The Wedding, the Wine & the Woman
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Even though we are now in Ordinary Time, the gospel reading still has vestiges of Epiphany. As I mentioned in the homily I preached on Epiphany, the celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord has traditionally included three aspects — the adoration of the magi, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and his transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. We focused on the magi on Epiphany itself. Last Sunday we celebrated Christ’s baptism. And this week our gospel reading tells of the miracle at Cana.
This is Jesus’ first public miracle. Here Jesus manifests his divinity by showing his absolute power over nature. He takes ordinary water and transforms it into wine simply by willing it to happen. It is a continuation of the Epiphany in the sense that God’s presence among us is being made known.
What I want to focus on this week is not so much the fact that God is made known to us, but rather what it is about God that is made known. What does Christ’s miracle at Cana tell us about God? And I want to explore that question by looking at three things: the wedding, the wine, and the woman.
Christ performed his first miracle a wedding feast. This was no accident. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s prophets have spoken about God’s relationship with Israel as being like that of a husband and his bride. Whenever Israel falls away from God, she is spoken of as an unfaithful bride. But God, in his loving mercy, is always ready to take his bride back and renew their covenant. Heaven, where we will exist in perfect union with God, is most often spoken of as a wedding feast.
In our first reading from Isaiah, the prophet talks about God espousing himself to Israel.
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,” but you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.” For the LORD delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.Is 62:4-5
God is in love with us! The Church, the New Israel, is his beloved bride — and even when we are unfaithful to him, he can never be unfaithful to us. Heaven will be like a great wedding banquet, where we will celebrate for all eternity our perfect union with our divine Bridegroom. This is why Jesus chose a wedding feast for his first public miracle, as a sign of the kind of relationship God wants to have with us, his Bride; a relationship that will be lived to the fullest in heaven. This is why Jesus teaches elsewhere in the gospels (Mk 10:1-12) against divorce, because it weakens marriage as a sign of God’s covenant with us. And this is why the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament, because like all sacraments it manifests God’s grace in the world.
There is nothing wrong with water. Water is a wonderful thing. It is essential for our survival. It cleanses us. It refreshes us. And at his baptism, Jesus sanctified all the water of the world, making it the means by which we are conformed to his life of grace. They had plenty of water at the wedding feast in Cana. So what was the problem?
They had no wine.
Wine is consumed not just for survival, but for celebration. The Psalms say that wine “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps 104:15), and the Proverbs say it should be given to those “in bitter distress” (Pv 31:6). And while the scriptures are also full or warnings for those who consume too much wine, it is under the form of wine that Jesus gives his Precious Blood to us.
Does the Church have conflicting teachings about drinking wine? No. Creation is inherently good, and when we work to cultivate creation in conjunction with God’s will, as we do when we cultivate grapes to make wine, we only add to the goodness of God’s creation. It is not wrong to enjoy this goodness! But it is wrong to abuse and misuse the good things God gives us. This is why drunkenness is a sin, while drinking is not.
But there is a deeper meaning here. New wine must be poured into new wineskins. By creating new wine to be poured into us, Jesus signals that he will also transform us into something new.
At the beginning of the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the corruption of Israel as fine wine that has been been diluted with water (Is 1:22). But later he speaks of God providing “a banquet for all the peoples” at which he will serve “choice meat” and “finely aged wine” (Is 25:6). The wine is a symbol of the abundant generosity of God’s goodness. He wants to give us the absolute best, but when we corrupt his gifts by sinning against him, we “water down” the fine wine he offers.
This miracle is an expression of the excesses of God’s goodness and the lavish gifts he desires to bestow upon us, if we would only open our hearts to receive them. This is what God wants for us: not just water (mere survival), but wine (abundant life). Let’s not water down his gifts with our own doubts and low expectations.
Lastly I want to address a third “W.” In this passage, Jesus addresses his mother as woman when she brings the lack of wine to her son’s attention. “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” he asks (Jn 2:4).
We mustn’t read this passage as Jesus back-talking his mother! It is easy for us to misunderstand what is happening here, because if any of us called our mother, “woman,” we’d get slapped in the face! The confusion is caused by differences in the idioms of our cultures. In a first-century Jewish context, calling your mother “woman” would be the equivalent of calling her “ma’am.” It is a term of respect. So Jesus is being respectful of his mother, as he would have been at all times, and continues to be today. Jesus respects his mother.
This is why Catholics have such a devotion to Mary — because Christ is devoted to her. Jesus performs his first public miracle because Mary intercedes. “They have no wine,” she tells him (Jn 2:3). She brings the needs of the people to the attention of her son. This is what Mary continues to do. This is what all the saints do, which is why we ask them to intercede for us. And this is what we should be doing for one another, lifting the needs of others up in prayer.
The miracle at Cana teaches us three lessons about God, seen in the wedding, the wine and the woman.
- It teaches us that God loves us as a husband loves his bride, and wants us to be united with him forever.
- It teaches us that God lavishes his grace upon us with great abundance, desiring for us all that is good.
- And it teaches us that God listens to his mother; and so should we.
Mary doesn’t say a lot that is recorded in the scriptures. In fact, her final words in the gospel are found in this very passage. After interceding with her son on behalf of the wedding guests, she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Those of us who would be servants of Christ — who wish to enjoy to the fullest the abundant life he offers — would do well to also follow his mother’s words.