Scripture Readings: Book of the Prophet Isaiah 62:1-5; Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 12:4-11; Gospel According to Saint John 2:1-11
We have now completed the Advent and Christmas seasons of the Church’s yearly liturgical calendar and have returned to what is called “Ordinary Time.” The next special season begins on Ash Wednesday, this year on February 10th, the start of Lent leading up to Easter.
This Sunday the Gospel recounts the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Whose wedding was it? We don’t know. Who was there? We don’t know that either, except that Jesus as well his mother Mary and the first disciples of Jesus were on hand. There must have been others in attendance as well, perhaps the entire village, traditionally invited to wedding feasts. Could the couple being feted have been relatives of Jesus and Mary? This too we do not actually know.
In any case, the miracle at Cana took place at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It was a clear manifestation of the power of the Lord in the context of a fairly ordinary event, that is, a wedding celebration. As in the days of Jesus, so today, weddings and parties afterwards are part of daily life and culture. The uniting of man and woman in holy matrimony, then as today, is a celebration and a blessing to society and families.
In the Gospel this Sunday we are told that Mary expressed some dismay or at least embarrassment at the predicament of the host in running out of wine. It would take some effort, time and money to get more wine, and that was simply not likely to happen while the party was actually going on. This would not be so big an issue today, with a simple, “Somebody run to Sam’s Club.” In the time of Jesus, though, it would have been a major crisis.
So the host, whom we presume to be the groom or the father of the bride or of the bridegroom, might be disgraced in some way by a lack of sufficient wine, the essential beverage of those time for any festive or ordinary meal.
What to do? The mother of Jesus clearly has a plan. According to custom, Mary was likely there not simply as a guest, but together with other women, helping with the reception meal and all its details. Mary seems to know right away that the wine was running out and quickly got the attendants to listen to Jesus and carry out what he might ask. Appealing to her Son’s resourcefulness to ease an uncomfortable and potentially disastrous situation, Mary is a quintessential mother!
Whether Mary was actually expecting a miraculous intervention, of water being changed into wine, we do not know. In any case, she clearly stood back, so to speak, once Jesus began to assist in the predicament at hand, trusting a good resolution would be forthcoming. “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary says to those waiting at table. The meaning is indefinite, as Mary may not have known exactly what Jesus would do, but she had no worries of his ability to remedy the situation.
How the miracle of water becoming wine precisely happened we are not told, but it must have occurred between the time of the stone jars being filled to the brim with water and Jesus telling the server to “draw some out and take it to the waiter in charge.” In other words, the miracle took place in silence, and image I really like, at it calls to mind a beautiful Scripture passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom:
“When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run half of her swift course, your all-powerful word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne,” (Book of Wisdom 18:14-15).
This is a passage used in the Christmas season, prefiguring the coming of God to earth at the Incarnation or birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. As the birth of the Messiah, so in the miracle of turning water into wine, God accomplishes wondrous things in silence!
In today’s Gospel, when he had sampled the new wine, the waiter in charge tells the groom that the “choice wine” is usually served first, rather than later, in a wedding feast. At first sight, the remark might seem to emphasize the quality of the miraculous wine. Yet the casual remark that the waiter in charge “did not know where it (the miraculous wine) had come from,” shows that the important point is the origin of the excellent new wine. The miracle of water becoming wine points to the mysterious origin of the giver. The mystery of Jesus and his origin are emphasized often in the Gospel according to Saint John.
The changing of water into wine at Cana’s wedding feast is called “the first of Jesus’ signs.” And what is a sign? The purpose of the signs recounted in the Gospel of Saint John is to demonstrate the mission of Jesus and to strengthen the believer’s faith on the road to eternal life.
At the sight of the signs performed by Jesus, we are told that people came to believe in him and continue to believe to the present as well. The call, though, is to be more than “impressed” or “amazed,” by Jesus, but to experience firsthand the glory and majesty of the only-begotten Son, the Redeemer of the human race, and to follow in his footsteps until our final breath.
The miracle of the Wedding Feast at Cana, the first sign performed by Jesus, and now one of the “Luminous Mysteries” of the Rosary. It is also part of the gradual revelation of the divine glory of Jesus as the Son of God, who works with and in the Heavenly Father, in whom and through whom the Father accomplishes the salvation of the human race.
We might also say that the signs of Jesus are both proof of who Jesus is and divine light for those who walk in darkness. It is God who fulfills every good hope and leads us into the intimate bond of life with the Holy Trinity. Put another way, “It is God who awakes and God who slakes our thirst,” as the Catholic philosopher Friedrich von Hugel (1852-1925) expressed it.
Blessed “Ordinary Time” now upon us, to all.
Prior Christian Leisy, OSB
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
Abiquiu, New Mexico