One of the prayers of the Epiphany tells us that today’s miracle at Cana is part of the feast of the Epiphany as is the baptism of Jesus. Here is the prayer: “Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.” Two weeks ago we celebrated the Epiphany. Last week was the baptism of Jesus. Today completes this great feast with the wedding at Cana in Galilee where Jesus changed water into wine.
What better setting than a wedding to round off the Epiphany as it is the best symbol of God’s future for us. How many times did Jesus use the stories of parties, especially weddings, as signs of the kingdom! There are many levels of meaning to this wedding however. At a first level it is about a young couple who were embarrassed by a shortage of wine. Thanks to the intervention of Mary, Jesus changes the water into wine and brings back joy into the wedding feast. But at a deeper level the real wedding is that between God and humanity; the marriage of heaven and earth. It began in the Old Testament with the call of his Chosen People, but that was more like a courtship, and not the real thing. As Hebrews put it so well: “At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son.” Jesus is the real thing, the bridge between heaven and earth.
They had no wine. It wasn’t just the couple that ran out of wine. The Jewish religion was also running on empty having exhausted itself with all its innumerable rules and regulations. In their emphasis on the letter rather than the spirit they lost the plot. The six stone water jars symbolise their predicament. Stone jars are very clean and good for purification but have little to offer by way of making one’s heart soft, pliable and open to God. Jesus turned all that around by changing the water of Judaism into the finely fermented wine of Christianity. In so doing he signaled that the days of courtship are over and the wedding feast has begun. The hearts of stone are now replaced by hearts of flesh. The best wine was kept for these latter days.
Wine symbolises joy and therefore very apt to express the joy and delight of the Good News. It’s there in the first reading: ‘No longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’, nor you land Abandoned’, but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘The Wedded’; for the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding … as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.”
Something very new and wonderful is taking place here. We catch a glimpse of it in the question of the mystified steward as to why the best wine was kept till last. It is a moment of breakthrough where the presence of God is tangibly close and transforms everything. The ordinary suddenly becomes extraordinary in the presence of Jesus.
But what of today? Are we back to a watered-down religion once more where our words lack the transforming power of Jesus? Where is the finely fermented wine of the Lord’s loving presence and life-giving activity? Sadly many of our contemporaries find themselves indifferent in the presence of the Church’s word. Our celebrations bore them. Who today wants to listen to something that no longer seems to be joyful news, especially if the Gospel gets invoked with an authoritative and threatening tone? They need to see signs that are closer and more friendly and more Jesus like on the part of the Church. They need to discover in us Christians the capacity if Jesus to alleviate the suffering and the hardness of life. We, too have run out of wine and are running on empty.
At times like this it’s all too easy to point fingers. Yes there is a crisis in the priesthood. We are an ageing bunch and we are not attracting the youth to join us. But that’s not the full story. There is also a crisis in faith and in culture today which means there is no longer a fertile ground for vocations to emerge. If we are looking for change then it must begin with ourselves, as we can’t change others.
The new wine of Jesus is a wine of joy and sharing. This reminds me of Francis apostolic Exhortation called ‘The Joy of the Gospel’. The first line says it all. “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” This raises the key question: ‘have I encountered Jesus?’ Has Jesus impacted on my life like he has on Peter, James or John? But you might say they met him in the flesh. Well then look to Pope Francis. Where does he at 79 get his energy, enthusiasm and amazing inspiration from? It’s Jesus of course. He has simply encountered Jesus and difficult though his task is, his face is full of joy, full of the fine wine of Christianity. The Pope continues:: “Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free form sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” Jesus offer of salvation is there for us too. Accept it, take it by the horns and you too will be free of the angst that so torments our modern souls, namely sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.
Notice the key role that Mary plays in this miracle at Cana. She quickly understood the distress of the young couple because of the shortage of wine and went straight to Jesus to say they have no wine. She didn’t ask on behalf of herself but the couple. We need a Mary in our lives too, someone who feels the pain of those around us, someone who knows us so well and then tells us to turn to Jesus and put our wholehearted trust in Jesus. Someone who keeps telling us to do whatever Jesus tells us so that we too will have our cup overflowing with joy.
May the ordinariness of our lives becomes extraordinary, the empty jugs of water become filled with new wine, our moments of boredom and heaviness be transformed into moments of joy and delight, so that all is well again. Then the feast of the Epiphany will no longer be a feast of the past but a present day reality for us all.
Sunday 17 January 2016