At Cana, Jesus is the Bridegroom, who provides the wine, and Mary is the Woman. Homily for 1/20/2019

Is 62:1-5;  Ps 96;  1Cor 12:4-11;  Jn 2:1-11

How fitting that only four days after the 100th anniversary of the 18th Amendment (on Prohibition), in today’s gospel, Jesus produces nearly 180 gallons of wine. Catholics definitely know how to celebrate!

            One of the most important themes in the Scriptures is marriage. The Bible begins with a man and woman united in marriage, and it ends in heaven at the wedding feast of the Lamb. In between, the Bible recounts many stories of husband and wife (Abraham/Sarah, Jacob/Rachel, Tobiah/Sarah, and so on). Most often, the stories recall a man who searches for his bride. Marriage is a key to understanding God’s word. After all, the prophets, including Isaiah in our first reading, liken God’s relationship with his people to a faithful marriage: “As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you” (Is 62:5). Even from creation, God has been pursuing us so that He might enter into a mystical marriage with us. And that union will reach fulfillment in heaven, when we will become one with God.

            All this is background to the familiar story of the wedding feast at Cana. This town is located only nine miles north of Nazareth, so Mary and Jesus likely knew the bride and groom personally, perhaps even as a family member. About 500 people lived in Nazareth at the time of Jesus, and Cana was a similar size. In other words, a lot of people were invited to the wedding. And to run out of wine not only reflected poorly on the hosts, it was also a bad omen for the couple. When reading this story, some people are content to say that Jesus simply wanted to spare this poor couple from embarrassment. And sure, that’s a good start. But in Jesus’ day, it was the groom’s job to provide the wine. So who’s the real groom in this story? And for that matter, who’s the bride? The evangelist John purposely leaves them unnamed. So let’s look closer at some aspects of this story, because John is an absolute master of theology.

            From the very outset of his gospel, John points our attention back to Genesis. That’s why the two books begin with the exact same words: “In the beginning…” Genesis recounts the first week of creation day-by-day. Interestingly, John gives a day-by-day recap of the first and last weeks of Jesus’ public ministry. But here let’s just focus on the first week: chapter one highlights the first four days, as Jesus encounters John the Baptist and the first disciples. Chapter two begins with the words, “On the third day, there was a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee.” In Genesis, God did something very important—and different—on the seventh day: He rested. In John’s gospel, Jesus also did something extraordinary: He performed His first sign on the seventh day. Or rather, “on the third day,” similar to how He would perform His greatest miracle of all—His resurrection—on the third day. Coincidence? Not at all. John is saying that the Word (capital W), through whom God created the universe (in Genesis)—remember how God spoke and things came to be—has become flesh in Jesus, and now He recreates the world by His presence on earth. So it makes sense that this re-creation should begin to be made manifest at a wedding feast.

            The most confusing part of the story is Jesus’ encounter with His mother. Our Lady simply tells Him: “They have no wine.” She brings it to his attention, knowing that He can and will take care of the details. What a novel way to pray: not telling Jesus what needs to be done or how we’d solve the problem, but merely informing Jesus and trusting that He’ll handle everything.   But His reply seems harsh. Here, there are three things to consider: 1) we don’t know the tone of Jesus’ voice;  2) the English translation is poor. The literal translation is: “Woman, what to you and to me?” So instead of making her request seem detached from Him (“How does your concern affect me?), her concern is His concern. 3) There was no punctuation in the original text. So this seeming rebuke (“My hour has not yet come”) could be translated: “Has not my hour come?” In any event, in John’s gospel, whenever Jesus refers to His “hour”, He’s always speaking of the cross, because the cross is the “hour” of His glorification.

            One thing is certain, though. At the time of Jesus, the title “Woman,” while being a respectful term, wasn’t the way a son would address his own mother. So there must be more going on here. John gives us a clue, but we have to go to chapter 19, to the foot of the cross. John mentions Our Lady only twice in his gospel, and both times he calls her “the mother of Jesus”, never her given name, “Mary.” And both times Jesus addresses her as “Woman” (e.g. “Woman, behold your son.”) Why is this title, “Woman,” so important? In Genesis, the first woman was created without sin, and she became the mother of all the living. But it was her disobedience (and Adam’s as well) that led to the downfall of the human race. Yet immediately after that original sin, God promised that the offspring of a woman would crush the head of the serpent. Mary, conceived without sin, is entirely obedient to the will of God, and she gave birth to Jesus, who brings this promise to fulfillment. By calling his mother, “Woman”, Jesus is making her the mother of all the redeemed, and including her in human salvation. But at Cana, Jesus is reminding her that once He performs this first miracle, He would be heading directly to the cross. In other words, Mary was consciously putting Jesus on the road to the cross, because that was His mission. And in doing so, she fully cooperates in the redemption of the human race.

            Consider that Our Lady made the initial request, and Jesus performed his first miracle at her bidding. It shows that she’s a powerful intercessor on our behalf, and Jesus expects us to have recourse to her. Through Mary’s faith and Jesus’ power, (our gospel today ended with the words), “And his disciples began to believe in him.” Mary’s role is to strengthen the faith of Jesus’ disciples. She does this at Pentecost, when the disciples gathered around her in prayer. She does this at the foot of the cross, when the disciple took her into his home. Jesus wants us to take Our Lady not just into our physical home, but into everything that we hold dear. No problem is too great for Our Lady, as long as we approach with faith and confidence in her maternal intercession and love. In today’s reading, we find Mary’s last words recorded in Scripture: “Do whatever he tells you.” Simple, but beautiful advice from Our Lady.

            By being at this wedding, Jesus shows the goodness of marriage, and makes Christian marriage a sign of his presence (CCC1613). But for this to happen, every marriage must be rooted in the Lord Jesus and Our Lady. Spouses must spend time together each day consciously in the presence of the Lord. For Jesus promised that “wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). And in a marriage, there are already two built-in. Jesus wants to help and heal couples and families, but we need to cultivate His presence on a daily basis through prayer.      

            I asked earlier: Who’s the real groom and bride in this story? Remember: the groom provides the wine . . . which means that Jesus is the real groom. And Our Lady, in her very person, embodies the bride (i.e. God’s people), who are meant to be faithful to God like a faithful spouse. In the Old Testament, the Chosen People acted unfaithfully by their worship of false gods. Jesus takes the old water used for ritual purification, and replaces it with something much better: the sweet-tasting gospel message. The New Covenant is like a marriage where Jesus will care for his bride, the Church. We, like Our Lady, are transformed by the presence of God within us through the sacraments. And we’re expected to say “yes” to the will of God, like she did. The prophets said that when the Messiah came, the mountains would drip with new wine (Amos 9:13; Jl 4:18). This first miracle shows that the Messiah has truly come! It’s amazing to think that from all eternity God knew that wine would be the sign of his presence. For Jesus performed a great miracle of transforming ordinary water into wine. And the quality of that wine was off the charts! It gives us a small glimpse of the abundance of God’s love—Jesus didn’t just produce enough wine for a wedding reception; He created 180 gallons of wine! That’s about 900 bottles! But only a few years later, He would work an even greater miracle: transforming ordinary wine into His Blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, poured out in abundance for the salvation of the world. What closer union on earth is possible that the union we have with Christ in the Eucharist, the Eucharist which is sometimes called a pledge or foretaste of eternal life? Jesus’ desire for union with us is so strong and so real that He enters inside of us when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Like a bridegroom, He wants to make us fruitful when we receive Him. So today, let’s respond generously to the Lord’s desire for union with us, because He’s already given Himself to us in the Eucharist, and now He awaits that perfect union with us in the kingdom of heaven.

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