Why does Jesus call his mother “woman” in the Wedding at Cana story?

At first glance, this would seem to be a very impersonal manner for Jesus to address his own mother. It should be noted, however, that Jesus uses the same term when he speaks to Mary from the Cross, saying, “Woman, behold your son.” (John 19:26) Likewise, he uses the term often when speaking to other women (e.g. Mt 15:28; Luke 22:57; John 4:21)

For a Jewish man to refer to his mother as “woman” would not be considered rude or disrespectful, however, it would suggest a distancing between the two. This is not inconsistent with how Jesus responds in Matthew 12:48-50 when he is told that his mother and family members were outside asking to speak to him:

“But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he 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.”

By distancing himself from his mother, Jesus makes it very clear that family ties are not what cause him to act but rather, the will of his Father in heaven.


Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).