By Father Donald Dilger
First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5; Response: Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10: Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Gospel: John 2:1-11
The reason why the Book of Isaiah is sometimes called “the Fifth Gospel” is because of its influence on the thought and vocabulary of our four canonical gospels. The first reading of this Sunday is again from Isaiah, as it was the two preceding Sundays. It is taken from the third part of the book, the part called Third (or Trito-) Isaiah. The setting is Jerusalem after the exile, which ended in 540-538 B.C. The time: about 515 B.C. The prophet here serves in the role of God’s cheerleader for a troubled and economically failing community of returned exile. A major theme of Third Isaiah could be “Make Jerusalem Great Again.”
God speaks through the prophet’s oracles and says, “I will not keep quiet until I see Zion, (that is, Jerusalem) as a burning beacon (torch, lighthouse).” He calls Jerusalem a crown in the hand of God. From being lamented as “forsaken” and “desolate,” the city will have new names, “My Delight, My Espoused.” The concept of God as the prospective husband or faithful husband of the nation goes back to the prophet Hosea, who was active in the northern kingdom of Israel 200 and some years before Third Isaiah, so mid-8th century B.C. See Hosea 2. Back to Third Isaiah: there is a promise of marriage, “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder (the Lord God) will marry you. As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.” These are metaphors of hope for a suffering people. The reason for selecting this reading for this Sunday — the gospel reading is the story of Jesus honoring an invitation to a marriage at Cana in Galilee, only nine miles north of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus though he had moved north by this time.
The Responsorial Psalm 96 speaks of the wondrous deeds of the Lord and the obligation to proclaim the Lord’s glory to the nations. The assemblers of this liturgy may have intended the wondrous deeds of the Psalm to anticipate Jesus’ miracle in the gospel, changing water into wine. The reference to glory to the nations in the Psalm is echoed in the closing statement of the gospel, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs (miracles), and so revealed his glory.”
On Sundays of Ordinary Time, the second reading only rarely has a theme in common with the first reading and the gospel of the day. And so it is on this Sunday, though one might see a connection with the gospel and Isaiah in the mention of one of the charisms or gifts of the Spirit, the ability to do mighty deeds. Among other purposes, 1 Corinthians is Paul’s attempt to solve the problems of his young Christian community in Corinth. One of their problems was the proper use of charisms (gifts of the Spirit) in ministry to the community. There is also the implication that there was some disorder in determining who has which gifts, and perhaps some jealousy between the haves and the have-nots of certain more desirable gifts. Though in this reading, Paul does not get into a comparison of the Church with a human body — all parts working together for the good of the whole body, the call for unity is already there in his reminders that there is only one Spirit, the one and the same God, who grants all of the different charisms.
The story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee is found only in John’s gospel. His gospel, unfortunately, does not get its own year as do the other three gospels. But in all three years, the assemblers of the Lectionary generously inserted important episodes from John’s gospel into the years featuring Mark, Matthew, Luke. Who was invited to the wedding at Cana? First mentioned is “the mother of Jesus.” We should point out that the Gospel of John never mentions Mary’s name.
John continues, “Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.” Since he already had disciples, we may conclude that his preaching ministry had begun. His base of operations was Capernaum, about 15 miles northeast of Cana. It is interesting that, immediately after mentioning the disciples of Jesus, John adds, “When they ran out of wine . . . .”
Mary’s sympathy for the embarrassed wedding couple and the caterer kicks in, as she addresses Jesus, “They have no wine.” This is not just a biographical story. We need to probe the story for John’s theology, his catechetical intent. The key to understanding Mary’s role may be in Jesus’ unusual way of addressing his mother, “Woman, what is that to you and to me?” We will encounter the mother of Jesus only once more in John’s gospel — at the foot of the cross. From the cross, Jesus will again address her with this title, “Woman, behold your son,” as he commends to his mother’s love the disciple called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He, too, like the mother of Jesus, remained without a name. By leaving Jesus’ mother without her name, she becomes the universal mother. The unnamed disciple becomes the universal disciple. Not to be forgotten is the fact that in Genesis 2:23 it is said of the universal mother, “She shall be called Woman.”
The six stone jars have an important role. They were there for the convenience of the guests. According to Jewish custom, as the guests entered the home, they splashed water on face, arms and hands. Thus, they symbolically purified themselves of any ritual uncleanness contracted perhaps en route to the wedding. John implies that the jars were not full. Thus, Jesus says, “Fill the jars with water,” and “They filled them to the brim.” At Jesus’ command, the maître d’ tasted the contents. He scolded the bridegroom for not serving this good wine first. John is engaged here in Replacement or Perfection Theology. The jars, not yet full, symbolize Old Testament rituals. The old rituals have been surpassed and perfected by Jesus. John will do the same with other major elements of the Old Covenant — the temple, the feasts. In a Jewish document, Second Book of Baruch, roughly contemporary with John’s gospel, the superabundance of wine is a sign of messianic times. “Messiah” (Christ) is one of the titles bestowed on Jesus in the previous chapter, as Andrew addresses his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah.”