The 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time in any of the cycles in the Lectionary takes a passage from John’s gospel to help get re-acquainted with the adult Jesus, after the many images and stories of the child Jesus at Christmas. As we are presented with the passage of the wedding at Cana, we should first reflect about the personality of Jesus that comes to the surface. Jesus was at a wedding, celebrating with his mother and his disciples. Quite in contrast with the ascetic, neutral, even sad Jesus that has been portrayed in art throughout history, and quite in contrast with the image of Jesus that may have been conveyed to us from our pulpits and religious education classes.
In John’s gospel, Cana, some nine miles north of Nazareth, is the location of Jesus’ first sign, which is how John refers to Jesus’ miracles. A wedding at that time was a very big occasion that would take several days. Running out of wine was an embarrassment to the couple, and it would mean that the celebration would be over, probably placing some kind of negative omen as a shadow on their future married life.
As we have said before, if the point of the story would only be to convey the fact that Jesus was able to turn water into wine, the text could simply have stated that Jesus snapped his fingers and turned the water into wine. In any miracle that Jesus performs, there always seems to be a gesture, a word, an action that gives it a deeper meaning. For instance, he did not snap his fingers to give sight to the blind man, as he could have done. Rather, Jesus mixes soil with saliva and spreads the clay over the man’s eyes.
At Cana, what Jesus uses for the miracle is six stone jars that the text tells us were there for the “ceremonial washing” rituals. These were rituals of cleansing, in a religious system that had become highly concerned about issues of purity. Jesus then turns the water of cleansing into the wine of celebration, giving the miracle—especially being his first—a whole deeper meaning.
We, like any religious people of any time, could become overly concerned about sinfulness, ritual, rule and purity. With this miracle, Jesus emphasizes the joyfulness, the sense of happiness of those who have been invited to the feast. I believe something along these lines was in the Holy Father’s spirit when he instituted the Year of Mercy. We place the emphasis on experiencing and conveying God’s mercy to others, instead of focusing on rules and sinfulness.
The text also tells us that the servants—those who serve, like we are called to do—are the ones who get to know about the miracle, one that also teaches us about Jesus’ sense of abundance (he produced the equivalent of 1,000 modern bottles of wine!) We tend to associate service with obligation, burden, something that occupies a bit of our time and takes a small portion of our resources at best. Through this miracle Jesus tells us that we will experience—we will actually know—God’s happiness when we decide to serve and we do it abundantly.