Sunday 20th January 2013

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C Lectio divina on Jn 2,1-11

The first public manifestation of Jesus in the fourth gospel took place in the unusual setting of a wedding. It came about through the carelessness of a young couple, and the womanly attention and motherly care of Mary, and her obedience. This led Jesus to anticipate his hour. His miracle rescued the wedding feast, and spared the young couple embarrassment and ridicule. Most important of all, however, it transformed those who were just curious followers into disciples who believed in Jesus. Where Mary is present, the feast is saved despite people’s carelessness, and interest in Jesus leads easily to firm faith in him. The community of disciples was born when a woman noticed the oversight that robbed the occasion of joy, and when the mother, despite a first rebuff from her Son, taught the servants to obey. How much we stand to lose, if we lose sight in our lives of the Mother of God! Is it any wonder that sometimes we find it difficult to live in faith and joy?

1 There was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. 3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what is that to you or to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The account of the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee (Jn. 2,1-11) is a well-defined narrative block. It begins by locating the action and introducing the persons taking part, and concludes with a comment on the theological significance of the event (Jn. 2,11). The account is divided into three scenes, or rather, three dialogues – the dialogue between Mary and Jesus (Jn. 2,3 b-5), that between Jesus and the servants (Jn. 2,7-8), and finally the dialogue between the steward and the bridegroom (Jn. 2,9-10).

The story proceeds in narrative form until it is interrupted with a comment by the evangelist (Jn. 2,11), followed by a reference to their departure (Jn. 2,12) which concludes the account. In verse 11 the writer gives his understanding of the meaning of what occurred. The disciples recognised in this first miracle of Jesus (or, more precisely, the beginning of his signs: cf. Jn 4,46-54; 5,1-9, 6. ,1-15 16-21, 9.1 a 12; 11:1-44) an external manifestation of God, and his glory, and the efficacious presence of his interventions in history which can only be understood in faith (cf. 2,23-25 , 4,48, 20,29).

The whole account is permeated by a subtle irony, typical of John. Reporting the shortage of wine at a wedding feast (Jn. 2,3), does not give a good impression of the people in charge, nor does the revelation that they usually kept the poor wine until the last (Jn. 2,10).

John the Baptist was a strict ascetic who neither ate nor drank (cf. Mt 11,18). For some of John’s disciples, the idea that Jesus would bring them to a wedding feast where the festivities might go on for two or three days was bound to be disconcerting, It was a major surprise, then, that the first sign given by Jesus was to change ordinary water into the best of wine. There had been no request for a miracle, nor did Jesus look for faith before performing it. It came as a pure gift. Like every messianic gift, it was superabundant. The guests enjoyed about 600 litres of excellent wine. This impressive quantity and the joy that went with it drew attention to Jesus who, in order to offer the wine, had taken on the role of the bridegroom (cf. Mt 15,1-13).

It is significant that the mother of Jesus was present at the wedding before him (Jn. 2,1) and that she was the one to notice the shortage of wine. Mary does not request anything of Jesus, she simply makes him aware of a need. Jesus’ answer was harsh and unexpected, but it is central to understanding the deeper meaning of this episode. The title ‘woman’ was correct in itself but it was unusual to use it in addressing one’s mother (Jn. 19,26 ). Together with the phrase ‘what is that to you and me?’ (Cf. Judges 11,12; 2 Sam 16,10; 1 Kings 17,18) it seems to indicate, if not a complete break in their relationship, at least, very different projects in life (Mk 1,24 ; 5,7 ). Jesus dissociates himself from earthly bonds that might get in the way of obedience to his heavenly Father. The family ties preferred by Jesus are those that arise from obedience to God (cf. Mk 3,31 -35; Lk 2,48 -49).

With her appeal. Mary was interested only in the feast and she wanted to save just one family from embarrassment. In his reply, Jesus places his mother’s request within God’s plan. He invites her to be part of his plan, without yet revealing what the plan will mean in concrete. For this reason, Mary’s response can be seen as one of faith. She moves from trust in Jesus to obedience. And she invites the servants to do whatever he tells them (Jn. 2,5). Mary’s trust in Jesus, even if it was not planned in advance, and the readiness of the servants to do what they were told, are the reasons why Jesus decides to anticipate the messianic joy, prefiguring it by his action.

Strictly speaking, the miracle is not described but merely referred to. The writer’s interest is to show that for Jesus one word was enough. In this sign, the disciples saw his glory (Jn. 2,11 ). The purpose of the sign was to awaken faith (20,31 ).

From Cana, Jesus went to Capernaum (Jn 2,12 ) accompanied by his family and his disciples who now believed in him. Faith is the origin of his new family. Jesus let his glory be seen for the first time in the intimacy of a family feast, among friends and relatives, in an obscure village in Galilee, among ordinary people, with servants who obey even though they did not know Jesus, and a mother who noticed the shortage of wine … and the need of Jesus.


II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Jesus began preaching the kingdom of God only when he had been identified by John the Baptist, and when he had some disciples following him. The very first thing he did was to join some young people in celebrating their marriage. As recorded in the Gospel, Jesus began his mission in the company of his mother and his first disciples, as the guest of a couple of newly-weds. Attending a wedding is a rather strange way to inaugurate a kingdom!

