Sunday, January 20, 2019
The First Miracle of Jesus
“Do whatever He tells you!”
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross, that seemed to be the end of all hope, became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The Gospel of this second Sunday of Ordinary Time places us before the celebration of the Wedding at Cana, in Galilee. At that time, just as now, everybody liked feasts: the feast for a marriage or for a Baptism, the birthday party, the feast of the patron or patroness of the Church, the feast at the end of the year, feasts and more feasts… There are some feasts which remain engraved in our memory and which, over time, acquire a more profound significance. Other feasts, we forget. We no longer remember them because they have lost their significance. The feast of the wedding at Cana, as it has been described in the Gospel of John (Jn 2:1-11), has remained alive in the memory of the Christian people, and for some it has taken on a more profound meaning. To understand this progressive discovery of the significance of the wedding at Cana we must remember that the Gospel of John is different from the other Gospels. John describes the facts of the life of Jesus in such a way that the readers discover in them a more profound dimension, which only faith can perceive. John, at the same time, presents a photograph or an x-ray. This is why, during the reading, it is good to be very attentive to the details of the text, especially to the two following things: (i) to the attitudes and behavior of the people and (ii) to what is lacking and to the abundance which appear in the wedding at Cana.
b) A division of the text to help in the reading:
John 2:1-2: Feast of the wedding. Mary is present. Jesus is the one who has been invited.
John 2:3-5: Jesus and His mother faced with the lack of wine.
John 2:6: The jars for the ablutions are empty.
John 2:7-8: The initiative of Jesus and of the servants.
John 2:9-10: The discovery of the sign by the chief wine steward
John 2:11: The Evangelist’s brief commentary
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 the 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.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which point in this text did you like best? Which one impressed you the most? Why?
b) What struck you in the attitude and behavior of the people? Why?
c) What kind of lack and what kind of abundance was there in the feast? What is the significance of this detail?
d) What did Jesus do and how did He do it to offer wine in abundance?
e) Jesus begins the announcement of the Kingdom at a wedding feast. What does He want to teach us with this gesture?
f) What is the message of this text for us today?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context in order to understand the photograph and the x-ray:
When we say “photograph”, we indicate the facts in themselves, just as they appear before our eyes. When we say “x-ray”, we are speaking of a deeper dimension, invisible to our eyes, which is enclosed in the facts that only faith reveals to us.
It is in the way in which John describes the facts that he takes an x-ray of the words and the gestures of Jesus. Through these small details and references, he uncovers the symbolic dimension and, in doing this, he helps us to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of the person and the message of Jesus. In the wedding at Cana, in Galilee, there is the change of the water of the ablutions of the Jews into the wine for the wedding feast. Let us look closely at the details with which John describes the feast, in a way that we can understand the deeper significance of this beautiful and well known episode.
b) Comment on the text:
John 2:1-2: Wedding feast. Jesus has been invited.
In the Old Testament, the wedding feast was a symbol of God’s love for His people. That was what everyone expected in the future (Hos 2:21-22; Isa 62:4-5). It is precisely in a wedding feast, around a family and a community, that Jesus performs His first sign (Jn 2:11). The mother of Jesus was also at the feast. Jesus and His disciples had been invited. The mother of Jesus takes part in the celebration. This symbolizes the Old Testament. Together with His disciples Jesus is the New Testament which is arriving. The mother of Jesus will help to pass from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
John 2:3-5: Jesus and His mother faced with the lack of wine.
Right in the middle of the celebration, the wine is depleted. The mother of Jesus recognizes the limitations of the Old Testament and takes the initiative, in order that the New Testament may be manifested. She approaches Jesus and says, “They have no wine!” Here we have the photograph and the x-ray. The photo represents the mother of Jesus as someone who is attentive to the problems of others and is aware that the lack of wine would ruin the feast. She is not only aware of the problem, but also takes the initiative to solve it. The x-ray reveal the deepest dimension of the relationship between the Old Testament (the mother of Jesus) and the New Testament (Jesus). The statement, “They have no wine!” comes from the Old Testament and awakens in Jesus the action which will bring the New Testament to light. Jesus says, “Woman, what do you want from Me?” That is, what is the link between the Old and the New Testament? “My hour has not yet come!” Mary did not understand this response as negative, as a no, because she tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” It is in doing what Jesus teaches that one goes from the Old to the New Testament! Jesus’ hour, in which the passage from the Old to the New Testament will take place, is His Passion, Death and Resurrection. The changing of the water into wine is the anticipation of what is new, which will come from the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
At the end of the first century, the first Christians debated the validity of the Old Testament. Some no longer wanted to know anything about the Old Testament. In the meeting of the apostles in Jerusalem, James defended the continuity of the use of the Old Testament (Acts 15:13-21). In fact, at the beginning of the second century, Marcion rejected the Old Testament and remained only with the books of the New Testament. Some even affirmed that after the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus of Nazareth should no longer be remembered, but that we should speak only of the Risen Christ. In the name of the Holy Spirit, they said: “Anathema Jesus!” (I Cor 12: 3).
