Sunday reflection: John 2:1–11
posted at 11:31 am on January 17, 2016 by Ed Morrissey
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is John 2:1–11:
There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from —although the servers who had drawn the water knew—, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
Have you seen one of the more recent Geico commercials in which a secret agent, in the middle of deadly action, gets a call from his mother? While he’s bouncing all over the roof and fending off villains, she blithely maintains a patter of small talk. The son tries to politely tell her that he’s a little busy right now and it’s not a good time to talk, but she just ignores him and continues. “If you’re a mom, you call at the worst time,” the narrator explains. “It’s what you do.” My wife hates that ad, and I’ll bet my mother doesn’t like it much either, but I find it amusing.
For some reason, this passage from the Gospel — one of my favorites — brings that to mind. It’s not so much because it’s comparable, but because it’s the complete opposite of the dynamic in the ad. There is more than enough in this passage to fill thousands of Sunday reflections, but let’s focus on Mary’s call and the importance of the context for Jesus’ first recorded public miracle.
Mary, Jesus, and his disciples come to a wedding in Cana, about ten kilometers from Nazareth, a goodly distance and probably no easy jaunt around the hills in those days. The wedding had to be of some significance to draw people from that distance. A wedding would be a celebration, not an occasion for work, and perhaps especially not an occasion where launching a ministry would seem propitious. Jesus had begun those efforts already — the disciples accompanied Him to the wedding — but we have no record of any miracles that Jesus would perform as signs of His identity and of salvation. Presumably, Jesus and His disciples intend to celebrate with everyone else in preparation for the trials to come later.
When the wine runs out — a social faux pas that will embarrass the families involved — Mary calls Jesus to intercede on their behalf. Jesus responds by telling her that “my hour has not yet come,” essentially asking her to call at a better time. Mary doesn’t call just to exchange meaningless pleasantries, however, and tells the servers to come to Jesus for assistance. This call has a purpose, and Jesus does not deny Mary her intercession for mercy. Instead, despite having told Mary that His hour had not yet come, He provides new and excellent wine for the celebrants, saving the families from humiliation and showing His disciples a glimpse of His true nature.
Did Jesus actually change His mind when Mary challenged him, or was this a purposeful test and demonstration for His disciples to remember? There are many interpretations of this critical moment in Jesus’ ministry, many of them not exclusive of one another. However, when put in the context of all the Scriptures, the setting for His first miracle cannot be seen as a coincidence.
Throughout the Old Testament, and especially in the prophets’ testimonies, the relationship between the Lord and His people is described constantly in marital terms. That is especially true when it comes to the salvation of Israel, in which the Lord promises that the matrimonial bond will be renewed in salvation. We see that today in our first reading from Isaiah 62. “For the LORD delights in you and makes your land his spouse,” Isaiah declares. “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”
God’s judgment often also comes wrapped in matrimonial terms as well. In Ezekiel 16, the Lord accuses the Israelites of playing the harlot even after He had given them the best bridegroom gifts possible.
Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your clothing was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon you, says the Lord GOD. But you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotries on any passer-by. You took some of your garments, and made for yourself gaily decked shrines, and on them played the harlot; the like has never been, nor ever shall be.
The matrimonial quality of our relationship to the Lord is so strong that he commanded His prophet Hosea to model Israel’s decadence by taking a harlot for his own bride. After Gomer fled Hosea to return to her former life, God commanded Hosea to buy her back.
And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.
The Lord warned Israel through Hosea of their unfaithfulness and “adultery” toward their Bridegroom. Even while doing so, the prophets continued to speak of a reconciliation in which the people would once again become a faithful bride, and that salvation would bring them once again to a blissful state in which all hunger and thirst would be fulfilled in the Lord.
In Cana, we have a wedding that has run out of wine, either through lack of preparation or overconsumption. Jesus, after Mary’s intercession, provides new wine that surpasses the old and completes the wedding celebrations. This is a foreshadowing, a small example, of our salvation and the blessings of our betrothal to the Lord at the end of time. Rather than the bitterness of Israel’s repeated betrayals of the covenant with the Lord, Jesus shows us the sweetness of redemption and prefigures the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
Mary’s role is critical in this miracle. It can be no coincidence that Jesus’ first miracle is the rescue of a wedding as a sign of salvation to come. Mary, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, is moved to insist on an intercession, persevering even when Jesus apparently resists the idea. For Catholics (and some others), this is a sign of Mary’s role as the parallel of the Davidic kingdom’s Queen Mother, the woman who intercedes with her son the king on behalf of subjects within Israel. More broadly, this is a model for intercessory prayer — bringing our cares to the Lord, who knows them but allows us to form ourselves through these prayers to return to that faithful matrimonial model. It reminds us of the proper relationship we have with the Lord in our exile, while hoping to become true members of the Lord’s family in the end.
If nothing else, it reminds us that when Mom calls, it’s important. I’m pretty sure the First Mate will approve of that interpretation.
The front page image is “The Wedding at Cana,” Paolo Veronese, 1563, now at the Louvre.