Read John 2:1-11
There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, Read More…
Meet Sister Maureen Lomax
Maureen Lomax was born in Lancashire, England, on September 1st 1942, the third living child of four, two girls and two boys. Read More…
‘Do whatever he tells you’.
As I write I am very aware of the ‘Brexit deal or no deal’ angst in the United Kingdom, the ‘longest shutdown in the US history, as well as great civil unrest and poverty in many parts of the world. Here in London, England, it is winter time and the drabness of grey skies, wind, rain and cold surrounds us. The colourfulness of Christmas and the joy of family reunions has disappeared into the mundane. Last week’s Sunday liturgy ended the Christmas Season with the ‘launch’ of Jesus into his public ministry with His Baptism. This Sunday we enter into the symbolism of John’s Gospel through the first sign/miracle of the marriage feast of Cana.
In most societies, the sight of a bride arriving for her wedding stirs the hearts of those who witness the scene and reawakens expectations of happiness. In Jewish weddings, which usually lasted seven days at the time of Jesus (and some still do today), the celebration and feasting would be enjoyed by the village, not just the immediate family. Often scheduled for the time after harvest, a wedding would be enjoyed as a symbol of hope and new life for all the guests and local community. They would see their own covenant with God renewed in the couple’s marriage ceremony. The bridal couple’s consummation of their marriage bond becomes a living sign of God’s covenant with his Chosen People. God’s blessing on the couple is a blessing on the whole of Israel.
At this point all has gone according to plan. St John’s narrative seems to pick up the event in its final phase. The focus seems to be on the final feast which celebrates the physical unity of the couple and the beginning of married life. Jesus, Mary and the disciples would have attended other weddings and were familiar with the process that would have lead up to the final ceremony: the betrothal (kiddushin) usually a year before (after negotiations between suitable families), the free (usually) consent of the betrothed, the preparation of the groom’s family to provide a home for the new couple, the agreement and payment of a dowry to be paid to the bride’s parents (not buying her but recognising that they lose a useful member of the family), arranging for a Rabbi to officiate at the wedding ceremony, settling the place for the ceremony and feasting, organising the catering and funding for everything. Presumably all that had been done and the feast was in ‘full swing’ when John takes up the account.
St John’s deceptively simple account of a crisis at a village wedding at Cana in Galilee is rich in meaning. Running out of wine/refreshment at any wedding feast would be shameful. In this context the bridegroom’s family, who were expected to supply the wine, were likely to be the subject of ridicule. In the first century some of the guests would probably have helped pay for the wedding expenses, so they too may well have been embarrassed! But none of their reaction is recorded because the narrative has more important teachings to convey.
Mary sees the problem of the lack of wine and deals with it by referring the matter to Jesus. ‘They have no wine’, she says. Jesus’s curt reply ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come’ takes the account onto a new level. Clearly John is using a familiar wedding scene as a way of instructing his followers. The wedding at Cana is the first sign (of seven) that John uses to establish that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfilment of God’s promise to send his Son to redeem the world. It is no accident that this Gospel begins, as Genesis 1:1 does, with the words ‘In the beginning’. Somehow the evangelist, through this link, alerts his followers to what is to be a gospel of signs which recaptures and proclaims salvation history through Christ. Mary, called the ‘woman’ is linked in Genesis 3:15 to the ‘woman’ who bears a son and is prophesied as the ‘crusher’ of Satan. John also uses the term ‘woman’ in reference to Mary when Jesus is dying on the cross, when she is given care of John as her ‘son’ (Jn 19:26). (Also, in the book of Revelation (2:4-5) a ‘woman’ gives birth to a male child who overcomes evil).
The use of ‘hour’ is used frequently in this gospel and refers to Jesus’s passion and its imminence. Hence Jesus’s apparent reluctance to accept his public role becomes a way of highlighting that his ‘hour’ is coming. Mary’s command to the servants ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5), seems to provide us with a firm faith context. Does Mary (or Jesus?) fully understand? In reality Mary may simply have expected Jesus to pay for more wine! Surely the servants knew of the shortage. After all they would have been serving the wine. But the key does not lie in ‘who knows’, but the command of Mary. Jesus responds and ‘his time has… come’ to demonstrate who he is. The public face of the ‘master of the feast’ (and the bride and groom) is saved. Not only is more wine provided but more than enough – possibly 120 to 180 gallons from six water pots. The symbolism of ‘six’ has been interpreted as ‘incompleteness’, ‘seven’ being the number of ‘fulfilment/completeness’ e.g. seven days of creation perhaps echoed in John’s use of seven signs. Also, from the beginning of this gospel to the Cana incident seven days pass: Day 1 Jn 1:1-34; Day 2 Jn 1:29-34; Day 3 Jn 1:35-42; Day 4 Jn 1:43-51; then it says ‘On the third day’ which takes us to Day 7 Jn 2:1-11, which is the wedding at Cana. It is not a coincidence that John uses this ‘time’ device. When Jesus changes the water into wine, he is transforming not just water, but salvation history. The ‘old creation’ of ‘seven days’ becomes the ‘new creation’ of ‘seven signs’.
The ‘best’ wine is provided by Jesus: ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ states the ‘master of the feast’. Who is the real master of the feast? Surely it is Jesus who becomes God’s unique sign and powerful presence among His people: ‘Jesus performed this first miracle (sign) in Cana in Galilee; and there he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him’ (Jn 2:11). Jesus’ nature and mission are revealed to those who believe in him. A new creation and testament have begun in abundance.
Reflection: 1. Have I ‘run out of wine’ (figuratively) perhaps when I relied on the wrong ‘master’? 2. Am I able to share my ‘good wine’ with others? 3. What do I do with my ‘poor wine’? 4. Reflect on Mary’s recorded words ‘Do whatever he tells you’.
Prayer: ’You have prepared a table before me; how precious is the wine that quenches my thirst!