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This Sunday’s Gospel shows how God will save his Church — not by destroying and rebuilding it, but by taking the great apathetic malaise that we have made of God’s masterpiece, and transforming it into the powerhouse it was meant to be.
What will God add that will turn everything around? Exactly what he added to the wedding at Cana: Mary and the cross.
The story takes place at a wedding, which in the ancient world was a days-long celebration. Mary seems to have a role at the wedding. What her connection to it is unclear in the Gospel, but has been a matter of speculation from the apocryphal Gospels in ancient times to the online show “Chosen” today.
Whatever her connection, she notices “They have no wine,” and tells Jesus about it.
“Woman,” he says, naming her as the New Eve, as he will at the crucifixion, “How does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”
He is telling her a lot. He has an hour — an hour of trial, an hour of decision, an hour of fulfillment. Doing a miracle in public will bring that hour barreling down on top of him. It will provoke the religious figures of his time by declaring him divine and provoke the civil authorities of his time by declaring him all-powerful. It will necessitate that he start telling the world who he is, and the world, once they hear it, will kill him.
Mary’s answer is proto-typically Marian. She turns to the servers and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”
That nicely tells Jesus she is not taking his tacit “no” for a final answer — but also that she isn’t dictating what will happen, either. He’s the boss; she’s just arranging things such that the boss will be more likely to alleviate the problem she has noticed. She does the same thing with her intercession in our lives.
What he tells the servers to do is to fill the six stone water jars and bring them to him. They do, and he turns them into wine, beginning his march to the Cross.
Those stone water jars are important: They are for ceremonial washing — the kind of water used to wash the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper, and the Last Supper is very present in this reading. Here he turns water to wine. There, he will turn wine into his blood. Here, he begins to countdown to his hour. There, his hour will toll and he will die for our sins.
This is all directly applicable to the Church today.
A wedding is often a symbol of the Church in the New Testament — and this one is a rich example.
The Gospel begins: “There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee and the mother Jesus was there.” Then we hear “Jesus and his disciples were also invited.” Later Jesus will break his family wide open, to include his disciples as “my mother, and brothers and sisters.” Here we have the whole family: His original mother, and his disciples, together.
And what’s wrong with his family, the Church? They are out of wine, which is to say they are out of joy, out of connection, out of good spirits. They are like the Church that is unenergetic, disinterested, apathetic — reduced to tired corporate buzzwords instead of the always-new, always-ancient words of the Gospel.
So what does Jesus do to please his mother? He doesn’t do anything very spectacular — he creates wine behind the scenes, and this transforms everything subtly but totally. It’s like the multiplication of the loaves, a miracle that the servers know and help along — and those who receive merely enjoy, and believe if they will.
The symbol couldn’t be clearer: The ordinary water is turned to something utterly new and more exciting by Jesus and the party is made more lively and loving. But Jesus’s miracle doesn’t just make the Church more alive: It brings all time to a crisis point. John ends the Gospel by saying Jesus does this to “reveal his glory” so that “his disciples began to believe in him” — and thus be ready for his passion and death.
Glory and suffering go hand in hand in the Church. If you try to have one without the other, you lose both.
Take the servants in this story, for instance. The servants are given the most menial tasks in the whole New Testament to accomplish — filling six stone jars with water, a big hassle in a time before faucets and hoses. And they fulfill their task fully, filling the water jars “to the brim.”
We lay people are like them. We aren’t the ones who transform people; we are the ones who bring people to Jesus in the sacraments so he can transform them there. We tidy the church, schedule the servers and lectors, invite our neighbors, baptize our kids, get our lives in order, and get to church. It isn’t glorious work; it’s hard work. But if we do it with Christ it’s a joy and if we do it “to the brim,” we participate in his glory.
Too often, we don’t do it. Mary says “Do whatever he tells you,” but instead we tell him what we want to do.
Instead of spreading Christ’s kingdom person-to-person among our neighbors, we would rather broadcast our opinions online to strangers. Instead of getting in touch with our family members and neighbors with the Gospel, we would rather get in touch with ourselves through self-improvement methods. Instead of loving God by obeying his commandments, we would rather love God by adopting a favorite devotion or spirituality that makes us feel noble and holy.
This is the meaning of the Second Reading, where we are told some of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives. To some, the Holy Spirit gives the gift of “the expression of wisdom” or “the expression of knowledge.” These are teachers, scholars, bishops and priests. Some are given “gifts of healing,” or “mighty deeds.” These are wonder-workers and spiritual heroes. If those people decide not to do those things, woe to them and woe to us. But we all have two gifts St. Paul mentions, “faith” and “prophecy,” which simply means telling the truth about God. These ordinary gifts are the “jar-filing” tasks we all have.
We are each meant to discover God’s will in doing what we are supposed to. That’s the beauty of God’s creation; each one doing their good thing well. And what will come if we do this?
Isaiah describes the Church if we actually do our jobs.
As if he were describing the mediocrity of the capitulating Church in the West today, he says, if we turn to Christ and live our faith, “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’”
We are used to seeing the Church in America beaten by the world, or surrendering at the first whiff of battle as abortion spreads and marriage is redefined.
But, with the Lord, says Isaiah, “Nations shall behold your vindication, and all the kings your glory.”