Second Sunday After Epiphany
By Melody Kroeger
“They have no more wine,” Mary, mother of Jesus, tells Jesus. What happens to a celebration – any celebration – when the wine runs out?
Weddings were large, raucous communal events in the ancient Jewish world and the feast was a big part of the celebration – involving entire villages and often lasting beyond the week. Our readings today illustrate for us how weddings and feasts loom large throughout scriptures as metaphors for the gracious and abundant celebration that is God’s kingdom. Isaiah compares Israel’s future joy to a wedding feast: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” The psalmist reminds Israel of a wedding feast of abundance singing “They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.” Weddings are a sign of new beginnings, hopes and promises – a new life.
The wedding feast at Cana is only found in the gospel of John. At first glance, changing water into wine seems to be a straight forward retelling of the first of seven miraculous signs Jesus performs in the gospel of John. But as always, the gospel John is full of hidden riches, surprises and gifts.
When the wine runs out, Mary encourages her son to come to the aid of the wedding hosts. “Woman, why do you involve me?” he replies to her, rather sharply. “My hour has not yet come.”
In response, Mary, for all we know she may have been well acquainted with the host family, takes control and calmly tells the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesuit priest and biblical scholar James Martin writes that Mary may recognize the divine nature of Jesus before he does. Scriptural narrative doesn’t give us insights to the personal motivations and innermost thoughts of the biblical characters that fill its pages. We only know them through their actions, words and deeds.
The wedding at Cana may have been the moment, Martin writes, when Mary invites Jesus to step onto the path God has laid out before him.
We can imagine Jesus pausing – ever so briefly – to reflect on what will be required of him – when his blood will become the wine that slakes out thirst. Despite his reluctance, whatever his hesitation, Jesus does respond to the situation and turns water into wine. And not just any wine – it was excellent wine of staggering abundance – 120 gallons or 605 bottles of choice wine.
The sign that God is present in our midst is overflowing generosity and goodness. We see it in John’s gospel when Jesus feeds the 5,000. We see when Jesus heals the man at Bethesda who had been crippled for 38 years. We see it again and again throughout the gospel. But the story is more textured and complex. The miraculous sign Jesus performs at the wedding opens our imagination to the mystery of how God moves in our world – especially when the wine runs out in our lives.
What happens when the wine runs out at a wedding? It means the end of the celebration. In fact, running out of wine is not just an unfortunate setback for the wedding, or an embarrassing problem for the hosts. Running out of wine is an appropriate metaphor for what happens in life when energy is depleted; our zest has disappeared, when the laughter is gone. It is a description of life when we’re uncertain how to move forward.
But John – clever John – uses this story to direct our attention to Jesus, to what Jesus brings to the wedding. The miraculous sign Jesus performs in turning water into wine show us the Good News – that when Jesus is there, God is there. And when God is present, God is at work, bringing abundance and goodness to our lives. A story about scarcity becomes a miracle of plenty. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is in our midst, full of grace and mercy, attentive to our needs and bringing riches and all good things. God breaks through time and space bringing new things into our lives, transforming darkness into light, changing despair into hope, tears into laughter, and water into wine.
Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow, wrote:
“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.” (Testament to Hope)
When God’s love and promises are revealed to us and we experience God’s grace and mercy, then loss and hurt and hopelessness are never the final word. Discouragement, despair and darkness cannot hold us.
God dwells among us and we are never separated from God’s loving embrace.
I have always liked the story of the wedding at Cana because it reminds me of the two natures of Jesus – fully human and fully divine. Jesus is a fully human person – enjoying the wedding feast, eating and drinking, and almost certainly dancing with bride and groom. The story also calls to mind the fully divine Jesus nourishing us and quenching our thirst. Through these miraculous signs – changing water into wine and feeding the 5,000 – Jesus is moving toward giving his whole self in the holy Eucharist.
Let us celebrate this Good News at the table of plenty this morning – where the good wine never runs out.