Ninth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11
We’ve now entered what I like to call the “extended Christmas season,” a period of the Church’s liturgical year that was once called simply the Time after Epiphany. It’s officially a part of Ordinary Time (the weeks of the Church’s year outside any particular season), but between now and the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation on February 2, we still reflect on the implications of Incarnation as we’ve come to know it, through Jesus’ coming into flesh at Christmas and His manifestations as the God-Man at the Epiphany and His Baptism.
As we enter with Him into His public ministry through the Gospel readings over these next few weeks, these manifestations of His two natures increase in number and become more commonplace. Some of the more spectacular of them have become organized in Christian consciousness as His “miracles,” things of wonder (Latin, miracula) which made both His disciples and His critics stop and consider just Who this strange Nazarene preacher might be. Today’s Gospel tells of the first, and perhaps the most famous, of Jesus’ miracles: turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. This event was so prominent and so key in the early Christian mind to understanding Who Jesus is that it too was originally included among the various manifestations celebrated in the Feast of the Epiphany. What makes the event so special is not simply what happened, as spectacular as it is, but why it happened, how it happened, and where it happened.
Let’s go in reverse order. First is Where: the miracle happens at a wedding. Marriage is a preeminent theme throughout the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship with Israel, and it continues to be so in our day through the Church’s understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and of Her understanding of Herself as the Bride of Christ. Today’s First Reading is a prime example, taken again from the post-exilic parts of the Book of Isaiah: “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.” The Book of Genesis, which was put into the final form we know around this same time, states that when a man clings to his wife in marriage “they become one flesh” – effectively canceling the separation God introduced by creating woman from man. This teaching was confirmed by Jesus in the Gospels when the question was put to Him about divorce: “What God has joined together, Man must not divide.” So to say that God rejoices in Jerusalem as a groom rejoices in a bride is to say that God and His people are forever joined together, in such a way that no power on earth can break the bond. This bond became supremely manifested in a physical way within time and space in the person of Jesus, fully God and fully Man, the visible and tangible union of heaven and earth. How fitting, therefore, that His first “miracle” happened at a wedding, and how fitting that He does it to bring the feast together.
Second is How: it happened very quietly. There was no grand display of power that directed everyone’s attention to Jesus in the center of the room. There was no big announcement from the disciples about what was about to happen, like the prophet in the First Reading who says “For Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet until her vindication shines forth like the dawn.” No – Jesus simply told the servers to fill the large stone water vessels to the brim, and then to draw some of the water and take it to the head-waiter, who tasted “good wine” and had it served to the guests. Only Jesus, His disciples, and the servers knew where the wine had come from. As much as we may emphasize the actual turning of the water into wine, an act that is recalled in the offerings of the Mass – and is lampooned by every modern comic and satirist I can think of – from the outset even Jesus Himself did not put such emphasis on the action as we do. Even the old prophet can now be quiet; Jerusalem’s vindication has appeared as soft and as gentle as the dawn.
And third is Why: because His Mother wanted Him to. Our Gospel reading indicates that Jesus went to this wedding with no intention of demonstrating His power. As He says, “My hour is not yet come.” But as we read just a few weeks ago, He was obedient to His parents upon their return to Nazareth and as he grew in wisdom and in power. And now almost two decades later, Mother looks at Son and all she has to say is, “They have no wine.” He does make a formal protest, but so confident is she that He will do something, so convinced is she that this action is in service to the will of His Father – so deep is her faith, always – that she speaks to one of the servers and simply says, “Do whatever He tells you.” From the beginning the Son was obedient in all things. And He would continue to be so even to death.
Unity. Humility. Obedience. Jesus’ first miracle is not a demonstration of an overbearing and distant “old man in the sky” to whom the rules don’t apply, as so many people imagine (and even teach!) God to be. This is a demonstration of humble and obedient union with those among whom He walks. And in that way it also serves as an example to all of us – among whom He still walks! – about how to conduct our own works. In the Second Reading Saint Paul is advising his beloved Corinthian church about spiritual gifts – such as expressing wisdom, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, tongues, interpretation – and how no gift is greater or lesser than another but all of them work together towards the same end of service. He writes, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. …But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as He wishes.” It is in this same letter from the mid-1st century that Paul’s metaphor of the Church as a mystical Body develops, and we’ll encounter it more over the coming weeks. The point is that whatever anyone’s calling or ability or profession, all are called to work together in service to the same Lord Who gives us these gifts. Our individuality is not lost in our coming together any more than the individuality of a husband and a wife are lost by becoming one in marriage. But not one of us walks alone in this world. As I’ve been known to say, Salvation is individual but we only get there together. And we do that by working in service towards each other and everyone, by showing that same mercy that Jesus did in all His works.
Within the person of Jesus dwells the fullness of the Father Who is “all in all” and the Spirit Who distributes all the Father’s gifts; all three are co-equal in that loving Triune relationship in which God reveals Himself to be the very operation of Love itself. And as demonstrated by His first miracle, Jesus exercised this immeasurable power with an intent towards unifying His people, with quiet humility, and with obedience to the will of the One Who sent Him. May all our own works. small or great, be done with such an end in mind. May we always have the benefit of our brothers and sisters in mind, who are co-equal with us in worth and dignity and love. May His Church always be His Bride. May we always do whatever He tells us.