Second Sunday of Ordinary Time - a reflection

Monday, January 17, 2022 - 11:30

Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction to these reflections and please look at the readings for Sunday Mass here (these will open in a separate window for ease of reading):

Invited with his mother to a wedding, Jesus gives the first of his signs, reveals his glory and his disciples believed in him. This Sunday we hear the magnificent Gospel of that wedding at Cana, one of the most dramatic Gospel stories as 100 or more gallons of water become fine quality wine. The revelation of Jesus’ glory at Cana echoes the Prologue proclamation that we beheld his glory full of grace and truth. The Cana wedding is therefore one of the three episodes celebrated with the feast of the Epiphany, as I mentioned last week.

Many years ago I heard a fascinating lecture about this wedding at Cana. It was shown how every detail in the story could be explained by John’s theology. In other words, the evangelist very likely composed a story as the best way to deliver his message. That there are stories like this does not of course affect the overall historical background to the Gospels. A little later in the Gospel of John there is another miracle at Cana, the healing of the centurion’s son. Stories like this healing are also told in the other Gospels and so we can see them coming from traditions going back to Jesus himself. This story of Cana is though unique within the Gospels, it invites us not to wonder about what happened but rather to enter into its language of signs and symbols as the first of the signs of Jesus. We need to hear this story as encouraging our believing in Jesus as it did the disciples. 

If we are to follow the aims of the evangelist we need to explore briefly how this wedding story has a key role in the Gospel of John. Too often we read the various Gospel stories out of their context but the evangelist tells them for a purpose. This is especially important in the case of the Cana wedding because it both concludes one part of the Gospel while opening another. This Sunday it is the part which is being concluded that is the more important as the climax to the Epiphany of the Lord/

We will see this more clearly if we first look forward to the part of the Gospel which begins with the Cana wedding. Cana is at the centre of the first two parts at the beginning of the Gospel where there is no controversy. After that, Jesus’ confrontations with the Jews begin with the healing of a sick man who promptly betrays Jesus to them. This miracle is not a sign, though often claimed as such, because it does not lead to the man believing in Jesus. Here I am keeping to the verb “believing” because the Gospel never uses the noun. The believing which is such central message of this Gospel is a dynamic commitment to Jesus, one which involves constant growth. For the disciples, their believing began at Cana.

Just what this believing means is explored in the part before the healing of the sick man. This part of the Gospel is bounded by the two miracles at Cana. The first is the wedding which is reflection this Sunday and the second is that of the official’s son. The latter is clearly marked by the evangelist as the second sign because the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him. Between the two Cana miracles we follow a variety of encounters between Jesus and different people such as Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman. They all react to Jesus differently. Nicodemus for example is like many who are fascinated by Jesus but cannot make the commitment to believing in Jesus. The wedding scene with its climax of the disciples believing is therefore the opening bracket of this Cana to Cana section as it is known.

However, the Cana wedding also forms the climax to what precedes. As the story of the Gospel begins after the Prologue, we are presented with a series of introductory encounters. These begin with John, whom we call the Baptist though he is not called that in this Gospel. This part is marked out by the phrase “the next day” until Cana which begins “on the third day”. After the Prologue, the story begins with the witness of John first to the Jews about Jesus and then on the next day to Jesus as the Lamb of God. On the same day John points two of his disciples towards Jesus. They stay with Jesus for the rest of the day while Andrew brings his brother Peter to Jesus. Again, the next day which follows is similar in that Jesus calls Philip who then finds Nathanael. Philip’s invitation to Nathanael is the same as that of Jesus to the first two disciples: “Come and see”. Then after his encounter with Jesus, Nathanael is promised that he will see greater things. These greater things now follow. And so on the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The third day recalls Moses at Sinai. gives a hint of the resurrection to come. There are now also seven days in total. All of this suggests that there will be a new creation. Weddings are a great symbol in the Old Testament for God’s relationship to his people as we see in this Sunday’s reading from the prophet Isaiah. The married couple make no appearance at Cana. We can again keep in mind that something new is happening.

The invitation to the wedding is given to the Mother of Jesus while Jesus and his disciples as afterthoughts. The mother is central to the first part of the scene. Her only other appearance will be at the foot of the cross, which will be the hour which Jesus mentions to her as the time for his full revelation. At Cana that hour has not yet come but it is being anticipated as Jesus reveals his glory at least to his inner circle.. It is important we accept that the mother is never named in this Gospel despite centuries of Christian piety. She is being presented both here and at the cross as the model faithful disciple, an example for us all to follow. And so in responding to her comment about the lack of wine, it is to the mother as the disciple which makes it appropriate for Jesus to call her “Woman”. And her response to that shows her complete trust in her son as she does not take “no” for an answer and tells the servants to follow his instructions.

Jesus instruction is therefore simply to fill the jars nearby full of water. Numbers again have significance: six is one less than seven, the number of completeness. The old order signified by the jars is not quite complete, another indication that it is passing away. Jesus just tells the servants to fill the jars with water. Nothing more happens except that an abundant quantity of fine wine is given to the steward. This he reports to the bridegroom. There is just this one mention of the bridegroom and nothing about the bride. There could well be a hint here that the bridegroom is now Jesus himself. Wine is a symbol that the last days have come, for example, at the end of the prophecy of Amos. Cana announces that there is a new wedding, that between Jesus and the Church. This will be confirmed at the foot of the cross with the Mother and the Beloved Disciple given into each other’s care by Jesus.

Finally there is the report by the evangelist of the sign revealing the glory of Jesus and his disciples believed in him. Through the witness of the Mother of Jesus, the disciples have come to believe.


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