SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Is 62:1-5 1 Cor 12:4-11 Jn 2:1-11… There’s More Life than Meets the Eye. God’s Signs and Gifts; Looking Beneath the Surface of Things; Symbols of Deep Meanings.
The Gospels see Jesus’ stories on many levels of depth. The first is the facts level, which in today’s Gospel is easy. Jesus, his mother, and ﬁve of his disciples were at a wedding in the little town of Cana. In a lace and time of much hardship and poverty, everyone in town looked forward to a wedding as one of the relieving joys of life. The wedding took place in the evening after a feast. By that time it would be dark and, with a canopy over their heads, the newly-married couple would be conducted through the village streets in the light of torches to their new home. They were taken by the longest route, to be seen and wished well by as many people as possible. They couldn’t manage a honey- moon, so they stayed at home and for a week held open house.
On a deeper level, Judaism saw in the joy of the wedding feast a ﬁgure of the Messianic age. Wine was, then as now, a bond of friendship when used in moderation to rejoice the heart of people. To run out of wine at a wedding was more of a humiliation for the couple than it would be today. For one thing, hospitality in the East was a sacred duty; for another, ‘running out of wine would show poor planning, or “— worse — the couple’s lack of prosperity, which would mean the absence of God’s blessing.
Some cynics have humorously commented that Mary’s pointing out that they had no wine (v. 3) was really saying, “The wine’s ﬁnished — let’s go home.” More seriously, her observation wasn’t a request exactly, but a mother’s indirect expression of caring. By arriving with a band of ﬁshermen in tow, Jesus may have contributed to the wine shortage. Jesus’ answer began with a word that our idiom may sometimes consider discourteous — woman (v. 4). On deeper level, the word looks back to Genesis (3:15), which said that God would put enmity between Satan and “the woman”, and forward to Jesus’ words to his mother from the cross about John that she was to behold her son (Jn 19:26). In all cases, it was the same message — a declaration of spiritual relationship. Obviously from what followed, Jesus’ reply wasn’t an outright refusal. On a deep level Jesus added something he mentioned frequently, “My hour has not yet come.” This meant the hour of his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension — the time of his gloriﬁcation, the way in which he achieved our salvation.
Marv, knowing she hadn’t been repulsed, instructed the waiters to do whatever he told them (v. 5). At the Annunciation scene, Mary wanted everything done according to the word of the Lord. Now, she wanted to see to it that others, too, would act according to that same word. She didn’t know what Jesus would do, but she believed in him, and -— unlike many of us —- could trust even when she didn’t understand. Mary was a signpost to Jesus.
The water jars were there because Jewish custom demanded many washings. These were practical for sandal—clad feet tracking into the house dust and mud from unsurfaced dirt roads. There were also ceremonial hand washings before, during, and after eating. The jars were stone because stone couldn’t contract ritual uncleanness. Altogether they contained approximately 120 gallons — about half an oil barrel.
At Jesus’ order, the waiter’s ﬁlled the water jars to the brim (v. 7). On the ordinary level, this would prove that nothing but water was in them. On a deeper level, there are many meanings. The jars are as with everyone’s life. If we put in less than the full amount, we proﬁt less. Then, too, the water changed into wine meant a lot of wine — but, on a deeper level, the amount of wine suggests the lavish generosity of God’s grace. And the change mirrored the Genesis story of creation, in which God’s word alone sufﬁced to bring about change.
For Jesus, this was the beginning of his signs (v. 11). Whereas the other Gospels call them miracles, St John calls them signs because they point to who Jesus really is. They’re signiﬁcant. There’s more to Jesus than meets the eye. In him, the new covenant is at hand, and it’s superior to the old. The wine kept till last proves best. On the Feast of the Epiphany, we commemorated the showing of Jesus to the magi, and on the feast of his Baptism a further showing of Jesus, when the Father proclaimed Jesus as His son. Now, at Cana, Jesus himself manifested his glory.
While the miracle may have had other motives, such as regard for his mother, kindness to his host, caring for people, approval of happy occasions, or insinuation of the Eucharist, the Evangelist implies that the ﬁrst motive was the continuation of the incipient faith of the disciples. His disciples began to believe in him. And that may be the deepest part, not the transformation of water into wine, but of the disciples into believers.
The whole affair caused a new exhilaration, as had today’s prophecy of Isaiah, which serves as a helpful background to today’s Gospel. ln Isaiah’s time the Temple had been lying in ruins for generations after the exile; it seemed that the Holy City was forsaken, abandoned by a Silent God. Seeing only the surface level. the people had become small—minded, jealous, miserable — and mindful of the warnings of previous prophets that destruction is exactly what the Israelites’ inﬁdelity to God would bring on them.
Isaiah saw a deeper level. He broke into a love song over the messianic Jerusalem that would come with the suddenness of the desert dawn (v. 1) — the moment that God’s people would become fully obedient and trustful. Jerusalem’s victory will be “like a burning torch”, reminiscent of the Feast of Lights and witnessed by nations from all over the world. To a caring God Who has a tender love for His people, Jerusalem will be given a new name (v. 2) — it will no longer be apsibah, “forsaken”, but Hepsibah, “My Delight” (v. 4).
The Bible has many different metaphors for the relationship of intimate love between God and His people. Covenant is one. Father and children is another. In the New Testament, vine and branches is another. the Body of Christ still another. Beginning with Hosea, one of the most beautiful ways of describing the relationship is that of marriage. A lyrical description of marriage is the best image Isaiah can come up with in today’s passage. As the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so God rejoices in His people (v. 5). An ancient rabbi wrote, “Anyone who has never seen the joy of [a wedding] feast has never known joy at all.” And the New Testament uses the image often — speaking, in addition to the marriage feast at Cana, of marriage as paralleling the mission of Jesus, of the wedding as a powerful symbol of our own baptismal journey, of the Church as the bride of Christ, and of heaven as a wedding feast.
The message of seeing beneath the surface is presented also in today’s Second Reading. The people of Corinth to whom St Paul wrote believed myopically that whatever gifts they had, including the spiritual, were due to their own merits. The recipients of God‘s gifts were “lording it over” the less fortunate. Paul says that, diverse though all the gifts are, they all come from the one God. In nature, because each being has its own gifts from God, ﬁsh can’t drown in the water. birds can’t sink in the air, gold can’t perish in the refiner’s fire. It’s the same with us. All of us have our own distinct abilities. And we should use them to complement one another, for the good of the whole community, for building up God’s kingdom on earth.
As we might, the Corinthian fought over which gifts were better. Paul’s priorities came up with a different list than theirs. Miracles and the gift of tongues, which the Corinthians put ﬁrst because they were spectacular, Paul put at the end of his list, because they have dangers of delusion, self-hypnotism, and hysteria. First on Paul’s list is the expression of wisdom (V. 8), a gift which contains such ingredients as the Argus-eyed ability to see deep and far.
On a very deep level, we can apply today’s lessons to the wedding party that is our life because Jesus cared about people and wanted them to enjoy themselves and be happy. He wasn’t a killjoy. He made people feel good, as though they were bathed in sunshine. The people who cruciﬁed Jesus never accused him of being a bore. To the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been later generations that mufﬂed up Jesus’ personality and surrounded him with an atmosphere of tedium, recommended him as a ﬁtting household pet for the insecure, vulnerable, and retiring.
But the party entails work that’s serious. We should work for justice, because without justice there can be no party. We should feed the hungry, because without feeding the hungry there can be no party. We should respond to God’s invitations as the ongoing way of the life of love of a bride and groom, or there can be no party.