Year C: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Wedding at Cana

John 2:1-11

Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six-stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So, they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So, they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Jesus performed this miracle at a wedding, a common ordinary life event. Describe an experience in your life when you recognized God’s presence or God’s movement in midst of the ordinary.
  2. One central theme in this story is, the old way of relating to God through the law, is now ineffective. Do you primarily see your faith as “law driven” or as a relationship that invites and requires an ongoing response from you? How are these different?
  3. Jesus performed this miracle before he was ready. What does this reveal to you about the nature of God’s love?
  4. What is your initial reaction to this reflection by Fr. Marsh? How could it help you move beyond the literal level, make new connections between the gospel and your personal experience, and to think differently about seeing the miraculous in your life?

Biblical Context

 Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ
John 2:1-11

Each year on the Sunday after the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we start Ordinary Time with a reading from the beginning of the Gospel of John. Today the church invites us to meditate on the first of Jesus’ signs, the wine at Cana. On the face of it, the Gospel offers a good story to begin what this year will be four short weeks before the beginning of Lent. John presents Mary, Jesus, his disciples, and a small cast of characters who get to taste the miracle of ordinary water turned into fine wine. The incident lets us know that we are about to begin an extraordinary journey of seeing Jesus in action and being challenged to respond to who he is and what he offers. But we should know that the Gospel is always going to offer us more than what appears at face value — especially when it is the Gospel of John.

If we would start this reading at the beginning of John 2:1, we would learn that this took place on the “third day.” The point of that phrase is not about a day of the week. It is an allusion to the day of salvation (Hosea 6:2). John also subtly depicts this as the sixth day of Jesus’ activity; with that, he refers back to Genesis and the ongoing work of God. This day is the crown of creation.

As John sets up the story, the first person to appear is “the mother of Jesus.” She doesn’t get named, not here or anywhere in John’s Gospel, because she plays a role more symbolic than personal. John presents Mary as being at the wedding before Jesus arrived. Being at the wedding, a symbol of the old covenant indicates that Mary is coming from the spiritual locus of that covenant. As a representative of faithful Israel, she sees that the wine has run out and turns to Jesus, the Messiah she awaits. She simply presents the predicament.

John uses every detail of the story to illuminate the problem. There are six jars, one short of the perfect number of completions. The jars are made of stone, reminding readers of their covenant written in stone — and perhaps their own hearts of stone. The less-than-full jars are for the water of purification. The constant need for purification is a sign of the fragility of the people’s relationship with God; an ongoing focus on the need for purification is emblematic of a fixation on the law and the unworthiness it proves. (See Romans 7.) Thus, with just the presentation of the jars, John has symbolically portrayed the debility and inadequacy of the old covenant with its tendency to lead people to focus on themselves and their weakness rather than on the greatness of God’s love. This shortage-plagued celebration is not the wedding feast for which the people longed.

When we come to the interaction between Jesus and his mother, we discover additional dimensions of John’s theological storytelling. Jesus’ first response is translated as “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” “Woman” is not a common way for a son to address his mother, although it was used as the address of a husband to his wife. There are three women in this Gospel whom Jesus will address in this way: his mother (2:4, 19:26), the Samaritan (4:21) and Mary Magdalene (20:13). Respectively, they represent Israel the faithful spouse, unfaithful Israel called to and embracing conversion, and the people as spouse of the new covenant in the garden of the new creation.

This wedding, with everything that it lacks, symbolizes the old covenant. Jesus’ question is one of asking why the empty rituals of the past should matter to the faithful: Why should he or she mourn what is coming to an end? He is not about to try to revitalize the old, but his “hour” has not yet come — the time of the new has not yet been completed. Then, in the next sequence of action, we discover Mary as a prophet and companion of other Gospel women who were not afraid to push their point. She does not reply to him but turns to the servants. She tells them to obey anything he says using words that remind us of Israel making her first vow of obedience during the Exodus (19:8), saying, “Everything the Lord has said we will do!” With that, Jesus performs his first “sign,” beginning to fulfill the covenant he will complete on the cross (John 19:30).  As in every Gospel story, we have found the whole in this one part.

 Water Does Not Turn into Wine

John 2:1-11
Fr. Michael K. Marsh

“Somebody needs to go to the grocery store.” Sometimes that’s what I say to my wife, Cyndy, other times she says that to me. It’s our code and we both know what it means. It means that we have no wine, and somebody needs to go get some. Twenty minutes and twenty dollars later, voila; we have wine.

I wonder if that’s how we sometimes hear today’s gospel. I wonder if that’s how we sometimes expect Jesus to act in our lives. There’s a problem to be fixed. “They have no wine.” We tell Jesus. And, voila, somehow, he makes more so the same party can continue as before. But is that really enough? Is all we want just a refill? Do we just want to fix the problem and go on with the same old life in the same old way?

Here’s my confession. Yeah. Sometimes that’s exactly what I want. I just want the problem to be fixed and go away so I can get on with my life. I remember a counselor who called me on that almost thirty years ago. After a few sessions he said, “Mike, you don’t want your life to change, you just want some magic.”

I suspect we all, at some point in our lives, just want some magic. We want Jesus to show up, wave the divine wand, and make it all better. They have no wine, abracadabra, now they do. But that’s not who Jesus is and that’s not what the gospel or Christianity are about.

