Pastor Column: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2019
Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
Dear friends / Estimados amigos,
In an interview when she was the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice reminisced about her childhood. “My parents elected me president of the family when I was 4 years old. We actually had an election every year and I always won. I’m an only child, and I could count on my mother’s vote.”
Jesus had his mother’s vote of confidence in today’s Gospel. When the wine ran out at the wedding they were attending, Mary stepped right in to help solve the problem. She knew that Jesus could do something. She gathered all the servers together and simply told them to “do whatever He tells you.” The servants did as instructed by Jesus, and His actions resulted in His first miracle in John’s Gospel (rather, the first “sign” as the evangelist puts it, avoiding the word “miracle” throughout His gospel). And what a sign it was! One estimate suggests that Jesus made about 120 gallons of the most excellent wine when He told the servants to fill the six stone water jars with water. Jesus was the perfect guest!
Each year on the Sunday after the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, Church-going Catholics hear a reading from the beginning of the Gospel of John as we begin Ordinary Time, a new liturgical season occupying most of the twelve months ahead. This weekend we are invited to consider the first of Jesus’ signs, the wine at Cana. A small cast of characters comprised of Jesus, Mary, the disciples and a small group of characters who get to taste the transformed water-made-wine begin the story of Jesus’ public ministry. The incident lets you and I know that we are embarking on an extraordinary journey of seeing Jesus in action and being challenged to respond to who He is and what He offers. Be forewarned, however, since what the Gospel of John always offers is more than what appears at face value. There is no lack of significance to the scene the evangelist describes.
Take, for example, the small detail that is lost in the New American Bible translation of the first line of the gospel. In the Revised Standard Edition, Jn 2:1 begins: “On the third day, there was a marriage feast in Cana . . . “ The point of that phrase is not about a day of the week as it is an allusion to the day of salvation. John also subtly depicts this as the sixth day of Jesus’ activity, referring back to Genesis and the ongoing work of God. The 6th day was the crown of creation. Mary is at the wedding before Jesus arrived, a symbol of the old covenant, indicating that Mary is coming from the spiritual place of that ancient covenant. As a representative of the faithful people of Israel, who sees the wine has run out, she turns to Jesus, the long awaited messiah and simply presents the predicament.
Six stone jars, one short of the perfect number of completion are filled. They are made of stone, reminiscent of their covenant written in stone. They are purification jars, holding water to use for ritual cleansings. The constant need for purification is a sign of the fragility of the people’s faithfulness to the covenant. Even down to the presentation of the jars, John has symbolically portrayed the inadequacy of the old covenant. The wine-less celebration is not the wedding feast for which the guests had longed. In short, the wedding feast – with everything that it lacks – symbolizes the old covenant. Solving the depleted wine dilemma involved taking Mary’s advice: “Do whatever He tells you.” This is very reminiscent of the words that Israel uses in ratifying the Exodus covenant: “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.” And with that, Jesus performs His first miraculous sign, beginning the fulfillment of the old covenant which would ultimately end on the Cross.
As with many of the Gospel narratives, the whole appears in just one part.