Drinking the new wine

16 January, 2022 2nd Sunday, Year C

Of all Jesus’ miracles, we might think his turning water into wine is the least significant. However, for John, this miracle at the wedding feast of Cana takes pride of place as the first of the ‘signs’ given by Jesus.

Other ‘signs’ in John’s gospel include healing miracles, feeding the 5,000, Jesus walking on water and raising Lazarus from the dead. While John acknowledges there were “many other signs”, he chooses these seven ‘signs’ so “you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:30).

Each of these miracle-signs is a foretaste of the single, great miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. So, what lessons can we draw from the wedding feast of Cana? First, this is the only recorded miracle that Jesus performed for friends and family. Elsewhere, he seems to dismiss any special significance for family: “Whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mtt. 12:50). On another occasion, when returning to Nazareth, we are told Jesus was so “amazed by their lack of faith … he could work no miracles there” (Mk 6:5f.).

Second, there is the extraordinary interchange between Jesus and his mother, Mary. It is Mary who confronts her son with the problem: “They have no wine!” We need to note, at this point, Jesus had not given any indication of special powers. Next, we cannot help but notice Jesus’ annoyance in stating his time had not yet come. But Mary, unperturbed, tells the waiter: “Do whatever he tells you”. We know the rest of the story: Jesus not only turns water into wine, but it is the best possible wine.

The human dimension of this story is compelling. Jesus and his disciples know how to celebrate life. No doubt they told yarns, sang songs and danced well into the night. But the time would come when they would face a crisis and be asked to lay down their lives. Interestingly, the next time we hear of Mary in John’s gospel is at Jesus’ crucifixion. Just as Mary is present to witness the beginning of Jesus’ public life at Cana, she is also there to witness what is, for John, the birth of the Church at Calvary.

We are similarly living in a time of transition – what Pope Francis calls a “change of era” – when the old wine seems to be running out. Like Mary, we are being asked to place our vulnerable trust in Jesus who, with the gift of the Spirit, is the new wine for our age. Like the first disciples and early Christians, we know we live in a time of human and political crisis that also embroils society and church. We can only but trust in God who alone is able to turn the water of our fears into the new wine of God’s creative presence and enduring love.

Gerard Hall SM

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