Wednesday, June 1, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Wedding Feast at Cana

John 2:1-13:

[1] And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there. [2] And Jesus also was invited, and his disciples, to the marriage. [3] And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine. [4] And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come. [5] His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.
    [6] Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three measures apiece. [7] Jesus saith to them: Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. [8] And Jesus saith to them: Draw out now, and carry to the chief steward of the feast. And they carried it. [9] And when the chief steward had tasted the water made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters knew who had drawn the water; the chief steward calleth the bridegroom, [10] And saith to him: Every man at first setteth forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse. But thou hast kept the good wine until now.
[11] This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him. [12] After this he went down to Capharnaum, he and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they remained there not many days. [13] And the pasch of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

The next Luminous Mystery is the famous wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine. This is a story most of us are familiar with. The wine is running low at the wedding feast, which would be very embarrassing for the bridegroom (perhaps he was not wealthy, and could not afford much) if they ran out. Mary asks Jesus to help, then tells the waiters to do whatever Jesus says. He directs them to fill some jars with water and they take it to the steward, who marvels at how good the wine in the jars is.

However, as with all such stories, it's all the language of the time that we're no longer familiar with that really makes the story meaningful. There are certainly many layers here, so let's being unpacking some of them.

John Sets the Stage

This story is only recorded in John's Gospel. That should be our first clue that something really important is happening here, since John's Gospel works hard to reveal to us the Divine Nature of Our Lord. Within John's Gospel, in particular, the Eucharist is a clear thread that extends throughout its length. This story is part of that, and I will show how, but since the Eucharist is the focus of a later Mystery, I will only touch on it briefly.

The Third Day

John begins by stating "And the third day." From a chronological perspective, this is the third day of Jesus' active ministry. On the first day, Andrew, Simon Peter, and another Disciple began following Jesus, declaring Him to be the Messiah. On the second day, Philip and Nathaniel began following Jesus, declaring Him to be the Son of God, and King of Israel. And now this is the third day of His ministry, on which He performs His first miracle, "and his disciples believed in him."

But, by now, you should recognize that the "third day" has deeper theological significance. Mary and Joseph found Jesus "after three days," Jesus rises from the dead on the third day, and here in this story Jesus "manifested his glory" on the third day. The third day, then, is a day of manifested glory. By beginning this scene in this way, we are meant to understand that this event manifests Christ's glory.

The Pasch was at Hand

John closes the scene by letting us know this event immediately preceded the Pasch. This is important, because Jesus' ministry lasted the course of three years, and therefore three Paschs. This is the miracle of the first Pasch. We know the miracle of the third Pasch (His death and resurrection), but did you know that the multiplication of the loaves by which Jesus fed the five thousand also occurred during the Pasch?

These are the miracles of the three Paschs: 1) Jesus transforms water into wine, the wine is called the "Good Wine," 2) Jesus multiplies the loaves, everyone eats their fill, there are 12 baskets left over, 3) Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and completes the Paschal meal at His death on the Cross.

I'll talk more about this during the 5th Luminous Mystery.

Mary Intercedes

I noted earlier that the bridegroom of this wedding feast was probably poor, and that's why they were running out of wine. Mary, who was poor herself, notices and very likely identifies with his need. So, she turns to Jesus for help. Not help for herself, but help for this poor man.

It may seem like a mundane need that Mary is responding to, but it may be proper to understand this as a sign of deeper things. Spiritually, we are all poor, we are all in need. We do not have the funds to purchase a richer life, we do not merit it. In our spiritual poverty, Mary, who is now rich indeed, intercedes on our behalf to Her Son, the source of all spiritual wealth. She identifies with us, in our need, in our spiritual poverty. She understands our struggles, and inability to rise to the challenge of spiritual glory.

Jesus Responds to His Mother

Jesus responds to Mary's request in a strange way. He says "Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come." When you think about it, all Mary said to Him was "they have no wine." Clearly, by Jesus' response, much was understood from Mary's statement.


Jesus does not call Mary, "mother" (or some variant). He doesn't call her "Mary." He calls her "Woman." This has a great deal of significance. He is primarily recalling the name Adam gave to Eve, Woman.

In Genesis, after God creates Adam, this is what Adam is called all the way up until he names Eve "Woman." Eve didn't become known as Eve until after the Fall, when she became known as "mother of all the living." Eve's first name was "woman," and in naming her Woman, Adam named Himself Man. In the Hebrew, this is Ish, and Isha.

The point is that in the naming of her as Isha, and therefore Himself as Ish, He was giving Himself His own identity, His own calling, His own mission in the world. Likewise, when Jesus here calls Mary "Woman," He is declaring His mission in the world as beginning. She is the new Eve, He the new Adam, and this moment exacts the commencement of that mission.

What is that to Me and to Thee?

