With the end of Christmastide, we begin ‘Ordinary Time’, which goes to Lent, and resumes at the end of Eastertide. The gospels during this period will be following Jesus in his public ministry. The mass will mostly in Year C select Luke, but today is an exception.
This is from one of the anonymous prophets collected in the scroll of Isaiah, who is sometimes called Third (or ‘Trito’) Isaiah. He wrote to those who returned to re-build Jerusalem after the Exile, a message of hope to those needy who had been neglected. One of his stresses is that God’s promises are meant for beyond Israel to all peoples. Today’s selection is concerned with God restoring his sinful people to a loving relationship. The image of Israel as the faithless spouse of God had been used by previous prophets, seeing the human relationship meant to be the most intimate as a good metaphor for closeness to God. Faithless Israel had been named as the ‘Forsaken’ and ‘Abandoned’. New names will stress God’s joy in loving his people as He calls them again to the embrace of his love.
This kind of symbolic wedding came to seen as a promise for the joy of Messianic times, and so it fits well with the gospel where Jesus will be revealed in the midst of a wedding celebration.
Psalm 95/96:1-3, 7-10
This psalm is also concerned with all peoples, and urges the faithful in Israel to tell ‘all the earth’ of their God who deals fairly with all.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
The second reading looks at how God works among those who have accepted Jesus’ message that they belong to a new community. They are called to be responsive to God’s gifts. Many of the gifts or ‘charisms’ listed were familiar to the congregation in Corinth, though for most of church history many of these were not practiced in our church services or activities. Some groups in our times, have revived some, such as ‘speaking in tongues’, prophecies with discernment of prophecy, and healing services. What Paul stresses is good advice for all community situations whether ‘charismatic’ or not: respect the different ways God can act in people’s lives and do not be competitive about having the ‘best’. Secondly, remember that all such gifts and abilities are meant to be put at the service of all and are not a matter for pride and division.
This simply-told story is not without problems of interpretation. Some of these come from understanding the customs and language of the times. For example, the celebrations could go on for a long time, even over several days, so running out of wine was possible, but would embarrass the hosts. Another reason is that the writer of the Gospel has woven a lot of symbolic meanings in and around an historic event. I found helpful the commentary by Raymond E. Brown on John.
In the previous verses, John has shown Jesus collecting a group of disciples from those who had been around John the Baptist. With Jesus they have gone to Galilee, and have been invited to a wedding. We are not told anything of the bride and groom; the focus is entirely on Jesus, his mother and disciples.
‘Mother of Jesus’ – she is never given a name in John’s Gospel in her two appearances. Still in the Mid East, to call a woman a mother of a son is meant as an honour. ‘Woman’ is to us an odd term to use for one’s own mother, but it implies no disrespect; Jesus will use it for Mary again when he gives her over to the care of the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26).
The response of Jesus in the Greek is literally, ‘What to me and to you?’ and this gives a lot of trouble to translators who try to find words more understandable to modern readers. Brown explains how the term was used at the time for a situation where ‘someone is asked to get involved in a matter which he feels is no business of his.’ Jesus links this to explaining that his ‘hour’ has not yet come which implies that this is not the time for him to solve the problem by a public miracle. There is no further dialogue with his mother, but she tells the waiters to do whatever Jesus asks. She obviously expects that – whatever he said – Jesus will act, which of course he does although John does not describe the change. Simply, first there was water put into the jars, then drawn out as wine. But like the waiters, we draw our conclusion of a miracle. The amount is striking: 120 gallons in our measurement and the high quality of it is stressed by the steward.
The deeper meaning is at the heart of this Gospel. The wine at Cana is called the ‘beginning’ or the ‘first’ of the ‘signs’ given by Jesus. For John, certain miracles and actions of Jesus which he calls ‘signs’ point beyond themselves to something profound about Jesus. They help reveal who he is and what he has come to do. Here he does not spell out the meaning of this sign, as he sometimes does, for example the sign of multiplying the bread (John 6). An abundance of wine is a symbol of the messianic times in several prophets (Amos 9:13-14, Hosea 14:7, Jeremiah 31:12). As noted above, a wedding may have the same meaning.
‘My hour has not yet come:’ In John when Jesus speaks of his ‘hour’, it is his passion-death-resurrection. His Mother will again be with him at the cross and given a role in that ‘hour’. Why is her gentle request linked to the idea that the hour is not yet here? Brown suggests it is that the timing of Jesus’ actions must rely on his Father in heaven and not what seems important in human terms. It hints that the full meaning of what he does will only be known at the completion of his redemptive death, and resurrection.
Jesus’ hour starts the night before his arrest, with the Last Supper. John is the only gospel not to describe the giving of the Eucharistic bread and wine, but he is also the only one to give a long discourse on the reality of Jesus as the Bread of Life, and perhaps at Cana we are shown the reality of the blood shed in the depth of his ‘hour’ is preserved for us in the festive joy of sharing the Eucharistic wine.
This passage has a history in Catholic devotion to Our Lady, showing her as an intercessor with her Son. We can in our lives take Mary’s words to us being the same that she gives the waiters: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’