Now that school is back in session and I’m getting back to my regular rotation at the colleges, it seems I have no excuse not to get back to posting homilies. So here we are. You can find the readings here. As an aside, it remains my goal to start recording these; if not the live version, then at least something recorded at home. I’m almost there…
Today’s Gospel features a miracle that everyone is super familiar with, and that’s the problem. We perhaps don’t read it, or don’t listen to it, as closely as we should, because why should we – we know it already. But I contend that we don’t know this story as well as we think we do. It is incredibly rich and full of hidden theological gems. Consider, for example:
*This is the last time in the Gospels that the Blessed Mother says anything. That’s important.
*There are precisely 6 stone jars of water. Not 5, not 7, but 6. That’s an important number. So too is what the jars are intended for.
*It’s significant that this miracle happens at a wedding, and not any other kind of festive gathering.
But what’s most important is WHEN this miracle happens. And that’s a real hidden gem, because of how the lectionary was edited for today. When you go home, take out your Bible and open to the second chapter of John’s Gospel. You’ll note that it starts, “On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana…” But for reasons passing understanding, the lectionary starts at, “There was a wedding in Cana…” In my humble – but correct – opinion, that’s some bad editing. Those four words – on the third day – are important.
They are a reference to something that happened way back in the book of Exodus – and calling it “something” is a bit of an understatement. In chapter 19 of Exodus, the people of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai as part of their escape from Egypt and flight into the Promised Land. We pick it up at verse three:
Moses went up to the mountain of God. The Lord called to him from the mountain, saying: This is what you will say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine. You will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. This is what you must tell the Israelites. So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people. When he set before them all that the Lord had ordered him to tell then, all the people answered together, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.” Then Moses brought back to the Lord the response of the people. The Lord said to Moses, I am coming to you now in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they will also remain faithful to you. When Moses, then, had reported the response of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses: Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow. Have them wash their garments and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. (Ex 19: 3-11)
And then, in verse 16, it finally happens:
On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud blast of the shofar, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
So this idea of the third day is of particular importance: God is appearing before His people. And this appearance isn’t just a one-and-done sort of thing; He’s not just coming down to impress them with His glory – He comes to ratify the covenant he is entering into with His people. He offers Himself to them, and they in turn offer themselves to Him. Moses and God spend not an insignificant amount of time on the top of the mountain. It starts with God handing over the Ten Commandments – at the beginning of chapter 20 – and then, for the next 11 chapters, He begins to codify the law so that the people can keep the covenant.
On the third day, there is a wedding at Cana – and Jesus appears at that wedding. He starts to do something at that wedding; it’s not just a one-and-done sort of appearance. He begins to manifest Himself as something other than just a carpenter from Nazareth. As God spent a long time on the mountain with Moses, so Jesus will spend a long time with His followers, teaching and showing them what it looks like to live the law: to serve; to love; to forgive.
There’s a lot of similarities between the great theophany of Exodus and what begins at the wedding feast at Cana. The big difference is how these covenants are ratified. On Sinai, God writes the law on tablets of stone. On the mountain of Calvary, Jesus will ratify the new covenant with His blood.
It’s in light of that that everything else makes sense. Of course water gets turned into wine at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – because at the end of it, when He gives us the Eucharist, wine will be turned into His Precious Blood. Of course there are six stone jars – six is a Biblical number symbolizing imperfection, and Jesus hasn’t yet offered the perfect sacrifice. And, naturally, these are jars for washing – because the Blood of Christ washes us from our sins. Mary might speak her last words at the wedding at Cana, but it’s not her final appearance; the next time we see her is at the foot of the Cross; one of the first – perhaps the first – to literally be washed by His Blood. And finally, it makes sense that this scene begins at a wedding feast. At a wedding a man gives himself entirely to his wife and she gives herself entirely to him – and when this wedding feast is consummated, Jesus will offer every last bit of Himself to the Church – and he asks the same of His Bride.
The people broke the first covenant almost as soon as they entered into it, by building and worshiping the golden calf. Will we break the covenant by not giving everything we are to Christ? He has given us something better than good wine to strengthen us to do precisely that; let us not waste it, but rather go forth and live as His disciples.