The Wedding Feast of Cana
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C); 1-20-19
Is 62:1-5 Ps 96 1 Cor 12:4-11 Jn 2:1-11
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison & SJB
St. Paul has compared the relationship between Christ and his Church as that of a bridegroom and his bride (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33). What that means is that God loves us so much that he wants to be married to each and everyone of us. “The two shall become one” (Genesis 2:24; John 17:21). Amazing!
We hear suggestions of this unique relationship in the first reading taken from the prophet Isaiah who is addressing the desperate Israelite exiles in Babylon. After suffering decades of degradation in which they lost everything—their freedom, land, kingdom, king, and Temple—which was brought about by their infidelity, the people were finally coming home. Isaiah says, “Nations shall behold your vindication and all kings your glory; you shall be called by a new name….no more shall you be called ‘Forsaken’ nor your land ‘desolate’” (Isaiah 62:2,4).
How shameful it must have been for the Israelites: they were God’s “treasured people from all the nations” (Deuteronomy 14:2); now, they are conquered, exiled, and enslaved. In the midst of this utter loss, we hear these extraordinary words from Isaiah: “For the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be espoused. For as a young man marries a virgin; your Builder shall marry you” (Is 62:4c-5a).
People of God, these striking words may contain the heart of biblical spirituality: the Creator of the entire Cosmos, with its billions of galaxies, wants to marry his people. He want to marry you. He will share his life, the richness of his very being. In so doing, “the two shall become one”. This is the crux of Scripture because is not a deist abstract substance detached from humanity. Nor, is he a blind force a la Star Wars or an amorphous cosmic energy shown in Avatar. No, the God of revelation acts and moves within history and declares his intention to marry Israel. I can’t imagine Luke Skywalker saying that.
As we move into the Gospel, let us keep in mind that Jesus is Immanuel, God among us. He is Yahweh in the Flesh. So, harking back to Isaiah, we shouldn’t be surprised that motifs of weddings and marriage frequently come up in his ministry. We see it today in the unforgettable story of the Wedding Feast of Cana in John’s gospel.
At first blush, it seems like a very modest way for Jesus to begin his public ministry as he’s asked to solve a very practical problem of a wine shortage that is causing the host awkward embarrassment. But, when you look at the bigger spiritual picture, it seems altogether appropriate that his first miracle should take place at a wedding and would involve the increase of wine. Look, Jesus is the Word made Flesh; he is the joining, the marriage of humanity and divinity in his very Person. He is the coming together, the wedding of Heaven and Earth.
Jesus’ mother is the first one to speak in today’s gospel. She says simply and directly, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Since wedding parties lasted for days, running out of wine would have been profoundly embarrassing, especially as the partiers would drift away. So, Jesus is being asked to do something practical and make things better. But, read from a symbolic, spiritual level there is much more at work here.
Wine in the Bible is a symbol of exuberance, of intoxication of the divine life. Just as we experience at Communion the Real Presence of Christ within us, we are lifted up, rendered joyful, transfigured—our minds and hearts are renewed. Think of the effect that good wine has on you: you experience a buoyant, uplifting feeling. That’s the power of the divine spirit operating within us when we are filled with his grace.
So, when Mary says, “They have no wine,” she’s not talking about a practical, social problem. Mary is alluding to a great lack of Israel, indeed, of the entire human race. We’ve run out of joyfulness, the exuberance that comes from being in union with God. Like the Israelites in the Babylonian Captivity, we’ve run out of the divine life because of our infidelity as we pursue false idols. We’re no longer uplifted, exuberant, or transformed by God. Instead, we are alienated from God and each other and creation. The Great Divorce has resulted in “no more wine.”
When we hear this story from a spiritual and symbolic standpoint, we can understand why Jesus refers to his other as ‘woman’: “Jesus said to her, ‘woman, how does your concern affect me?’” (v. 4). At the literal level, we can be easily mislead that he is being curt of disrespectful. Don’t take it that way. He’s addressing her the title that was first given to Eve, the mother of all the living, who is the archetypal woman of the Old Testament. Mary is now the archetypal woman of the New Testament. She will be the spiritual mother of a renewed humanity as Eve was the mother of fallen humanity.
Mary represents all of suffering humanity, all of suffering Israel and they are asking for new wine, for grace.
Her next line is the last words that she will utter in the New Testament, and what an instructive line it is: “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). Sure, at the descriptive level, she’s instructing the stewards to follow Jesus’ instructions. But, at the symbolic level, Mary is the voice that echoes throughout Salvation History. She is the voice of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Judges, and King David. She is the voice of the prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, and Micah—who called Israel to fidelity and obedience: do whatever God calls you to do and you will find life even if the commandment is harsh and painful.
That’s the hinge, isn’t it? Fidelity and obedience. God sent the prophets one after the other to tell Israel what to do. Was God being bossy? No; he wants them to have life. The trouble is that the people did not do what God told them. That’s why they were in Exile.
So, here’s Mary summing up all those great figures, saying simply, “Do whatever he tells you.” What happens when we do? We’ll find wine that we’ve been missing.
Jesus then instructs the servants to fill the six stone water jars that were used for ceremonial washing and fill them to the brim. Again, this may seem like a small detail to keep the story going, but the jars are evocative of the entire Jewish religion—all the ways that the Israelites tried to make themselves pleasing to God. Mind you, Jesus is not disconnecting what preceded him. Jesus is a practicing Jew. More to it, God himself is the author of the Law, the Torah, and Jesus himself is divine. So, Jesus does not dismiss the Law, but he fulfills it: he elevates and transfigures it. Jesus wants human beings to bring all that they are and that they have, all their powers and rituals to the table. Then he changes it; he elevates it into wine of the divine life.
And, look at how much wine there is. Over 360 gallons—an overflowing abundance! Brothers and sisters, when we are grafted onto the divine life, when we are married to God, life never runs out! There’s the message.
That’s why this story is described as the first of Jesus’ Signs. Join yourself to the divine and good wine will never run out. Amen.