Last Sunday, we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, which inaugurated Jesus’ public ministry. Although the Christmas/Epiphany season officially ended with that feast, the Church continues to celebrate the many ways by which Jesus reveals himself in our midst each day. One of the most significant of his revelation moments is recounted in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ changing of water into wine is “the beginning of his signs.” It is yet another epiphany, a revelation, as the evangelist John explains when he says that by means of this sign, Jesus “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”
There is much more to this sign than we may perceive at first glance. The Church helps us ponder its deeper meaning by placing it in the liturgical context of the epiphanies we have celebrated over the past few weeks – in particular, the visit of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus. One of the antiphons used in the Liturgy of the Hours for the feast of Epiphany indicates some of the connections between these three manifestations of the Lord: “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”
If we limit our focus to the momentary predicament of the young couple at Cana on their wedding day, the idea that the Magi in Bethlehem were bringing gifts for a royal wedding will make no sense at all! The Church is suggesting to us that there are many levels to the mystery we ponder today. On the literal level, the young newlyweds at Cana are real people, acquaintances of Jesus and Mary in the first century. Mary shows a particular concern for them, since to run out of wine would be a major embarrassment in that culture. However, on a symbolic level, the bride and groom at Cana are also living signs, representatives of the “royal wedding” between God and man brought about by the Incarnation of the Word. Mary’s intervention becomes an occasion not only for Jesus to help one new family, but even more for him to begin to “reveal his glory” to the new family of believers.
Long before Jesus attended the wedding at Cana, the great prophet Isaiah used the analogy of marriage to reveal God’s love for his people, as we see in today’s first reading. There are times when we may feel abandoned by God, like a forsaken lover – the Chosen People sometimes felt like that – but that feeling does not correspond to the truth. God has not abandoned us; he will never abandon us. He calls us “My Delight”! He has chosen us with the tender love of a bridegroom. So the prophet joyfully announces: “As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” This is an announcement that truly makes us pause in wonder. The wedding we celebrate today is not someone else’s but our own – the greatest, most intimate marriage of all, our marriage with God!
If the image of marriage applies to us, the crisis of “running out of wine” applies to us as well. Here, wine is a symbol of everything that makes life joyful. Running out of wine means having no more joy, no hope, no zest for living. When all the flavor has gone out of our relationships and our activities, we are left deeply unsatisfied. This describes much of modern life. The advertising and the packaging of the world’s promises tell us that we will be happy forever if only we eat the fruit offered to us. We end up with plain water, and often worse, nothing but a dry, dirty water jar. When we “run out of wine,” we long for some satisfaction, and if we do not turn to God, we try to fill ourselves with something else – including wine! An alcoholic looks like he has too much wine, but on a deeper level, he drinks too much because he has too little of the wine Jesus provides, the “new wine” of the Spirit. All our sins, all our compulsive attempts to fill ourselves or to escape from suffering, are signs that we have “run out of wine.” If we keep drawing from the “empty water jars” the world offers us, we will only end up more and more unsatisfied.
“The mother of Jesus was there.” Mary is present when we are in crisis, ready to show us a better way. She knows of a Source of good wine that does not run out. She acts as the Mother of the Bride, preparing us for our communion with God. At Cana, when Jesus hears the intervention of his Mother, at first he does not recognize that the hour has come to reveal himself. But quickly he sees the will of the Father unfolding in this moment. He realizes that, indeed, a wedding feast is a most fitting occasion to begin the revelation of the tender love of God. Mary offers us her wisest counsel, in the last of her words recorded in the whole Bible, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Mary points to Jesus. Our obedience to her strengthens our obedience to him. When the servants humbly obey Jesus’ unusual instructions, he provides the whole celebration with a huge supply of choice wine. This abundance shows us that the miracle is not simply a favor for the newlyweds and their guests, nor is it merely a courtesy that Jesus shows to his Mother. This is a sign that the real wedding feast has begun! The best wine is now served. Now is the hour when we can celebrate a union with God that is greater than we could ever have imagined.
The “new wine,” the “good wine,” is life in Christ. It is life filled with the Spirit whom he has poured into our hearts. Like the plain earthenware jars (cf. 2 Cor 4:7), we have been filled with divine life. The liturgy helps us understand this by turning to Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians on the variety of the gifts of the Spirit. Even one gift would make us rich, but what groom gives his bride only one gift? The Lord has filled us with many gifts! He wants us all to rejoice in the new life he shares with us. Gifts exercised by one person are for the good of all, so there is no reason to covet the gifts of others or to be poisoned by jealousy. To be a faithful bride does not require that we have any particular gift. What is necessary is that we heed the wisdom of Mary: “Do whatever he tells you!”
In what ways does Jesus reveal his glory and his presence in my life? How do I express the wonderment that God is “My Delight” and will never abandon me? Gifted by the Spirit of God, how do I always rejoice in this and share it with others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.