EPIPHANY 2 C
How many of you have had the pleasure of planning a wedding? How many of you are eager to do it again? From the bride’s point of view, the dress and flowers may be most important, but from the parents’ point of view, the detail of the reception may be most important. Why? They are the hosts, and running out of room, or food, or beverages reflects badly on the family.
In the time of Jesus, the bride and groom did not go on a honeymoon. Instead they attended a weeklong party at the groom’s home (see, some things do change!). It was the groom’s parents who hosted the wedding party. And it was just such a party that is the setting of today’s lesson.
Jesus, his disciples, and his mother were all invited guests to a wedding in Cana, a very small town in Galilee. It’s Mary who first becomes aware that the host family is running out of wine. This would be a huge source of shame to the host, so she urges Jesus to do something. He puts her off, sounding a bit like a teenager who doesn’t want his mother telling him what to do.
Instead of nagging at him, she just turns to the servants and tells them to do whatever he says. For some reason, this encourages or allows Jesus to take action. He has them fill six large stone jars with water, draw some off and take it to the wine steward, who is amazed that the host, so he thinks, has saved the best wine for last.
Notice that the jars were used for Jewish purification rituals, but now are filled with wine for a party. The suggestion is that the strict rules of the past are being replaced by an abundantly good time. This might summon up reminders of all the feast and banquet images from the prophets.
As the party swirls around them, the only people who know what Jesus has done are Mary, the servants, and the disciples. John concludes the story thus: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
In John’s Gospel there are seven “signs,” each a miracle of transformation: water into wine, disability into health, paralysis into activity, hunger into fullness, blindness into sight, death into life.
Do you remember the definition of a sacrament from our catechism? A sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. . . This is the same sense in which John uses the term “sign.”
I believe that for John the main point of each sign was to reveal the glory of Jesus, by which I mean the presence of God in him. And the purpose of the sign was that people might believe in him, as the disciples did at Cana.
For me, the suggestiveness of this story says so much more. When I think of a family gathering for something like a wedding, I think about how everyone has such a good time. O, yes, Uncle Eddie makes the usual fool of himself on the dance floor, and great aunt Annie has too much to drink, but even these imperfections are things that are normal, that we expect in our family gatherings, that we laugh about later.
The dancing, the laughter, the eating of good food and drinking good wine represent the good things in life, the abundance of life, the joyful aspects of life in community with others.
In changing water into wine, Jesus points to the importance of celebration, of gathering together in this way. This must be what God wants for us – I don’t mean a life of partying, but a life of joy and an abundance of the good things in life.
If Jesus can transform water into wine, if God wants a life of joy and abundance for us, could that point to the possibility of transforming our own lives? If our lives are not exactly one long party ( – and whose is?) how can we transform them?
One key is to look at people who have already done that. Jesus himself is a primary example. What kind of life did he have? He lived on the generosity of others and probably didn’t have many feasts in his life, but he carried a bubble of joy and welcome wherever he went.
You’ve heard it said by people who have spent time in third world countries that the hospitality they received and the joy they found in people living in abject poverty moved them to tears. While the sign for abundance is an excess of food and wine, the reality of abundance is found in good friends and strong communities.
And it’s also about attitude. If what we want is the external stuff of life, we will be perpetually left wanting, because the more we have the more we will want. People who have nothing and no hope of changing that, have to look for other values to cling to.
For people like us, who have actual abundance, it takes more conscious work to cultivate a truly abundant life. We have to remind ourselves to pay attention to the details of life, to look for signs of the spiritual in the everyday. We have to remind ourselves to be thankful for each of our blessings, and to give thanks where thanks are due, not just to our parents or families, but to God, from whom all things come.
We have to make an effort to practice gratitude, to practice forgiveness, compassion, and peace. For these form the basis of an abundant life. And we also have to make an effort to face our fears, whatever they are, and to say “NO, I’ll not be driven by this, nor will I let others frighten me.”
I hope you all remember the play or movie called “Auntie Mame.” The heroine of the piece is unconventional, but has this great ‘joi de vivre’ – an old French expression meaning JOY OF LIFE.
Remember her mantra and make it your own.
“Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death.”
Life is a banquet! AMEN