2nd of the Year, 16 Jan 22
I last drank tequila on my eighteenth birthday. And I’m not going in to the gory details but I seem to remember feeling not very well the next day but it must have been something I ate, of course!
We have in today’s Gospel our Lord turning water in to wine at a party. And what’s potentially more scandalous is that those who have already been drinking, carry on drinking the wine that He produces, noting that it was better than what they had been drinking before. Now, wine in the first century was almost certainly weaker in terms of alcoholic strength than what we buy today and it was much more commonly drunk but we have to do some thinking as we contrast our Lord’s activity here with some of the misery we get from many Christians and others today.
For wine in the Scriptures is linked to joy: “Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man,” (Psalm 104:14-15). When we hear the Psalmist famously rejoice that their cup overflows (Psalm 23:5), the image they had was presumably wine overflowing from it. St Paul encourages Timothy to take wine for medicinal purposes in his first letter to him (I Timothy 5:23) and such association to health and wellbeing is made elsewhere (II Samuel 16:2 and Proverbs 31:6).
Jesus drank wine, not only at wedding feasts such as that in the Gospel, but also at the Last Supper. Here the bread and wine offered carry with them the symbolism of the mundane. Centuries before during the early ministry of Abraham he comes across Melchizedek offering these same simple gifts (Genesis 14:18). The author of the letter to the Hebrews sees Jesus as being a priest resembling Melchizedek, being ancient, universal and predating the priesthood of the Old Covenant (Hebrews 7:1-19).
At the Last Supper on the night before our Lord died on the Cross He took the wine and told the disciples to drink of it and said, “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” (St Matthew 11:29). The feasting we enjoy at Mass then propels us forward to the life we will share with God in eternity in Heaven: “Thou preparest a table before me … and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,” (Psalm 23:5-6). The vineyard is a place where our Lord sets a couple of his parables that speak of preparing for the end of the world. Wine is produced after all, having gone through a process of purifying, squeezing out the goodness.
The Church rightly continues to insist that only alcoholic wine can be used at Mass as that was what our Lord used. It is a great blessing that those who very sensibly avoid drinking alcohol for whatever reason are still able to receive the Lord fully in the form of bread at Mass, as indeed we’re all doing at the current time.
There was clearly some scandal around our Lord drinking wine. As we hear recorded in St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (St Matthew 11:18-19). There are warnings elsewhere in the Scriptures too (Ephesians 5:18, Isaiah 5:11-12) and we do have to be careful, consuming too much alcohol becomes such a part of culture and society that we fail to recognise it is sinful when we do so.
But I hope the central message of the Feast at the Wedding at Cana and the miracle of the Lord producing wine can be for us one of joy. This is not blind optimism or use of pithy sayings like, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” but it is a profound realisation of all the Lord has done for us and how the challenges of this life cannot override that salvation and eternal life which is the Father’s will for those who love Him. It will mean we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we don’t go to pieces if plans don’t go exactly as we intended, that when we suffer it won’t come to define us and be all we can think about.
I also want to see what this passage tells us about Mary. This is the most detailed description we have of a conversation between Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. First to note that John tells us that “The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited.” We don’t know how close they were to the happy couple but it seems pretty clear that our Lord, His Mother and the Apostles had formed a unit, a new family. Presumably St Joseph had already died by this point, he is not mentioned here or later in the Gospels. It is to be with this same heart that we welcome Mary as our Mother too, Mother of all Christians. She gave birth to the Body of the Lord, formed exclusively from her DNA, and we are members of the Church, the Body of Christ. We each have different roles, as Paul wrote in our second reading. Mary’s is to be Mother of all those who call upon her Son in faith.
Secondly, to note that Mary fulfils an intercessory role with her Son. They run out of wine. Presumably Jesus knew anyway and would have discerned the commotion among the stewards but it is Mary who brings it to Him. It is pleasing to God that we bring the needs of others to Him, as Mary does here the needs of the other guests. She instructs us on the true nature of prayer for she doesn’t say, “Jesus, we need some more wine,” she doesn’t tell God what the solution is, she simply brings the problem before Him. When we ask Mary to pray for us today she does exactly the same thing, she brings our needs, our wants, our hopes, our problems to her Son and our Saviour.
Our Lord’s response at the Wedding has caused an array of views: “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.” Is He rebuking her and why if so, given He goes on to do something about the problem she has presented to Him? Or is it to draw out the image of how we have here a man and a woman at a marriage, making it truly a moment like the Garden of Eden, in which new life is poured in to the old jars of the rites of the Old Covenant? Jesus addressing Mary as “Woman,” is not necessarily a rebuke, for He uses the same name on the Cross when He commends her in love to the Beloved Disciple (St John 19:25). In saying His hour had not yet come, Jesus is clear He is free to act, not bound by fate, but is also pointing us to the time when His hour does come, which is when He hangs on the Cross and yes, Mary will be there too when the whole world can see what true glory is.
If it is a rebuke, Mary is not annoyed by her Son’s response and so perhaps we ought not to read it as such. She turns to the stewards and tells them to do whatever He tells you. She does no less to us, who are “stewards of the mysteries of God,” as Paul reminds us elsewhere in his first letter to the Corinthians (4:1). Mary disappears from view in so much of our Lord’s earthly ministry. She doesn’t draw attention to herself. She just wants us to see her Son, the Saviour of the world. There’s a whole language within the Church of being slaves of Mary, as St Louis de Montfort was particularly keen Christians see ourselves as such. It perhaps sits uncomfortably with some of us but seeing ourselves in this way is only to tie ourselves in servitude to the God of Heaven and earth whom she defended with all her might when He dwelt within her womb.
All this happens, St John tells us, “on the third day.” This points us to the Resurrection and the joy and relief we must have each Sunday that the Lord is risen from the dead and death has lost its sting. But it was also on the third day of creation, back in Genesis 1, when God named the dry land ‘earth’ and the waters gathered together were named ‘the seas.’ The earth, it was ordained, was to bring forth vegetation and fruit, including the fruit of the vine to cheer our hearts. May our hearts be full of joy for all that God does for us as we gather to celebrate on this day of Resurrection, when God pours new wine into our hearts. Joy isn’t an emotion we can force, but the natural response to God’s love for us who have Mary interceding for us.