John 2:6: The jars for the ablutions are empty.
It is a small point, but with significant detail. The jars were usually full, especially during a feast. Here they are empty! Why? The observance of the law of purification, symbolized by the six jars, has exhausted all their possibilities. The ancient law has already succeeded to prepare the people to be able to have the union of grace and justification before God. The jars, the old Covenant, are empty! They are no longer capable of generating new life.
John 2:7-8: Jesus and the servants.
The recommendation of the mother of Jesus to the servants is the last order of the Old Testament: “Do whatever He tells you!” The Old Testament looks toward Jesus. From now on, the words and gestures and actions of Jesus will be the ones to direct our life. Jesus calls the servants and orders them to fill the six empty jars. In all, over six hundred liters! He immediately orders them to draw from the jars and to take them to the chief steward. Jesus’ initiative takes place without the intervention of the chief steward. Neither Jesus, nor His mother, nor the servants, were obviously the bosses. None of them went to ask permission from the steward or the bridegroom. Renewal passes to the people who do not belong to the center of power.
John 2:9-10: Discovery of the sign by the president of the feast.
The chief steward tasted the water transformed into wine and said to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves good wine first. But you have kept the best wine until now!” The chief steward, the Old Testament, recognizes publicly that the New is better! Where before there was water for the rite of ablutions of the Jews, now there is abundant wine for the feast. There was a lot of wine: over six hundred liters, and the feast was almost over! What is the meaning of this abundance? What was done with the wine which was left over? We are drinking it even now!
John 2:11: Comment of the Evangelist.
This is the first sign. In the fourth Gospel, the first sign takes place to help in the building up of the family, of the community, in order to mend the relationships among people. Six other signs will follow. John does not use the word miracle, but sign. The word sign indicates that the actions of Jesus on behalf of the people have a more profound value, that can only be discovered with the x-ray of faith. The small community which had formed around Jesus that week, seeing the sign, was ready to accept the deeper significance and “believe in Him”.
c) Extending the information:
* A much expected wedding
In the Gospel of John, the beginning of Jesus’ public life takes place at a wedding feast, a moment of great joy and of great hope. For this same reason, the wedding at Cana has intense symbolic significance. In the Bible, matrimony is the image used to signify the realization of the perfect union between God and His people. This marriage between God and His people was expected for a long time, for over eight hundred years!
It was prophet Hosea (around the year 750 BC) who, for the first time, represented the hope of this marriage when he narrates the parable of the infidelity of the people before the proposal of Yahweh. The monarchy in Israel had abandoned Yahweh and His mercy, leading the people toward false gods. But the prophet, sure of God’s love, says that the people will be led once again to the desert to listen to the following promise from God: “I shall betroth you to Myself forever. I shall betroth you in uprightness and justice, and faithful love and tenderness. Yes, I shall betroth you to Myself in loyalty and in the knowledge of Yahweh!” (Hos 2:21-22). This marriage between God and the people indicates that the ideal of the exodus will be attained (Hos 2:4-25). About a hundred and fifty years later, the prophet Jeremiah takes the words of Hosea to denounce the monarchy of Judah. And he says that Judah will have the same destiny as Israel because of its infidelity (Jer 2:2-5; 3:11-13). But Jeremiah also looks towards the hope of a perfect marriage with the following novelty: it will be the woman who will seduce the husband (Jer 31:22). And in spite of the crisis created by the Babylonian exile, the people do not lose hope that one day this marriage will take place. Yahweh will have compassion on His abandoned spouse (Isa 54:1-8). With the return of the exiled, the “abandoned one” will again be the spouse accepted with great joy (Isa 62:4-5).
