Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
RCL – Epiphany 2 C – Sunday 17 January 2010
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
How long, O Lord, how long, till my heart is broken enough that you may be born and fully formed in this foolish heart of mine?
How long, O Lord, how long, till my heart burns with Your Love for all humankind, no matter how and where I meet You in them?
Make my heart yearn for your will. Make my strength seek and serve your will unceasingly.
Give me, Jesus, the deep trust and humility of a child. Give me to ask insistently of you all that is best for the commonweal of humanity.
You partake of our humanity. You know how we hurt ourselves and one another in sin. I beg you, Jesus; heal us, make us whole, make us holy.
In our gospel passage of today, the evangelist describes how Jesus reveals something of his essential nature to a few chosen witnesses (his mother, his disciples and a few servants of the house where a wedding is celebrated).
Before we look at His self-revelation at Cana, I'd like to set the scene. I'll try to help us see the unspoken parts of the scene; as contemporaries of the evangelist might have understood them. Then I'll look at a few important things about Jesus and about prayer that are conveyed in this episode.
Cana was a smallish village about 10 miles North of Nazareth. A wedding in a village would have involved nearly all of its inhabitants in the festivities. And it would have lasted several days. The wedding would have been seen as an honor transaction joining two families. That's very different from our current ideal of a ritual witnessing to the mutual love of two individuals. In all likelihood, the bride, whether a young maid or a widow would have had little if any opportunity to mingle with, and get to know, her bridegroom beforehand. Women lived a fairly separated, and ancillary life, while only the men would have been involved in outside world transactions.
The fact that Jesus and his kindred have been invited from another village, indicates that his family is probably linked to that of the bridegroom. Jesus' family and the bridegroom's family are bound to sustain each other in honor, the main transactional value of East Mediterranean society at that time.
A wedding celebration was a time of tremendous opportunity and risk, in terms of acquiring or keeping honor. The more lavish the wedding, the more it would show everyone how well connected to a great number of friends the family was. In solidarity, the friends would have contributed to the wedding in lending required household items (such as their only stone water jar) or foods required (such as wine).
At the time of a wedding, the home -- which normally would be a very private, inaccessible place controlled by women -- suddenly, if briefly, became a public place. Everyone in the village would be able to inspect it -- with the potential for gossip if anything was not up to snuff.
So the high-stakes, social-representation wedding is not a 21st century American invention, after all. First century Palestine was just as interested in keeping up appearances or upstaging the Joneses. But the stakes were not wealth and power (even if these might be expressed); the high stakes were honor, first and foremost, and connection also.
So here are Jesus' family and friends, involved in honor solidarity with the bridegroom's kindred, at a time fraught with tension for the honor of both their families. And in the midst of that, the mother of Jesus -- she is never named otherwise in the gospel according to John -- the mother of Jesus notices that wine is about to run dry.
Running short of wine would be a major stain on the honor of the bridegroom's family (and possibly, affect the honor of the families connected to it). Not only would it be a fault of hospitality, but it would point out to a lack of friends, who have been able to assemble sufficient provisions for the feast. So honor would twice be hurt; lack of hospitality, lack of friends who come through when it matters.
And this is where the mother of Jesus comes to offer us a template of faithful prayer. She approaches her son to let Him know of the problem. But Jesus appears single-mindedly focused on longer-term perspectives, on the bigger picture; "My hour has not yet come". So, at first sight, he may look dismissive of his mother.
Even though Jesus addressing his mother as "Woman" might suggest a rebuke, or even disrespect, in our own social and cultural context, that is not the case in Cana on that day. Jesus will again address his mother in this manner from the cross, in a context that clearly denotes not disrespect, but love and concern.
In any case, the mother of Jesus seems to know her boy well. She is nonplussed by the apparent rebuke. She deeply believes that Jesus will answer her prayer. And she completely trusts that, whatever manner He will choose to address the issue, will be an answer to her concern. She does not consider herself unheard. And she turns to the servants to say: "Do whatever he tells you."
She could be saying that to us, to any of us, here assembled this morning: "Do whatever he tells you."
And, in answer to his mother's implicit, but confident prayer, Jesus does change his mind, and does address the situation at hand.
His response affects concentric groups, from Jesus' in-group to the whole wedding community, in various manner:
- First, on the outer rim, the wider community of revelers unwittingly are provided abundant and better wine. God's grace touches them unawares.
- Next, the bridegroom's kindred's honor is preserved. Some puzzlement ensues in the steward of the house. And the steward mildly rebukes the bridegroom: "... you have kept the good wine until now." We're left to imagine whether the steward and the bridegroom ever were made aware of the grace they had received.
- Third, the least of the wedding attendants, the servers, are made aware of a great sign. But in their discretion, to not hurt the bridegroom's honor, they are probably left in silent puzzlement.
- Finally, the disciples are given a first sign of who Jesus truly is. Jesus chooses this multi-layered situation to open their eyes on his deeper nature. The disciples may have remembered Jesus telling Nathanael just a few days earlier "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And this is only the first sign of Jesus' deeper nature in the gospel according to John.
And let us pay attention to the type of prayer that the mother of Jesus models for us:
- She earnestly brings to His attention a need for the general welfare of the community,
- She does not demand or micro-manage,
- She trusts that Jesus will address the need she brings to His attention,
- She enjoins us to be obedient to Jesus; to listen to him and to do what we're told in answer to the prayer.
And so thanks be to God for being willing to hear our prayer; thanks be to God for answering our prayers as God sees best for us.
And thanks be to the mother of Jesus for modeling faithful prayer for us at Cana of Galilee.
And so, indulge me, in these times of dire need for our brothers and sisters in Haiti -- and everywhere there is human suffering -- indulge me to call upon the great intercessor who asked for God's help at Cana and received -- indulge me and pray with me:
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed are thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.