2nd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Gospel Reading: John 2:1-11
“THERE WAS A WEDDING FEAST AT CANA OF GALILEE, AND...”
Last Sunday, we solemnly celebrated the feast of 'The Baptism of the Lord.' With that we entered into the Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year and today is its second Sunday. For many Sundays in Cycle C, our readings will be taken from the Gospel of St. Luke. Occasionally, however, we will read from St. John's Gospel. This is true of today's Gospel reading, which describes the beginning of Jesus' public ministry and his first miracle.
The Gospel Reading of this Sunday is the episode of “The Wedding Feast at Cana.” Although none of the Synoptic Gospels records this event, mainstream Christian tradition holds that this is the first public miracle of Jesus. However, in John's gospel, it has considerable symbolic importance: it is the first of the seven 'signs' by which Jesus' divine status is attested, and around which the Gospel is structured. St. John never speaks of these signs as miracles, as their importance is not in the deed that Jesus performs but in what these deeds indicate about Jesus' identity.
Moreover, in the Church's liturgical history, the Wedding Feast at Cana is closely associated with the Visit of the Magi and the Baptism of the Lord. In this context, the 'sign' Jesus performs at the wedding feast is celebrated as an epiphany or a manifestation of Jesus' divinity. That's the reason why Pope John Paul II chose this episode for 'the second luminous mystery' in the Holy Rosary.
To situate today's reading within the context of St. John's Gospel, we note that this event follows Jesus' call of his first disciples. St. John tells us that Jesus and his disciples were invited to this wedding at Cana, as was his own mother. One may wonder, why St. John uses the wedding at Cana to have Jesus perform his first miracle. This is a rather strange miracle and it seems a rather insignificant way to use one’s powers. What does St. John want to tell us by Jesus participating in a wedding feast? Was it really just Jesus rendering hospitality to help a bridal couple avoid embarrassment?
On the surface this event may seem simple and insignificant. But actually, it is an event with many threads, having deep symbolic meanings. So, it is not by chance that St. John uses the wedding at Cana for Jesus to inaugurate his public ministry and his work of redemption.
In the Old Testament, God's covenant with the people of Israel is sometimes seen as a marriage – Israel the bride, God the bridegroom. In today's First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet uses this imagery - “As the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.” The Lord God has not only delivered the people from their enemies but has 'married' them and made them his own. He is a God who delights in his people - a God who rejoices in his people - a God who longs to express the kind of intimate, exclusive love one finds in marriage.
Again, the coming of the Messiah was described in terms of a wedding feast - and later, in the Book of Revelation, we hear of the marriage feast of the Lamb. Moreover, Jesus spoke of himself as the vine and of longing to celebrate Passover, blessing wine into the cup of his blood.
It is into these layers of symbol that we can set today's Gospel Reading. Jesus was not doing a party trick - nor was he just being kind: as St John says, “He let his glory be seen.” Jesus uses a human event to point to something much greater.
The steward, we are told, calls the human bridegroom over and compliments him on saving the best wine until last. We know, however, who was the provider of that wine. Jesus is a guest at the wedding - but St. John is offering a hint of his deeper role as another kind of bridegroom - the promised one who will wed God's people - who will invite them to the marriage feast in heaven - and give his guests the finest of wine. At Cana symbol and reality meet - Not only is Jesus' presence a blessing for marriage, but he adds to the festivities with his miracle. And the human marriage of two young people is the occasion to speak to us of another marriage, that between Christ and the Church, which will be achieved in 'his hour' on the cross. Jesus’ first miracle then, is a celebration of the marriage of God and mankind, the marriage of heaven and earth, the marriage of divinity with humanity.
Now, the story of the marriage feast at Cana is the story of a wedding feast threatening to end in a humiliating lack of wine - and of Jesus' miraculous intervention by turning water meant for washing into wine, for the sheer joy of everyone.
Everyone is having a grand old time until the wine runs out. Then Jesus, in what is described as the first of his signs (miracles), turns six large jars of water into choice wine. In this story, the six large jars full of water represent the laws and religious customs of the Hebrew dispensation. In turning the water used for Jewish rituals into wine, Jesus gives God's people a sign that the Messiah has come. This wine represents the new life, the New Covenant which Jesus brings. It takes the place of the ritual water of the Old Covenant. Here at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, John's Gospel seeks to establish that Jesus is going to re-interpret and fulfill Yahweh's promise to Israel and it is made evident in the deed that Jesus performs. He is beginning to replace the old with the new.
Symbolically, of course, later the wine will become his blood. The miracle performed by Jesus has therefore a profound Paschal and Eucharistic significance. The 'sign' of water being changed into wine at Cana foretells the way in which Jesus would fulfill his messianic mission, namely, by shedding his blood on the cross and the glory it would bring.
Again, wine is linked to joy, just as bread is linked to nourishment, and without wine, who can rejoice and partake of the joy of the newlyweds? However, the rejoicing at Cana has hit a snag in John's Gospel, which is, of course, a cause of great shame for the hosts. But Jesus' miracle produces vast quantities of wine—six jars holding thirty gallons each are filled to overflowing with choice wine. That's an awful lot of wine. This lavish response to a simple human need is a vision for us of the abundance of God's kingdom. The miracle of Cana is the sign of God's abundant rejoicing. It manifests the kingdom, God's sovereignty, in exuberant feasting.
