On Asking Others to Pray on our Behalf

John 2:1-5

Here we see the first of seven signs revealed by the apostle in his Gospel account. The wedding of Cana, the nobleman’s son, the healing of the paralytic, feeding the five thousand, walking on water, opening the eyes of the blind man, and raising Lazarus from the dead.

The setting of this, as well as the timing, is of extreme significance, because it is before Jesus’ earthly ministry had begun. Thus, this, more than any of the other signs, would have been set against the backdrop of the Old Testament; the Law and the Prophets. See, in the Old Testament, marriage feasts were often used to symbolize the union between the Lord and God’s chosen people. We see this most strongly represented in the Prophet Hosea, who takes for his bride a “child of fornication,” meant to represent the spiritual adultery of the nation of Israel. That this feast takes place in Gallilee, which was largely a gentile region, shows that salvation is no longer, nor has it ever been, reserved only for a select or elect group of people, but rather displays the gospel spreading throughout the world, offered freely to all who would accept it. The water also is turned to wine, the miracle made available to all who wish to receive it, as it is available to any who are at the feast, not merely a select group of people. It’s important to note that, in this image, there is not an elect group of elite who are able to receive this wine, but rather all who are present are free to partake of it, should they so choose. Thus, the Lord has not set about a certain list of those who are able to partake of this miracle, but instead offers it freely to all who are present.

That this miracle is performed on the third day also evokes a resurrectional overtone to the story. It shows that the marriage of Christ and His bride, the Church, will occur on the third day, when He is resurrected from His burial tomb.

This passage shows something else which is often overlooked, and when not overlooked, is frequently dismissed, criticized, and even blatantly shunned. It shows the intercessory nature of Mary. Consider the imagery in this passage; Jesus at the wedding party, the wine runs dry, and when this happens, it is Mary, His mother, who stands in intercession. Now, before you too quickly dismiss, allow me to rewind a moment. As Christians, we believe that those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection are still alive. We believe John 3:16, that “those who believe shall not perish but have eternal life.” Hopefully, I am correct in assuming this. Thus, Mary, Paul, Stephen, Peter, John; each of them are alive and dwelling in the Kingdom of God. Now, considering that, also consider this; would you think it odd were I to ask you to pray for me? We do it all the time, in prayer chains and prayer requests. No one would think it odd to consider that I ask you, my brother/sister in Christ, to pray for me. And yet, so often we immediately decry heresy towards any who would consider asking any of the saints who came before us to pray on our behalf. And yet, according to Scripture, we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1). So, if we truly believe that those who have gone before us are still alive, having received the gift of eternal life from our beloved Lord, then why would we ever consider it heresy to ask those who are alive, merely living in the kingdom instead of on earth, to pray on our behalf to the Father? Why is it tantamount to heresy to ask Stephen to pray on my behalf, if Stephen has received eternal life and is dwelling within the kingdom which the Lord has prepared for us? Why would we declare a heretic the person who asks the prayer chain (the living) as well as Mary (alive in the kingdom) to pray for us? Think about that for a moment and allow the question to truly search your soul.

This passage, this exchange between Mary and Jesus, shows Mary, seeing the need for Jesus’ assistance, acting as intercessor between those at the wedding and Jesus Himself. The wine here is symbolic of life, thus Mary’s statement has two separate meanings: 1.a marriage is not complete without the presence of Jesus in it, and 2. the Old Covenant under which this wedding was performed was unable to bring life even to the most faithful of people. Without the wine which the wedding was missing, the ceremony, the wedding feast, was incomplete. When Mary stepped in, Jesus’ reply “what concern is that to Me,” is more properly translated, “what is that to you and I?” (gyne, tis emoi kai soi). This statement is not so much a refusal, merely a declaration that it is not yet time for Him to do such things. The fact that, regardless of His statement, He still does so reveals that which James would later state, that “the intercessions of the righteous have great power,” and it show specifically Mary’s ability to prayer on our behalf. It displays more than anywhere else in all of Scripture the power of Mary to intercede on our behalf.

Now then, and I want to be very careful on this, because I understand the dangers of what this passage reveals. It is Jesus alone who saves, Jesus alone who answers prayers. It is very easy, and a very thin line, between asking the saints and Mary to pray on our behalf, and praying to the saints and Mary. To ask Saint Stephen to pray that we would be filled with the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit is completely different than praying to St Stephen that we would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Stephen is a holy and righteous man, a martyr of Christ, and the prayers of a righteous and holy man prevaileth much, however it is not he who would grant me those things, but rather he praying on my behalf, much as I would ask a friend, a pastor, or any other man of God to pray for me. And I firmly believe that is where the line gets blurred amongst the different factions, the Orthodox, the Catholic, the Protestant. The Protestant considers the Orthodox and Catholic to be praying to the saints and to Mary, the Catholic and Orthodox considers it to be asking them to pray on their behalf.

Further, I am in no way saying that the Protestant who doesn’t ask the saints to pray on their behalf is wrong, as though their prayers will not also be answered. I am merely trying to clarify because, so often, when we think of someone praying “to the saints,” we consider them to be guilty of idolatry. We consider a Catholic or an Orthodox to be praying to a saint instead of to Jesus, when in reality that person is actually asking the saint to pray to Jesus for them. But, if we truly believe that “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Mark 12:27) and that “all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), then how is it any different to ask St Basil to pray on our behalf than it is to ask Pastor Frank to pray on our behalf? If we truly believe that Elijah and Moses, long since fallen asleep, were physically present on the Mount of Transfiguration, and that all are one in Christ Jesus, then how could we ever condemn someone for asking Stephen, Paul, Peter, Polycarp, John, Athanasius, or Mary to pray for us to our Lord, Jesus, whom we all affirm to be the only true source of our salvation, our King and our God?

Personally, I am not so proud as to think that I don’t need the prayers of others. Sinner that I am, I know that I need the prayers of as many of the body of Christ as are willing to pray for me. I need the prayers of everyone I know who has faith in the One true God, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox alike. Those who are currently walking the earth, and those who have previously. Thus, each day, I pray, “Lord, through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, and through the prayers of the saints and the Prophets, and through the Prayers of your most holy mother, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and save me, a sinner.”

And may we all find the same peace. May the peace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved brothers and sisters. In Christ.

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