Wedding at Cana offers opportunity to chronicle nature of Jesus’ ministry
Living the Word/By Shawn Reeves
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time/Jan. 16
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96:1-2,2-3,7-8,9-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11
The Scriptures are replete with marital language. Creation concludes with a marriage (Genesis 2:24-25); the poetic drama Song of Songs is pregnant with spousal imagery; the prophets persistently use marriage as a metaphor for divine relationship (Hosea 2:4-28, Isaiah 54:1-8); and St. Paul regards the Church as the spouse of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32). Indeed, St. John Paul II considered marriage “the primordial sacrament,” the essential analogy assumed in God’s creation of the sacraments: “In a certain sense all the sacraments of the new covenant find their prototype in marriage as the primordial sacrament.” (General Audience, Oct. 20, 1982, n.3)
While it may seem obvious how our first reading progresses the use of marital language (“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”), it might not be as apparent how our other two readings continue this theme. While the Gospel narrative is clear that Jesus did not attend the wedding at Cana with the intention of performing a miracle (“my hour has not yet come”), it would seem that in the crisis of the moment, Jesus heard in the request of his mother an opportunity for a fitting event to chronicle the nature of his entire ministry — a miracle of transformation couched in marital imagery.
Evident to an ancient Jewish audience (or even a modern one), once Jesus accepts his mother’s plea to take action, his gestures are intentional and precise. The water in ceremonial jars for purification would be filthy, yet this muck is transformed by grace into something more noble. In fact, it does not just become wine but “the good wine,” a foreshadowing that we are not only redeemed of our sin but also destined to “share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
EVER ANCIENT, EVER NEW
However, there is yet another layer of meaning in Jesus miraculously supplying that audience with wine in the context of a Jewish wedding. In the marriage ceremony, there is a moment of particular significance when the groom presents a cup of wine to the bride as an illustration of his commitment to her and a demonstration of his intention to support her. The bride then takes a sip in acceptance of the gift.
In his miracle of supplying an abundance of “good wine” amid the absence of any, Jesus intentionally reenacts this marital gesture, initiating his redemptive ministry and announcing his divine spousal commitment to humanity. It is no less than a deed that proclaims in action the words, “as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”
What, then, does our second reading have to do with God’s marital love for his people? Much of the excitement of a wedding is in the anticipation of bride and groom discovering one another more completely, of the broadening of their love, and, yes, even of the expectation of new life eventually flowing from this love. Whenever the Holy Spirit is involved in our lives, there also is the Truth of God (John 15:26, 1 John 5:5), the Love of God (Romans 5:5), and the Life of God (Romans 8:11, 2 Corinthians 3:6).
In the spiritual gifts of our second reading, God bestows on His spouse the tools to discover Him and His identity more clearly, to broaden her love for Him and manifest His love for her, and to condition the soul for ever deeper participation in new life.
St. Augustine wrote of God in his “Confessions”: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” In healthy marriage, there is never a point in which one has exhausted discovery of the other; there is no point in which all love is fulfilled; and there is no conclusion for the potential for newness and life (which is, perhaps, what makes the pain of an unhealthy marriage so acute).
Wherever mutual self-gift between spouses exists, marriage remains ever ancient yet ever new. So, also, is the spousal love of Christ.
SHAWN REEVES is director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.