Friday, August 5, 2016

They have no wine


 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."  Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast."  And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now!"  This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.

- John 2:1-12

This week we have begun the Gospel of John.  First came its theological Prologue.  Then we are given a week in the beginning of Jesus' ministry, paralleling the Creation in Genesis.  On the first day we are introduced to John the Baptist,  then on the second and third days Jesus meets and chooses His first disciples, who were first disciples of John.  Yesterday, we read that on the following day (that is, the fourth day) Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me."  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."  And Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Philip said to him, "Come and see."  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!"  Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."  Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree,' do you believe?  You will see greater things than these."  And He said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."    The third day is an expression that means "the day after the next" (or "two days later," including the current day in the count) making this the sixth day given in John's Gospel.  We are, significantly, at a wedding feast.  The sixth day in Genesis is the creation of man and woman.  Significantly, a woman plays a great role in this reading, and she is the Mary, the Mother of Christ.  Her role here as intercessor will set her role in the Church to come, and that of the saints who follow her.  A wedding is symbolic of the new covenant coming into the world through this ministry.  It also parallels Resurrection:  there is a Mary here who makes an appeal, and it is the third day.  It's a reflection, a hint, that the marriage between God and His Church or His people, Israel, will be fulfilled in the Resurrection.  My study  bible points out the similarities between John's Resurrection account and Song of Solomon, also cementing the tie between Resurrection and the marriage of God and God's beloved.  We are in Galilee, a place of both Jewish and Gentile populations, signifying this marriage, this new covenant, will include all people who enter into it.  But most powerfully, we are given the role and character of His mother, the human being chosen to bear God into the world (Theotokos, traditional title for Mary, means "God-bearer").    There is a kind of synergy here between human beings and the Lord's power; her prayer or intercession, and her example and teaching of obedience, making way for the first sign or miracle in John's Gospel.   This working between human beings (prayer) and the Lord is the depth of covenant in faith, for which marriage ("the two become one flesh") is another kind of symbol.  Wine is symbolic of life, says my study bible.  So Mary's statement, "They have no wine," has two levels of meaning:  first, a marriage isn't complete without the presence of Christ, and second, the old covenant was unable to bestow life even on those most faithful.  Woman is a sacred title in Scripture.  It conveys deep respect and distinction (4:21; 8:10; 19:26; 20:13, compare to Genesis 2:23).  Jesus asks more literally, "What is that to Me and to you?"   He declares that the time for His revelation as Christ hasn't come yet. 

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.   Again, the number six is significant in today's reading.  It's the sixth day of John's Gospel, and here the waterpots number six.  It is one less than the perfect seven, and symbolic of the Law.  These are made of stone, as in rabbinical teaching, stone would not contract ritual impurity.  The Law (illustrated by water reserved for Jewish purification) was incomplete, imperfect, and could not bestow life.

  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast."  And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now!"  This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.   The changing of water into wine symbolizes the old covenant being fulfilled in the new, which can bestow life.  The overabundance here in the gallons of the good wine is symbolic of overflowing grace for grace that Christ grants.  In the tradition of the Church, many see the transformation of water to wine as prefiguring the Eucharist, the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Jesus' glory is the divine power in signs such as this one, and also His humble service to human beings.

After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.  This verse gives us the seventh day of Jesus' ministry, paralleling the day of God's rest in Genesis.  Jesus' brothers are considered to be either extended family (as it is common in Scripture as well as today in the Middle East to refer to cousins as "brothers"), or step-children to Mary by previous marriage of Joseph.  As would be typical, all were present as guests at the wedding.

Perhaps there is nothing more extraordinary than the power of prayer.  Shown in Jesus' Mother, who will become the saint of all saints, the one always known as great Intercessor for all His followers, is the example of human beings "working together," so to speak, with the power of God.  Through the Incarnation, Christ stoops low, one might say, as God comes to us and meets us where we are.  Prayer becomes both plea and dialogue, and God's power responds.  Thus, today's reading gives us the first sign of God's presence among us in John's Gospel.  There will be seven given altogether.   Mary is a stand-in and representative of all faithful human beings who love God.  In that light, her role as God-bearer becomes more profound and powerful.  Human beings are shown to have the capacity, by grace, to bear God within themselves, and to nurture Christ's Church in the world through our own love and care and protection of what is truly "the Good."  It is love that really cements this bond -- what is called "synergy" in formal theology -- between God and human beings.  That it is a woman chosen for such a role teaches us the tremendous blessing given to all of us by God as heirs and inheritors of this Kingdom and participants in God's covenant.  The power of prayer illustrated in Mary's appeal or request is also shown to have extraordinary benefits for all the world in the resulting abundance of wine as illustrative of God's grace.  In the encounter with God, we do not know the results of our prayer.  All power of response is in the hands of God, and Christ's response shows that it is He who elects to choose His own time and response for all things.  We cannot predict grace, nor are we the authors of its power and intention.  But we can play a role, as intercessors ourselves, when we pray for the world, when we enter into dialogue with God.  That simple act can already be one of repentance, of a desire for something other than the world's dictates and the "rules" we seem to learn from what is "worldly."  Prayer is a request for something more and different.  It is even an act of freedom, a refusal of slavery to sin, a turning to grace beyond what we know.  Let us remember her example and also her love, for that is the key to everything, even to her depth of humility.


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