Given Jesus' address to Mary as Woman, His following statement appears to make less sense: what is that to me and to thee? What does that have to do with us? That seems like a backhanded comment, similar to "mind your own business." If we didn't recognize the title "Woman" to have the theological significance that it does, we might even think calling her this is a further put down.

Rather, the opposite is true. Here, Jesus is affording Mary a great honor. In this, Jesus is inviting Mary to "sound the gong" so to speak. The key to getting this is in the phrase "and to thee." If Jesus was just saying "I don't care," then He would simply have say "what is that to me?" But He didn't, He included her in His question. What is it to "me and to thee." He is taking them together.

While this fits well with He and she as being the new Adam and Eve, it actually fits better if we understand Him to be referring to their royal positions as King and Queen Mother. In this context, "Woman" takes on the added meaning of "Gebirah" or "Great Lady." The phrase "what is that to me and to thee" then becomes a question of significance? What meaning does this have before us, as King and Queen?

This gives context to Mary's intercession here. In the Royal Line of David, the Queen Mother had, as one of her responsibilities, to listen to the requests of the people, and to distribute the King's wealth according to the peoples' needs, and her sound judgement. Here, Mary, as Queen Mother, has heard the need of this, her subject, and has brought the need to the King.

The need is material. Jesus' reign is spiritual. So, Jesus rightly asks what significance this need has to them, as rulers of the Heavenly Kingdom. He doesn't ask this because He doesn't care. He asks because He is allowing the Queen Mother to define which needs of their Kingdom will be met, at the very moment His Kingdom is being established. She responds as a good mother would: by working to meet both the material and the spiritual needs of the people.

In the way Mary responds to this question, she reveals to us how it is we may benefit from the wealth of His treasury: "Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye." Do whatever He says.

My Hour is not yet Come

This reference to His "Hour" is a reference to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, by which Jesus makes the wealth of His spiritual treasury available to the world. This is the link to that work. His salvific "hour" has not yet arrived. Nevertheless, the work of His Kingdom, as authorized by His Mother, was to start that very hour, to care for the physical needs of His people, to heal them, to teach them, to deliver them from demons.

And so, obedient to His mother, in adherence to the fourth commandment, and as an honor to His Queen Mother, allowing her to define the scope of His Kingdom's work, and in respect of the New Eve, who by her very nature gives Him an understanding of His work as a man, Jesus performs His first miracle, by turning water into win.

Six Waterpots

That's certainly not the end of the story, though. Jesus meets the immediate, material need of the bridegroom, but He does so with deep significance. He tells the waiters to take six waterpots and fill them to the brim. The first thing we should note is that these waterpots were "according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews." Once again, we return to the Purity Laws of the Jews. According to such laws, both the vessels that would be used for food, as well as the people who were about to eat, had to be washed first for purification, otherwise they would be considered unclean.

It is no coincidence that Jesus chose purification jars in this miracle. If this turning of water into wine is to be a sign of the Eucharist, then we must understand that this sign is one of purification.

The waterpots are already 2 to 3 measures full. In other words, as is obvious from the context of the story (running out of wine), these jars have already been used, and are no longer full. These jars are large, also, each holding somewhere between 20 to 30 gallons. And at this point in the story, they're about one half to three quarters full, each.

Jesus doesn't tell them to empty the jars first, then refill them to the brim. He simply tells them to fill the jars to the brim. So the waters themselves are the same purifying waters that were used to make the vessels and people clean for the feast. Thus, these are a sign of Baptism, a purifying water in which one bathes to become clean.

However, they are then transformed into wine; a drink that is consumed. Thus, these are a sign of the Eucharistic blood of Christ, by which He purifies our souls.

And the chief steward, tasting the wine, and recognizing its superiority over the "regular" wine, called it the "good wine." Indeed, Jesus is the Good Wine.

The Wedding Feast

I feel it is important, at this time, to remind you that this is a wedding feast. With all this talk of the Eucharist, I feel their might be too much emphasis on that right now. Not that there can be too much emphasis on the Eucharist. I just want to remind that this is a wedding, and we can put greater focus on the Eucharist at a later time.

Jesus has discourses on marriage in other parts of the Gospels. And in those discourses, He talks about the meanings and purposes and indissolubility of marriage. Nevertheless, I would argue that it is this occasion, this wedding feast at Cana, which inaugurates marriage as a Sacrament. I make this argument because the special graces of marriage are that of abundance, of blessing. And that's really what this story is all about.

Mary, the Queen Mother, decides this would be the moment Jesus begins to bless His people. Jesus fills the six very large purity jars to the brim. Jesus transforms the water into wine. That is, He makes a drink of necessity into a drink of abundance and blessing and celebration.

And these are the special graces of a Sacramental marriage. Marriage alone is a natural good; for the couple, for the children, and for the wider society. But a Sacramental marriage is one of abundant blessing and grace.

I hope you've enjoyed this Mystery. Thanks for reading!

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