The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Isaiah 62:1-5 + 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 + John 2:1-12
January 17, 2016
“…as a bridegroom rejoices in His bride / so shall your God rejoice in you.”
The spiritual life is a match made in Heaven. But it’s also made on earth. The Word of God proclaims this throughout the Old Testament, from Adam and Eve forward. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, in the final verses of today’s First Reading, prophesies about how the relationship between the Lord God and His People Israel is like a marriage. Isaiah declares: “As a young man marries a virgin, / your Builder shall marry you; / and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride / so shall your God rejoice in you.”
This marriage is all the more impressive given the infinite distance between, on the one hand the All-Holy Lord, and on the other hand the sinful people of Israel. The people of Israel not only shared in the Original Sin of their first parents Adam and Eve. Even worse, they had been unfaithful to the Covenant that they as a People had made with God. They deserved to be called “Forsaken” and “Desolate”. But Isaiah declares: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken’, or your land ‘Desolate’, but you shall be called ‘My Delight’, and your land ‘Espoused’.”
Of course the difficulty with the spousal language that Isaiah uses here is that Israel is a People, not a person. That can make it hard for any one of us to relate this language to one’s own individual spiritual life. God knows this about us. He knows that we can feel small and insignificant within a crowd. That’s why the Lord God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ: to reveal the depths of God’s love for each and every individual of the entire human race throughout all of human history, no matter how many billions of human persons that may be. Sometimes I counsel penitents in the confessional by saying: “No matter how grave and numerous your sins may be, as Jesus was dying on the Cross, in His infinite knowledge He was aware of you personally and your sins, and He chose freely to die for you yourself. In fact, if every other human person in all of history had never sinned—if every other human person had been as sinless as the Blessed Virgin Mary—and you were the only sinner in all of human history, Jesus still would have sacrificed His Body and Blood, soul and divinity for your salvation alone.”
Such is the depth of God’s love. Unfortunately, such is the lack of our appreciation for God’s love that we don’t tend to believe that God loves each of us personally and uniquely. That’s why we need to reflect deeply on today’s Gospel passage.
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The miracle illustrated in today’s Gospel passage is an epiphany of the Lord Jesus. This event from the Gospel account of St. John reveals Jesus to us. St. John the Evangelist lays his cards on the table in the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage. Because this verse comes last, we may have tuned this verse out. It’s not part of the story itself as much as it’s St. John’s commentary about the what just happened. But this last sentence is key, so listen again: “Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him.”
The “beginning of His signs”. The first of His signs. As St. John the Evangelist presents his account of the Gospel, these “signs” appear over and over again. In fact, they appear eight times: seven times in the first half of St. John’s Gospel account, and one final time at the climax of the entire Gospel account.
In the first half of the Gospel, “the beginning of His signs” was the transformation of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. Jesus’ second and third signs are healings: the healing of the official’s son at Capernaum, and the healing of a sick man at the pool of Bethesda. The fourth sign is the multiplication of bread and the feeding of five thousand persons, immediately followed by the fifth sign of Jesus walking on water. The sixth sign is the healing of a man born blind, while the seventh is the raising of His friend Lazarus from the dead.
A crescendo builds throughout the first half of St. John’s Gospel account. The signs that Jesus performs become more powerful: they build from changing water into wine, to raising a dead man to life. The variety of these signs displays Jesus’ power over material creation such as water and bread, His power to walk upon water, and His power over sickness, blindness, and even over death. Through these seven signs we see more and more clearly who Jesus is.
But the signs of Jesus in John’s Gospel account are not only meant to reveal to others who Jesus truly is. These signs are meant to bring about a change inside those who witness the signs. Jesus explains this in the sixth chapter of John, right after the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus gives the lowdown to the people when He says: “‘…you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not [work] for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’”. Fittingly enough, the people ask, “‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ So they said to Him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?’”
This dialogue between Jesus and the people points out that Jesus’ signs are meant to bring about faith within those who see them. This truth is key to understanding St. John’s Gospel account. Jesus’ signs are for purpose of nurturing faith inside those who witness them.
However, towards the end of John’s Gospel account, just a week after Jesus has risen from the dead, there’s an important encounter that takes place between the Risen Jesus and the apostle Thomas. You know the story of Doubting Thomas, and what happened once he finally witnessed Jesus risen from the dead, and the nail and spear marks in His hands and side. Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” But recall what Jesus said in response to that confession of faith that Thomas made only after seeing the signs of His Resurrection. Jesus said to Thomas, “‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’”
God gives us signs to help us have faith: to help us believe in God and in all that He has revealed to us. But blessed “are those who have not seen and yet believe.” God is willing to give us signs, but you and I need to be willing not to demand signs from God, so that our faith here below might grow to its perfection. St. John the Evangelist makes this clear in the two verses that follow the story of Doubting Thomas. As a sort of epilogue, St. John writes: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing[,] you may have life in His Name.” St. John the Evangelist is explaining again what Jesus had told those people in John 6: that Jesus’ signs are meant to bring about faith within those who see them, or in the case of John’s Gospel account, within those who hear of them. That includes you! God gives you signs not as crutches for your spiritual life, but to help you grow in the virtue of faith: to help you grow in union with Jesus Christ through the virtue of faith: to become one with Christ.
