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.
As my mother could tell you by chapter and verse, I picked up some peculiar eating habits from a very young age. I remained unaware of a couple of them until adulthood, when she pointed them out to me. For one thing, I almost always ate one item on my at a time until it was completely gone before moving onto another. I’ve been aware of that habit for more than twenty years and still catch myself at it. Also, I have an abhorrence of mixing items on my plate, except — for some odd reason — with mashed potatoes and corn or peas.
I was a weird kid. As though you needed to read this reflection to find that out.
One other habit has stuck with me, although this is one I rather enjoy. I tend to eat my meals from least-favorite item to most-favorite item. I want to save the best for last rather than the other way around. If I put fruit in my cereal, I’ll mostly eat around it to finish with it at the end. It gives a kind of reward at the end of the meal, a pleasant finish to whatever I’ve made. It’s not a delayed-gratification discipline (as my other eating habits would unfortunately attest), but simply a preference.
Why does this appeal to me? Honestly I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s my own expression of the human need for hope. Today’s Gospel gives us an opportunity to reflect on hope, on redemption, and on grasping the difference between the material now and the eternal hereafter.
John tells us of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, but he also tells us something of the mores of the time as well. The wine has run out, which would be embarrassing at a wedding reception today but would have been a humiliation for the family in those times. Today we’d simply go to the nearest liquor store and pick up a couple of cases of whatever was on sale, but in those times the family would have had to stock up for weeks to have enough for their feast. In a small community, the story of a failure of hospitality such as this could have stuck with the family for a generation.
We also find out that the custom of these times was to serve the best wine first. This makes some sense; as more wine is drunk, palettes become less discerning. This custom would likely encourage people to drink as much as they can up front to ensure they got as much of the best wine as they could before getting switched to the inferior wine later. In fact, John mentions this result in his Gospel through the voice of the headwaiter, part of the amazement that Jesus’ wine causes when it comes late in the celebration.
This first miracle of wine has many lessons to unpack, but among them is this: we should not allow ourselves to get drunk off the first wine of life in this world. Too often we become enthralled by the material world, drinking it in freely and assuming whatever comes next will be inferior. Worse yet, we treat it as a zero-sum game. We drink all the more in order to get our fill before it runs out, not worrying about whether everyone else has been served their portion yet.
As life goes along, the wine may change from sweet to bitter. We age; we lose sight of our grand dreams and machinations; our families become divided and friends fade from sight. If all we know of life is its sweet wine at the beginning, we will lose hope and despair at the coming of our deaths. In effect, life becomes a permanent hangover, a status of regret, bitterness, and recrimination.
Jesus uses the wedding feast to reverse this, and to tell us about the nature of salvation. We are meant to celebrate life in the world God created — to marry, to live in the world, and to use His gifts to help others along the way. However, we are also meant to know that salvation brings with it the sweetest wine possible: eternal life with the Father through Christ. Our mission is to endure the bitter with the sweet not in despair, but in faith that Christ will be with us at the end to bring us to the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.
The headwaiter expresses amazement that the bridegroom has saved the best for last. We who follow Christ should not be amazed by this, but should have faith in exactly that outcome. On that day, we will all celebrate the love of God together, the sweetest wine will never run out, and the bounty at the table will sustain itself forever. And I might even mix a couple of items on my plate. Maybe.
The front-page image is a detail from “The Wedding at Cana” by Paolo Veronese, 1562-3, now on display at the Louvre. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“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.