Life, love, and the wedding feast at Cana

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2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Jan. 20, 2013
Isa 62:1-5; Ps 96; 1 Cor 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana, we hear in our Gospel reading today; and, as in our weddings today, it was a joyful time, celebrating the start of the marriage between this particular young man and young woman, the bridegroom and the bride, now husband and wife. But their wedding celebrations, in the Holy Land in the 1st century, were longer than ours now—they lasted for days. There was much feasting, much rejoicing.

But at this particular wedding, something had gone wrong with the planning. They were about to run out of wine. And the presence of wine was a key part of the festivities: “Without wine,” said the rabbis of the time, “there is no joy.” And so, under the surface of this celebration, there is a tone of fear, even of panic, as something is about to go terribly wrong. “They have no wine.” They just don’t know it yet—not the bridegroom or the bride, or even the headwaiter—not yet.

But perhaps the servants knew; perhaps they knew what was about to happen. And somehow the Virgin Mary had a position at that celebration such that the servants did what she directed. She pointed them to Jesus, who directed them to fill the stone water jars full of about 150 gallons of water. And then he directed them to “draw some out and take it to the headwaiter.” Can you imagine being the servant who did so? Who filled a ladle or a cup with the water and brought it to the headwaiter and gave it to him to taste—and waited for his angry reaction at being handed water, which would only grow in panic when he then learned that they had run out of wine? We can imagine the servant cringing as he handed off the cup to the headwaiter and waited for the blow—

—only to hear the headwaiter smacking his lips with pleasure at the fantastic wine he was tasting, and go off to speak to the bridegroom about it!

What had happened? Only a moment before, the wedding feast was about to explode in fear and panic and emergency! And now, instead, the joy and life had been raised to a whole new level by really excellent wine! All because they had followed the instruction of the man Jesus, son of Mary. Who is this Jesus? How could he change things in that way?

How interesting that this first miraculous sign of our Lord Jesus occurred at a wedding. For we know that, then as now, the relationship between a man and a woman is something amazing, full of powerful possibilities and also full of dangers. Like fire itself, like power tools or powerful machines, between a man and a woman there is potential for joy and for fear; for personal growth and transformation and new life, and for pain and tragedy and even death.

Here we take off our shoes, like Moses before the burning bush: for this is holy ground. In the complementarity between man and woman God created the potential for a relationship that resembles in many ways the relationship between the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, characterized by infinite love, relating in perfect self-giving and receiving of the other, from all eternity: this, a husband and wife can resemble, in some ways, when they are joined in the lifelong bonds of marriage. And as the creation of life pours forth from the heart of the Trinity; so too the union of husband and wife is made fruitful, able to share in the divine creation of new life, new human beings, like themselves.

It is no wonder that Satan, that fallen angel, should envy this human privilege of sharing in the nature of God; and no wonder that sin would infect it, seeking to wrench it apart with fear and suspicion, misuse and abuse, domination and manipulation. In so many ways individual men and women have sinned against each other; and whole societies have corrupted marriage and the procreation of children in one way or another, seeking to empty them of their holy power, to cheapen them, to make them one more consumer product for disposable, shallow pleasure.

And as we approach January 22 we recall with sadness one of the great sorrows of our time: the legalization of abortion in this country 40 years ago this week, resulting in more than 55 million children’s lives being ended in the womb, by their own parents. And what a tragedy this is. For every unexpected pregnancy is a time of fear and panic, when everything seems to go wrong; and then, after an abortion, dark years of sorrow and guilt for the mother and father and many others. What darkness, what suffering, do we see between man and woman, where we should see holiness and joy and life!

But here, as at that wedding at Cana, our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary are present. Here, in your life, in your fear, in your emergency, the Virgin Mary notices your need, even before you do; and here she speaks to her Son, interceding for you. And to you she says, as to those servants at the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.”

And what does he tell you? He speaks through the moral teaching of his Church, his Bride, instructing you to reserve all sexual activity only for the marriage bed, between a man and a woman married validly in the Church. He teaches you not to kill, but to preserve and protect life, as he gave his life for us. And he speaks to your heart in prayer, telling you of his undying love for you, and urging you not to fear but to trust.

In our world, this teaching of our Lord Jesus can seem as strange and unlikely as his instruction to the servants to bring a cup of water to the headwaiter. But then following his teaching brings a richness and a joy like the wine that he miraculously created—a wine that the world does not know about, but you can. For as our Lord revealed his glory on that day in Cana, so he can reveal his glory in your life. He is the Lord of life; he is the One who created man and woman and sexuality and procreation and marriage; he loves you beyond all measure; and he can transform and heal you. He can give us the strength we need to overcome fear and walk the right path; and he can give us the forgiveness and peace that we need for all of our past sins, including the sin of abortion. Nothing is beyond the scope of his power; nothing is beyond his mercy.

For the Gospel of Life is good news! It is good news for each of us; and it is good news for every person we meet. And so, even as this week we remember on Martin Luther King Day how our nation came to protect every person no matter their race, so too we pray that we may be led to protect every person no matter how young and small, even in the womb. There are two parish events that I especially encourage you and your family to attend this next weekend:

  • On Friday, January 25, you can join me at the March for Life on the National Mall downtown. You can ride a bus from St. Martin’s, which will leave after the 9 a.m. Mass on Friday.
  • Then, on the evening of Saturday, January 26, St. Martin’s will present a “Pro-Life Family Evening of Reflection,” which will feature speaker and musician Bob Rice. This will take place in the School Gym from 7 to 10 p.m. next Saturday.

After Mass today, you can obtain tickets for both events downstairs in the Church Hall.

Like the prophet Isaiah, for the sake of every person around us, we must not be silent; for their sake, we must not be quiet. With joy, we proclaim the good news: “You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord… For the Lord delights in you… and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” The Divine Bridegroom is here: “Do whatever he tells you.”

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