For us today, this episode is well known and causes no surprise. However, it was sure to attract the attention of the people of Jesus’ time. At that time, it was expected that anyone who preached conversion should practice penance and fasting, as John the Baptist did.

The first disciples, who had been following Jesus only a short time, were bound to be surprised that, instead of bringing them to the temple or the desert, the favoured places for the presence of God, Jesus brought them to a wedding to give them their first lesson.

Later, Jesus would teach that it is not possible to fast when the banquet is ready (Mt 11,18 -19); when the bridegroom and his friends are still with him, sharing his joy (Mk 2,18 -20). But before he said it, Jesus put it into practice by bringing his followers to share the joy and hopes of a new marriage. This action of Jesus is not a mere coincidence!

Even at the risk of being misunderstood, Jesus wanted to show that following him is not a reason for not enjoying life, or not sharing in the joy of friends. This is the reason why the first followers of Jesus became believers, at a family feast, during a wedding celebration. The situation of the disciples and the joy they shared with others is founded on the presence of the Lord. Have we, the disciples of Jesus today, not moved very far from our origins?

The first disciples benefitted from the presence of Jesus by sharing in the joy of a family, opening up to them the dream of life in common, before they became believers. They shared his joy before they came to faith, a profoundly human joy, the joy of two newly-weds.

Being sensitive to the human love of others, and sharing their joys and their dreams, even if there may be unforeseen problems and difficulties, is the way we must go to come to faith in Jesus. The disciple should not cut himself off from the life and the joys of others, but should share them with Jesus.

Maybe the reason why we are not such strong believers is that we have not discovered reasons for joy, in our own lives and in the lives of people around us, or when we do, we find excuses for not sharing the joy with Jesus. We must not forget that it was at a wedding-feast that the disciples became believers. Those who did not accept Jesus’ invitation and did not go with him to the banquet, did not witness the miracle worked by their Master and did not allow him to become Lord of their lives.

Strange as it may seem, the reason why we are not better disciples of Jesus and do not trust him completely, is because we do not celebrate enough. We do not share joy with others. Anyone who has the capacity to share joy, will witness a miracle. Only those who were present with Jesus at a wedding saw water changed into wine, and, at the same time, experienced the joy of being with Jesus. Anyone who allows himself to be invited by Jesus to share the joyful events of life, will witness the miracle which transforms the Master into the Lord of his life.

If it had not been for Mary, who noticed the shortage of wine in that house, and immediately told Jesus about it, the miracle would not have occurred and the joy of the feast would not have lasted long. Mary saw the danger that the feast might turn out badly. Her intervention spared the young couple embarrassment and ridicule. Despite a negative response from Jesus at first, she looked for people who would be willing to obey her Son without asking any questions.

Mary was not intimidated by Jesus’ response. She knew that if she did what he said, that he would intervene, that the wine would flow in abundance and the feast would be saved. This was the second lesson that the disciples were to learn at Cana in Galilee. The mere presence of Jesus is not enough to ensure the joy of life. It is necessary also to do what he says, whatever it might be, even if immediately beforehand he said he had no intention of doing anything.

Mary could not solve the problem of the shortage of wine alone, nor could she salvage the feast, but she knew that her Son could, if he wanted to … and she trusted him. She encouraged others to trust him and obey him. They did not have to wait long for the miracle, even though it meant that Jesus reluctantly had to anticipate the time of his manifestation.

The disciples who were present became happy believers without too much effort, not so much as a result of the miracle, but on account of Mary’s obstinate trust and the silent obedience of the servants. Those who live joyfully as disciples together with Mary can be sure that joy will not be lacking in their lives. Their lack of faith, and their failure to find joy and enthusiasm in their own lives and in their homes, can be overcome. Nothing can take away the joy of living, not even our own inability to attain joy or to preserve it, if we stay close to Mary as we journey with Jesus through life. If Mary is missing in our lives, then we miss many of the things that are necessary. We need her to become believers who will not lose the joy of living. We cannot do without Mary, if we do not want to lose faith and the joy of feasting.

To become disciples of Jesus, then, we have to first of all recover our devotion to the Mother of God. She is not omnipotent, but she is attentive to our needs. She is not a miracle-worker, but a powerful intercessor who can count on the generosity of her Son. A devotion that makes us obedient like the servants, will ensure that we will witness miracles in our everyday life, just as the first disciples did. Why should we be any different from then? They did nothing special. They simply had the good fortune to be with Jesus and his mother at a feast. With Mary, our following of Jesus becomes an experience of faith and joy to be lived with others. Living with Mary means that while we journey with Jesus our faith become easier, and we can be sure of a joyful faith, overlooked perhaps at times, but we can be always happy. Anyone who knows that Mary cares about him, and even about his faults, has no need to worry. Jesus will always come back to surprise us, as he surprised the first disciples at Cana in Galilee, as long as we share with Mary the joys and the limits of our daily lives. It is not too much, then, to ask of us that we become believers. We do not have to renounce the joys of life, nor do we have to live without ever making a mistake. This is our good fortune if we have Mary alongside us as we follow her Son closely. It is hard to understand, therefore, why we neglect her so much. She is the one who takes care of us, of our faults and of our faith.