The wedding celebration at Cana was for Jesus a turning point in his life. It started off seeming ordinary enough but suddenly a much deeper reality made itself clear to him in the voice of his Mother and his life was never the same again.
For me it was an ordinary holiday I took with a priest friend, and suddenly I was heading for the seminary, my whole life turned upside down. Has it happened to you? Where did you meet your wife? Your husband? Was it ordinary? And yet look how it affected your future.
It’s one of the uncanny aspects of existence that our future is often dependent on what seems mere chance; the direction of our lives is changed by a pebble or a cigarette butt; the path to our destiny begins in the most unexpectedly mundane places. What starts off as a chat in the kitchen can become the road to our destiny.
The marriage feast of Cana was for Jesus just such a commonplace event. A time to leave behind the busyness of everyday life and just relax for a bit; to enjoy the company of friends, to drink a glass of wine and join in one of the many conversations. Then the wine ran out.
Mary, always on the alert to the needs of others, notices the problem and says to her son: They have no wine.
Jesus picks up the double meaning. Do I hear you ask ‘What double meaning?’
Notice what has happened! The little wedding feast without wine suddenly becomes an image for something else, something much more. It’s as if Mary flung her arms out to the whole world and said - Son, they have no wine! Mary is now speaking not only about the wedding feast, she is speaking about poor drought-stricken humanity, the whole world: Son, they have no wine!
[We who have had the benefit of 2000 years of meditating on this episode may add our own complaint to Mary’s: And if we have no wine, Lord, how can we make Eucharist?]
In the Scriptures there are other examples of how an innocent statement suddenly punches through to another, broader, deeper level of meaning. Take little Isaac walking beside his father Abraham, carrying on his head the wood for the fire on which he will be sacrificed. He doesn’t yet know that God has asked his father to sacrifice his only son. And he asks: Father, where is the Lamb? Without realising it Isaac had asked the very question the whole cosmos was asking as it waited to be redeemed: Where is the Lamb? Where is the sacrifice that will take away the sins of the world?
We may well wonder if Jesus marvelled, as we do, at the wisdom of his Mother’s Spirit-filled words. Their profound simplicity completely disarmed him. Suddenly he was no longer the guest, he was the Bridegroom – and his beautiful Bride, the Church, stood before him, longing for the nuptial banquet with her Beloved to begin. For Jesus this could mean only one thing, the Passion.
Did the humanity of Jesus falter, as it did in the Garden of Gethsemane? My Father, he said, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. (Mt 26:39)
He answers his Mother: Woman why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.
Mary does not reply to her Son. She has not actually asked him for anything but left him free to respond as he wishes. There is a mystery here, a profoundly mystical moment, and deep within us we imagine we can hear Jesus speak the words: Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.
The first great sign has come, the first epiphany of his public life in the Gospel according to John; there is now no turning back.
Mary tells the servants, that’s us, of course: Do whatever he tells you. A moment later there are six stone jars full of wine, each jar holding twenty or thirty gallons! It’s almost like Jesus exclaims ‘You want wine? I’ll give you wine!’
Three years later the wine would turn into blood, as it still does today on our altars, sufficient for all mankind.