth and Simeon during Christ’s dedication (cf. Luke 2: 17- 18; 34-35).

Internalising the Word of God: Doing whatever He tells us is built by internalising the Word of God. Joshua said to the Israelites, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” (Josh 1:8).We should let the Word of God, in all its richness, find a home in us (cf. Col 3: 16) through meditation. At the prophecy of the Shepherds, Mary treasured their words and pondered them in her heart (cf. Luke 2: 19). At the confusing words of the Child Jesus found in the temple, Mary stored up all He said in her heart (cf. Luke 2: 51) and built her faith.

Accepting the Word of God: Doing whatever He tells us is strengthened by accepting the Word of God for what it is - divine revelation and not human thinking. Mary did this by saying: “May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38). This is a statement of faith; a total surrender of her will to that of God. She never doubted “the power of God,” which the Hebrew name “Gabriel” means. She believed that the promise made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled and was acclaimed blessed of all women (cf. Luke 1:45). Thus, she calls us daily to accept wholeheartedly the Word of God, even when it does not make sense to us.

Trusting in the Word of God: Doing whatever He tells us is possible by trusting in the Word of God. The reason we ought to trust in the Word of God is because “every Word of God has proven to be true. He is a shield to those who come to him for protection” (Prov 30:50). Mary was sure that God who did not disappoint her would not allow the couple at Cana to be disgraced. Thus, we also find faith in Mary’s words during the Wedding at Cana where she said to Jesus “there is no more wine” (John 2:3) and turning to the servants she said to them: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). This command calls us to trust God.

Going by Mary’s exemplary faith in the Word of God, we are called to believe in God and believe God. It is only then that we can “Do whatever He tells us.” Mary not only believed in God, she also believed God. She did this by believing the Word of God brought to her by the messengers of God. This is what it means to have faith in God. This was exactly what Christ commends in Mary and recommends for us in this narrative of Luke (11: 27-28): “It happened that he {Christ} was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, ‘Blessed the womb that bore you and he breast that fed you!’ But he {Christ} replied to her, ‘More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

From the foregoing, Mary’s injunction inspired the servants to a faith-response; they obeyed Christ, not minding how puzzling His commands appeared and there was a miracle at Cana. Mary expressed her undiluted faith when she gave her “Fiat” and the Word took flesh. These miracles happened because these people not only believed in God but they also believed God. Thus, confident in the infallibility of God’s Word, Mary challenges to faith in the Word of God, saying "Do whatever He tells you."