Finally, looking at the events which are taking place, John the Baptist looks towards Jesus, the awaited bridegroom (Jn 3:29). In His teachings and conversations with the people, Jesus takes back Hosea’s parable, the dream of the perfect marriage. He presents Himself as the long-awaited bridegroom (Mk 2:19). In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, He discreetly presents Himself as the true bridegroom, the seventh one (Jn 4:16-17). The Christian communities will accept Jesus as the expected bridegroom (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-31). The wedding at Cana wishes to show that Jesus is the true bridegroom who arrives for the long expected wedding, bringing a tasteful and abundant wine. This definitive marriage is described with beautiful images in the book of Apocalypse (Rev 19:7-8; 21:2).
* The Mother of Jesus in the Gospel of John
Even though she is never called by the name of Mary, the mother of Jesus appears two times in the Gospel of John: at the beginning of the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-5), and at the end, at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25-27). In both cases she represents the Old Testament which is waiting for the New one to arrive, and, in both cases, she contributes to the arrival of the New One. Mary is the bond of union between what was before and what will come afterwards. At Cana, she, the mother of Jesus, symbol of the Old Testament, is the one who perceives the limitations of the Old Testament and takes the necessary steps in order to proceed to the New one. At the foot of the Cross, she is at the side of the “Beloved Disciple”. The Beloved Disciple is the community which grows around Jesus. He is the son born from the Old Testament. At the request of Jesus, the son, the New Testament, receives Mary, the Old Testament, in his house. Both of them have to walk together. In fact, the New cannot be understood without the Old. The New Testament would have no basis, foundation. And the Old without the New would be incomplete: a tree without fruit.
* The Seven Days of the New Creation
The text begins by saying: “On the third day” (Jn 2:1). In the previous chapter, John had already repeated the expression: “On the following day” (Jn 1:29,35,43). Considering this, it offers the following schema: The witness of John the Baptist to Jesus (Jn 1:19-28) takes place on the first day. “The day after” (Jn 1:29), that is the second day, is the Baptism of Jesus (Jn 1: 29-34). The third day, the call of the disciples and Peter takes place (Jn 1:35-42). On the fourth day, Jesus calls Philip, and Philip calls Nathanael (Jn 1:43-51). Finally, “three days later” that is on the seventh day, that is, on Saturday, the first sign, that of the wedding at Cana, takes place (Jn 2, 1). Throughout the Gospel, Jesus performs seven signs.
John uses the outline of the week to present the beginning of Jesus’ activity. The Old Testament uses the same outline to present creation. In the first six days, God created all things calling them by name. On the seventh day He rested, and worked no more (Gen 1:1-2: 4). In the same way, Jesus, in the first days of His activity, calls the people and creates the community, the new humanity. On the seventh day, that is, on Saturday, Jesus does not rest, but works the first sign. Throughout the next chapters, from 2 until 19 included, He performs six other signs, always on Saturday (Jn 5:16; 9:14). Finally, in the morning of the Resurrection, when Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, it is said, “the first day of the week” (Jn 20:1). It is the first day of the new creation, after that prolonged Saturday in which Jesus worked the seven signs. Accused of working on Saturday, Jesus answers, “My Father still goes on working and I am at work too” (Jn 5:17). Through the activity of Jesus between Cana and the Cross, the Father completes what is lacking in the old creation, in a way in which the new creation can emerge in the Resurrection of Jesus.
6. Pray with Psalm 148
Alleluia! Praise Yahweh from the heavens,
praise Him in the heights.
Praise Him, all His angels,
praise Him, all His host!
Praise Him, sun and moon,
praise Him, all shining stars,
praise Him, highest heavens,
praise Him, waters above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of Yahweh
at whose command they were made;
He established them for ever
and ever by an unchanging decree.
Praise Yahweh from the earth,
sea-monsters and all the depths,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
storm-winds that obey His word,
mountains and every hill,
orchards and every cedar,
wild animals and all cattle,
reptiles and winged birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
princes and all judges on earth,
young men and girls,
old people and children together.
Let them praise the name of Yahweh,
for His name alone is sublime,
His splendor transcends earth and heaven.
For He heightens the strength of His people,
to the praise of all His faithful,
the children of Israel,
the people close to Him.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word, You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.