In some way magic spares, us from God and from life. It keeps us from encountering the new, the possible, the unforeseen. It entertains but it doesn’t transform or change life. A magical reading of today’s gospel leaves us wondering if it really happened. What’s his next trick? How did he do that? And if we’re really honest with ourselves, we know better. Water does not turn into wine. Have you ever seen that happen? Have you ever done it? No, you haven’t and neither have I. And it’s not because we are not Jesus but because there is no magic, only magical illusions.

Today’s gospel asks us to move from magical thinking about our lives to looking for and seeing the miraculous. And the question behind every miracle story is this. What does it mean for us? What possibilities does this story raise for our lives and for the world?

I don’t know if Jesus literally and physically turned water into wine. But then I don’t think that’s the point of today’s gospel. I don’t think this gospel is ultimately about turning water into wine. It’s about more than that. It’s about calling forth life where there is none. It’s about transformation. It’s about living a new life. The text itself gives us two hints that suggest this.

First, the story happens “on the third day.” What does that make you think of? What happens on the third day? Resurrection, a new life, a new beginning, a rebirth. The second hint is, “There was a wedding.” Again, this is about a new life: two people coming together to create and live a new life, to change and be changed by each other, and to open themselves to unknowable possibilities and unforeseeable future.

All that makes me wonder; maybe running out of wine is not a problem to be fixed, but the beginning of something new. Maybe it’s a calling into a new life or an invitation into more life. Nobody likes to run out of wine, but maybe it’s necessary for our growth and maturity. And that can be difficult, unsettling, and sometimes painful.

I am not talking about times when we have to decide whether we will see the glass as half empty or half full. I am talking about those times in life when the glass is dry, the bottle is on its side, the party is over, and we’re dying of thirst.

And who here doesn’t know what that’s like? We’ve all been there. We run out of wine. Our life is empty, colorless, tasteless. Nothing is growing or fermenting in us. There’s no vibrancy or bouquet to life. Or maybe we still have wine, but it’s turned to vinegar, gone sour, and we can no longer stand to drink what’s in our cup. Either way, the wine has given out.

When has the wine run out for you? What parts of your life are dry and empty today? In what ways has life become sour or colorless and tasteless? This isn’t only about us, however. We can see and name other people who “have no wine” and places in which “the wine gave out.” It’s happening in our lives, our institutions, our country, and our world.

I’m not talking about cabernet or chardonnay. I am talking about the wine of love, intimacy, and friendship; the wine of meaning, purpose, and direction; the wine of vitality, passion, and enthusiasm; the wine of youth, strength, and health; the wine of belief, trust, and faith; the wine of mercy and forgiveness, the wine of peace, joy, and security; the wine of justice, dignity, and equality; the wine of hospitality, inclusion, and welcome; the wine of truth, certainty, and answers.

When the wine gives out life is dying on the vine, and we are no longer intoxicated by a holy spirit. We may not have said it in the same way but we’ve all echoed Mary words for ourselves, for another, for the world. “They have no wine.”

I’ve said those words to Jesus, haven’t you? Every prayer of petition is telling Jesus about where the wine has run out. And more often than not we tell Jesus exactly what kind of wine we need; a nice cabernet, not too dry, with a hint of berries and chocolate. Mary, however, doesn’t do that.

Mary does not set out any expectations. She doesn’t tell Jesus what to do. She offers no suggestions about the wine they need. She just names the reality. She lets the reality of the situation call to and invite Jesus to respond.

Mary is simply holding open the door for something to happen, the door to a new possibility, the door to a new life, the door of hope. Isn’t that really what we are doing every time we pray? We’re holding opening the door to our life, another’s life, the life of the world, and hoping Jesus will walk through, hoping he will show up and do something.

And here’s the hard part about life when the wine gives out: Jesus just might show up and do something, or he might not. There is no certainty about what will happen, no guarantees. You know that as well as I. We’ve all offered our prayers. Sometimes they get answered like we want, and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes it’s something we never could have imagined. Other times it’s different from what we wanted, and maybe we don’t even want what shows up. There’s a reason for that saying, “Be careful what you pray for.”

I can’t make you any promises about what will happen when the wine of your life runs out. I have no definite answers. But I know we have a part to play in the possibility of this miracle. Jesus did not do this by himself. Mary declared the need, the emptiness, “They have no wine.” The servants poured the water. The chief steward tasted, recognized, and named the good wine, the new life. Those are our parts too. We play those parts for ourselves, each other, the world.

Sometimes we need to be Mary and name the empty and dry places even when we don’t know how they will be filled up. “Lord, they have no food, no justice, no security.” “Lord, I have no vision or direction for my life.” “Lord, they have no health, no money, no safety.” “Lord, they have no wine.” Sometimes we need to be the ones to carry and pour water even when we can’t see that it’s making a difference. Sometimes we need to be the chief steward naming and recognizing new life, helping others taste the new wine.

When the wine runs out Jesus needs us as much as we need him. I want to play my part even if I don’t know how it will all turn out. Don’t you? Isn’t that ultimately what faith and hope are about?

Opening the door to Jesus is always a risk. We invite a response not knowing and having no control over what the response will be, or if there will even be one. We’re gambling that God is just as faithful and hopeful as we are, and hopefully more so. We’re wagering that the future to come is worth more, and that the coming life is larger and better, than the empty glasses and bottles that litter our lives.

I’ll take that bet and I’ll drink to that. Won’t you?


Reflection Excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence Fr. Michael K. Marsh. Used with permission