Brief Synopsis of the Readings: We begin near the end of the book of Isaiah. The prophet speaks about a glorious future. All nations will see Israel’s integrity. No longer will it be named forsaken or abandoned. Instead it will be called “My Delight.” In John’s Gospel we see Jesus and Mary attending a wedding. The host ran out of wine and, at Mary’s instruction, Jesus ordered water jars to be brought to him. He then turned the water into wine.
Talk to any parent of a bride or groom about a wedding and they will tell you about the stress they feel. Weddings are wonderful and we all enjoy attending the celebration of two people who promise to spend the rest of their lives together and possibly bring new life to our community.
That’s the good news. But often, for the couple, the parents, the wedding coordinator, and the priest, it’s a day of stress and concern. Years ago, when I was a seminarian, I had a conversation with another seminarian. He told me that he knew that his father, in the minutes before his wedding, chewed a stick of gum so that his kiss would be fresh. In those days Catholics were commanded to abstain from all food and drink before mass, even a wedding mass. The priest saw him chewing and told him that if he was eating something, the wedding was off. The groom quickly swallowed his gum, and years later felt guilt for disobeying a church rule.
I think about this whenever I read this Gospel. When we read the Gospels we recognize that Jesus performed many miracles: he healed blindness, paralysis, epilepsy, and many other illnesses. But in John’s Gospel Jesus didn’t perform miracles, he performed signs. John made certain that those things Jesus did pointed to his Divinity, and his first sign came at this wedding.
We’ve all attended weddings and we think we know how they are supposed to go, and it’s easy to read this Gospel without reading the details. We shouldn’t. This Gospel gives us tremendous details that we notice only if we pay attention,
Jesus, Mary, and his disciples attended to a wedding, though we don’t know anything about the couple. But we do know that the host ran out of wine and we know that this embarrassed the host. I’m certain that the bridal family were mortified: imagine holding a party and not having enough.
And this is where I find my first interesting encounter. Mary came to Jesus and told him that they ran out of wine. I’m not sure what Mary expected Jesus to stay but I can’t imagine she was expecting him to rebuke her: “Woman why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.” I think I speak for most of us when I say that this is no way to speak to your mother, especially in a public place.
And yet Mary, instead of returning fire, told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. This turned out to be the right answer as Jesus instructed them to fill six water jars with water. As an aside, this produced 120 gallons of wine. We don’t know how many guests attended the wedding but it’s hard to imagine that they were able to drink through this much wine.
But that’s not what struck me. We are told that Jesus was like us “in all things but sin” and many of us were raised to believe that anytime a child grows angry with a parent or even another adult, that’s a sin. But it’s hard to imagine that “Woman why turn to me?” isn’t an angry response. Perhaps Jesus was in a conversation with someone else and didn’t like the interruption. Perhaps Jesus grew tired of being the person who is asked to fix any problem. Or perhaps he felt he was being nagged by his mother.
But the scene didn’t end here. We can argue whether Jesus committed a sin and this reading does not give us many of the details that would help us understand this better. But I like to think that whatever Mary was thinking, she knew Jesus well enough to know that he would do the right thing. And I like to think that Jesus overheard Mary telling the servants and recognized that he needed to do something.
Maybe he felt remorse. Maybe he recognized that ability comes with responsibility. Maybe both. But in the end he did the right thing and I think that’s important for all of us.
We are all given gifts and our faith teaches us that we are called to use these gifts for the greater glory of God. Obviously none of us are called to turn water into wine, and particularly wine that was better than what the wedding party served.
If we think about the gifts we’ve been given we should also think about how we can use those gifts to make things better. Let me give an example: when I was a child I watched my parents give blood and I thought that would be a cool thing to do when I was a grown up. When I was a freshman in college I saw a bloodmobile behind the student union and I decided to give a pint. It was easy back then. It predated the AIDS crisis, the nurses didn’t wear gloves, and they only asked about hepatitis and malaria.
But now, 40 years later, many people are not able to give blood. Large swaths of our community are permanently deferred for many reasons. But I’m still able. I’m not saying this to brag but I’ve been giving blood to the San Diego Blood Bank since 1995 and as of last week I’ve donated 25 gallons.
Because I have the ability to give blood, do I have a responsibility? I think I do. Because Jesus had the ability to turn water into wine I think he had a responsibility to do that. I also like to think that Jesus felt badly about his rude comment to his mother and decided to do the next right thing and save the wedding party from humiliation.
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