Again, the sign of Cana is marked with the presence of the “woman” of faith, “the mother of Jesus.” As the wedding feast went on, she noticed the wine ran out. She then discreetly and intuitively presented the dire situation to Jesus, evoking from him the 'first sign' of salvation. It was through her sensitive awareness that Jesus came to know about the bridegroom’s predicament. And it was at her request that Jesus performed what St. John tells us was his very first miracle. If anytime, we too need some grace, we should seek her intercession, who has power over her son, and he will not refuse her.
St. John narrates only two Marian episodes in his Gospel account: (1) At the wedding of Cana, at the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, and (2) At Calvary at the foot of the cross, at the end of it. That could be a way of telling us that Mary did not only play the passive role of being the physical mother of Jesus; that she was also actively involved with Jesus in the work of our redemption. She actually is the 'co-redemptorist' in the mystery of God's salvific work.
Mary’s presence at the beginning and end of this uninterrupted course of events has, therefore, great symbolic meaning. It is interesting to notice that in both instances, she is not mentioned by name, but is referred to instead as “the mother of Jesus.” Also, in both instances, Jesus addresses his mother – “Woman.” Why is it so? Actually, here St. John is drawing a parallelism between the 'woman' in the Book of Genesis, viz. Eve, who is the mother of the old creation, in its incompleteness & imperfection. Mary is the new Eve, the mother of the new creation, in its completeness & perfection, which Jesus brings by outpouring his blood & dying on the cross and rising on the third day. Her intervention at Cana expresses the urgency of the people of the new era, who are impatient to see Christ’s glory. Standing at the foot of the cross, she is the symbol of the Church, which recognizes, in the crucified Christ, the Son glorified by the Father, and adores him in silence. This woman thus appears as the perfect model of the believer. So, what do we have to do then? The answer lies with the Mother of Jesus, and our mother too - “Do whatever he tells you.”
The awareness of Jesus' impending passion and death is ever present in St. John's Gospel. Even in this report of Jesus' first sign, the language used anticipates Jesus' passion. When his mother tells him - “They have no wine,” she is not asking of him just a simple miracle on behalf of the newly wed young couple; but she is asking Jesus to come into the limelight under the eyes of public scrutiny and is setting the whole course of events in action which will come in his suffering & death on the cross. So, she is not asking him to pour out water, or pour out wine; but she is asking him to pour out his blood. Thus when Jesus says to his mother - “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come,” he protests against her wishes in language that John will use again when reporting Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples. When introducing the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet, St. John writes that Jesus knew that 'his hour' had come - “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you.”
An interesting thing we may notice is that the author makes a point to emphasize the 'emptiness of the jars' in the beginning of the story. The Jars were empty and needed first to be filled with water before they could be useful to Jesus - and ultimately turned to wine.
We also need to be emptied of what fills us before God can pour himself into us and affect a change in us. We may be filled with things at the moment that hinder the movement and power of God in our lives and do not allow Him to perform miracles in us. Perhaps we are filled with slothfulness, greed, envy, lust, or addictions. In the Second Reading of today from the First letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks about different kinds of spiritual gifts. We simply need to be emptied through prayer, confession, and love in order to receive these gifts of the Holy Spirit.
These various kinds of 'charismatic' gifts – or charisms enable some of us to be teachers or counselors, prophets or preachers, healers or leaders. But they all come from the same Spirit, and are designed and intended specifically to build up the faith community. We should never therefore, be jealous of someone else's gift or compete with those gifts, because all the gifts truly belong to all of us as the Body of Christ. They are rather to be shared in the community. We want to be changed into wine, to be made into something new and beautiful, and we need the power and love of God manifested through the gifts of all to help achieve this.
Again, the miracle at Cana was almost a secret one; at the time the only people who knew it to be a miracle were the servants who drew the water. At this wedding celebration, Jesus gave the wedding couple and guests the gift of choice wine! But what did strike home was the sheer abundance of new wine. That was the sign that confirmed the disciples in their new following, for he gave them the gift of a deeper and fuller knowledge of himself of 'who he really was.' Their eyes were opened to the absolute newness and abundance of life in Christ. “This was the first of the signs given by Jesus. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.”
To conclude: A story is told of the wedding of a young couple in a certain village. Since the family of the bridegroom was very poor, in order to show their love, concern and support, the villagers decided that each one of them would contribute a bottle of wine for the wedding. A large jar was kept for the purpose wherein each contributor was to pour into it his bottle of wine. Now the first man said to himself, “Every one will be pouring in pure wine; what if I poured just a bottle of water in the jar instead! it won't make much of a difference, will it?” So, he poured in a bottle of water in the jar and went back home. It then so happened that every one in the village thought the same and did the same. Each poured a bottle of water, instead of pouring a bottle of wine. Finally, the day of the wedding arrived and the whole village gathered in the bridegroom's house for rejoicing & feasting. The wine was to be served, so the man in charge went and took out a glass of wine from the jar and tasted it – and it tasted just like water. To his astonishment he then said - “At the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, Jesus performed a miracle – he turned water into wine. But here in our Cana, another miracle has taken place – the wine has turned into water.”
Yes, Our Lord wants to come to us today and change our water into wine in our life, and to transform us into a new and better person. What then is our response – Are we the one who would prefer to change wine into water in our life and enjoy being the old self? Or should we listen to Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother who exhorts us - “Do whatever he tells you,” and allow Jesus to change water into wine in our life and to transform us into a newness of life? But then the choice is ours. And this is the Good News of today!