Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

The Wedding at Cana
January 29, 2013, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Following our celebration of our Lord’s Baptism, we have a few Sundays leading up to Lent when we think about the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. This year we mainly follow St Luke, but on this second Sunday after Epiphany the Gospel is always taken from St John. Matthew and Luke, following Mark, are not much concerned with dates, and they give the impression that Jesus’s ministry occupied a single year (after all, that is how we remember it in the Church’s Liturgy). St John, writing a little later, is much clearer about the time. He records several Passovers, and other religious festivals at which Jesus went up to Jerusalem, before his Passion and death. He also records several incidents not mentioned by the other Gospel-writers, or not given prominence by them. One of these is the wedding at Cana.

Cana is a village not far from Nazareth, in the hills above Galilee. John tells us that the mother of Jesus was there, and that Jesus had “also” been invited. I get the impression that Mary was the important guest, and that her son was included almost as an afterthought- “Oh, yes- tell your son and his friends that they will be very welcome too.” John does not say which disciples were present- at this stage Jesus had not called all his Apostles. We assume that John himself was there, but even this cannot be taken for granted. Perhaps Mary told him the story. Have you noticed that John never refers to her by name: only as “the mother of Jesus”. We know that Jesus committed Mary and John to each other’s care from the Cross (“Behold your son; behold your mother”). Perhaps from then on- as we do in regard to our own parents- John never thought of her as “Mary”, but just as “mother”. I am only guessing.

At any rate, when the wine ran out Mary turned to her son and said, “They have no wine.” What was in her mind at that moment? Perhaps she was just making conversation: but Jesus took her words as a challenge. He felt that he was being asked to do something about it, and he replied, “Why tell me? It isn’t my time yet.” Strange words. They imply that Jesus believed a time would come when he might be expected to intervene, to do extraordinary things- but not yet, not in these circumstances. Mary’s reaction is also strange. It is as if she felt that her son was challenging her, too. “Think why you bring this to me. Think what you believe I might do. Think whether you are serious about this.” Mary turns to the servants- evidently she felt in a position to give them instructions, another sign of her position at the wedding. She tells them to do whatever her son tells them, and leaves the rest to him. She is confident that he can and will do what is needful. Ever since, Christians have seen these words as the essence of her teaching: “Do whatever he tells you.” Trust. Obey. The rest (as they say) is history.

Jesus saw some empty pots, of the sort used for ritual ablutions. Big pots, holding 20 or 30 gallons apiece. He told the waiters to fill them with water, and then take some to the head-waiter. The head-waiter, as far as we can see, knew nothing of what had been going on. He sipped, and complained to the bridegroom that this wine was so good that it should have been served first, before people’s taste had got blunted.

John sums up: this was the first sign given by Jesus, revealing his glory, and as a result his disciples believed in him. The three key-words are “sign”, “glory” and “believe”. For John, a “sign” is not something obvious, that anyone can see. It is something done by Jesus that identifies him, that marks him out to those who have the wit to recognise it. Almost a “secret sign”. What it reveals is his “glory”, his identity as the Emissary of God, the one who makes God known. Again, this is not something that just anyone can see. It would be revealed above all on the Cross, to those with no insight the most “inglorious” outcome of Jesus’s life. But those to whom God gave spiritual insight would believe.

When you think about it, it seems a bit odd to say that Jesus “revealed his glory” in the incident. After all, what exactly happened? At a village wedding, the supply of wine gave out. One of the guests, Mary, noticed the agitation of the waiters, and had a quiet word with her Son. He gives some instructions to the waiters, and the supply of wine is restored. Nobody else is aware of this, but the head-waiter notices that the wine is better than what was served earlier. The bridegroom and his guests remain entirely ignorant of the crisis. So how does Jesus “reveal his glory”? Who to? What glory?

Let me offer a personal thought. Perhaps we look for the glory of God in the wrong places, and in the wrong things. Signs are not necessarily impressive- the first sign mentioned in Luke’s Gospel was that promised by the angel: “This shall be a sign to you: you shall find a baby in a manger.” John tells us that he and the other disciples present- no more than half a dozen- believed in Jesus because of what they saw; and what they saw was quite unobtrusive, something that happened “behind the scenes”, so to speak. Nothing was “on stage”, visible to the public at large. And even behind the scenes, all that they witnessed was the manifestation of a human need- quite a trivial one, in point of fact- the concern of Jesus and his Mother for that need, and instructions to the servants to pour some water. And of course, they witnessed the fact that, as far as the public was concerned, nothing exceptional had happened at all. That was the point. Jesus had prevented a scene, he had allowed to happen what everyone expected to happen.

A point of application to ourselves. We are at the same time disciples of Christ, and servants at God’s banquet. It is for us, first of all, to be on the look-out for the needs of others (as Mary was) and to present them to the Lord. It is for us, then, to carry out the actions that he prompts us to do; nothing extraordinary maybe, just the routines that are our normal responsibility, but done for him. It is for us, as disciples, to believe in Jesus and in his power, whether or not others take any notice. Part of the miraculous transformation that he brings about will be in us, in our sensitivity to others, in our whole manner of serving them, in giving them the experience of having received from God (whether or not they realise it), through our ministry (whether or not they thank us), the good wine that cheers the heart of man. The wine of God is the life-blood of Christ, poured out for the salvation of the world. It is the love of Christ which motivated him to give his earthly life so that we might share his divine and heavenly life. It is the wine of loving service and self-sacrifice that we offer to the world. This is the glory of Christ, which he invites us to share with him.

Belief is not a matter of clearly perceived ideas, but the conviction that Jesus should be trusted and followed. The conviction that he will make things clear in his own good time. The waiters followed Mary’s advice- trust and obey. “Do whatever he tells you.” The same advice applies to us. Recognise the signs of God’s presence. Understand the difference between God’s glory and worldly glory. Believe. Trust. Obey.



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