I haven’t mentioned the eighth sign. Remember that St. John the Evangelist reports Jesus performing seven signs during the first half of the Gospel account. But the eighth sign occurs at the climax of the entire Gospel, on Calvary: that is, the Sign of the Cross. It’s not Lent yet (though Ash Wednesday is less than a month away), so I won’t preach now about that eighth and greatest sign. Just remember that all seven of the signs in the first half of St. John’s Gospel account prepare for, lead up to, and share in the power of the eighth sign. Each of the seven signs shares in the power of the Sign of the Cross.
The power of the Sign of the Cross is the power by which God weds mankind to Himself, and not just mankind in the abstract. God wills to wed each member of the human race to Himself, in spite of the sins of each of us. Because of your sins, you deserve to have God call you “Forsaken” and “Desolate”, as the prophet Isaiah described it in the First Reading. But by the power of the Cross, God wills to transform a sinner like yourself into His “Delight” and His “Espoused”. But you have to unite your will with God’s divine Will in order for this transformation to take place.
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“There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and His disciples were also invited to the wedding.” It seems odd, the way that the evangelist mentions Mary first, finishes the sentence, and then starts a new sentence noting Jesus and His disciples in an almost off-handed way. “There was a wedding… and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and His disciples were also invited to the wedding.” What should we make of the emphasis that the evangelist puts upon the Blessed Virgin Mary? The simplest explanation is that Mary is key to the whole story, key to understanding the sign that Jesus performs, and key to living the marriage spirituality of the Christian life.
“When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servers, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’”
It is Mary who prompts the action of this story. Mary has compassion on a newly married couple at the very large reception that they’re hosting. We learn how large it is because the evangelist tells us how much wine Jesus produces: “there were six stone water jars… each holding twenty to thirty gallons.” That works out to 150 gallons of wine that Jesus produced, and that’s on top of the wine that had already been drunk before it ran out! There were a great number of people to be disappointed at this wedding reception, and so Mary had great compassion on the newly married couple, by tending to their need to be good hosts by allowing the guests to celebrate their wedding with them.
Mary shows compassion by turning to her Son and interceding on behalf of the newlyweds. Mary knew the poverty of the newlyweds, and Mary knew the power of her Son, so Mary interceded by bringing the couple’s poverty and her Son’s power together. It was by Mary’s intercession that “the beginning of [Jesus’] signs” occurs, and this truth that St. John the Evangelist highlights teaches us to turn to Mary in our poverty, also, no matter how great.
Mary turns not only to her Son. Mary also turns to the servers. Mary intercedes for the poor newlyweds a second time by turning to the servers and saying, “Do whatever He tells you.” At times you and I may be like the newlyweds: poor and in need of Mary’s intercession. At other times, however, you and I may be like the servers by tending to other’s needs. Mary may turn to you and I and say, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary says this so that we might also be intercessors, assisting Jesus as He uses His divine power to work signs for others.
Of course, someone might object here, asking, “Why did Jesus tell the servers, ‘Fill the jars with water’? What did Jesus need with water? Couldn’t Jesus produce wine out of thin air?” Jesus Himself said elsewhere in the Gospel, “for God all things are possible.” Jesus certainly by His divine power could have produced 150 gallons of wine from thin air. But instead, He chose to say to the servers, “Fill the jars with water.” Jesus says that so that the servers might participate in this sign, assisting Him as He uses His divine power to work signs for others.
The servers follow the counsel of Mary, who had instructed them by saying, “Do whatever He tells you.” In other words, the servers unite their wills with what the Lord Jesus wills: in this case, that a miracle might allow newlyweds and their guests to rejoice in celebrating a wedding. The servers are serving at a wedding, but in serving the Lord Jesus they wed their wills to His. In doing whatever He tells them, they share in the fruits of wedding their wills to His.
As we prepare to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and as we prepare for another week in this world of ours, we can think of those servers in today’s Gospel passage. How can we imitate their fidelity to the direction of Our Blessed Mother, and the command of Our Lord? Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus directed His disciples by telling them, “‘when you have done all that is commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”’” But the beauty of your being a disciple of Jesus is that by serving the Lord, uniting your will to His, you share in the joy of all His signs and wonders, here and hereafter.
 John 6:26-27,28-30. The RSV-CE, from which this quote is taken, uses “labor” where “work” appears in brackets. The word “work” is being used to point out the connection to what Jesus says immediately afterwards about the “work of God”.
 Matthew 19:26.
 Luke 17:10.