The Miracle at Cana

Homily for the Second Sunday of the Year (C). Is 62:1-5; Ps 95; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-12

Today's gospel, on the second Sunday of the Year, commemorates the miracle at Cana, the "first of the signs given by Jesus." Now a word should be said about chronology. It is remarkable enough that the entire period of Jesus' public ministry is so short. After thirty years living in comparative obscurity, he changed the entire course of world history in something like three and a half years. But in fact the shortness of this period is even more astonishing. Although there is only a week between the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated last Sunday, and the miracle at Cana this Sunday, it is widely believed that these events are actually a year apart. All that we know that Jesus does during this year is to go alone into the wilderness and be tempted by the devil. At the beginning of today's gospel, one year into those three and a half years, it is true that Jesus had a few disciples, but it is also clear that he is not any kind of 'celebrity'. His presence at the feast is mentioned only after that of his mother, implying that he was simply one of the guests. The first practical point for us, of course, is God's plan does not rely on human measures of power. It is not time and earthly power that matters, but a holy heart united with God.

So what about the miracle itself, the changing of water into wine? At one level, of course, this miracle is an account of God's miraculous intervention to help a couple who are in difficulties. Scripture, however, is a unique text, distinct in kind from any other kind of literature. Besides the words signifying things, the things described by the words can themselves signify other things, far beyond the intentions of the authors. So, for example, the description of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea in the Book of Exodus is not just an account of a miracle long ago, important though that is. This miracle, by God's providence, also teaches us what will happen in the future with the institution of Christian Baptism. Only God can inspire this kind of writing, teaching by the language of events and objects, not just signs and sounds. So what, therefore, is God teaching us through the miracle at Cana? Well, the word "Cana" itself means "zeal", implying the importance of a 'loving zeal', not, of course, a cold and hateful zeal. Perhaps the most famous icon of this zeal in Christian history is the sacred heart, the image of the heart of Christ, pierced with thorns and burning with the fire of divine love. So even in this one word "Cana" there is an image of what ultimate success looks like in the Christ life: a heart in union with God, burning with the fire of divine love. The fact that the six stone jars are described as being used for purification is also important: the water turned into wine was 'pure', signifying, spiritually, that for the human soul to finally enjoy union with God there is a purification or purgation needed, a process that is not without some suffering. Hence the word 'purgatory' describes the state of those souls who die in God's friendship, but whose purification is not yet complete. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must therefore co-operate in our purification, to enjoy the new wine in the Kingdom of Heaven. The wine itself in the miracle at Cana is also significant. Jesus will work one more transformation at the conclusion of his public ministry, when wine is turned into something infinitely more potent, the gift of his blood, the blood of the new covenant. But the wine at Cana is already a kind of foreshadowing of this later event, and so we have an image, in this miracle, of the institution of Christian marriage and the institution of Christian communion. In addition, there is, of course, the presence of Mary, who is, by virtue of being the Mother of Jesus, also the 'Mother of God'. The account of this miracle teaches us the importance and unique effectiveness of Mary's intercession on our behalf. Those who lack wine, a symbol, perhaps, of those who lack grace, gain that grace precisely because Jesus is prepared to act at his prayer of his mother. This miracle therefore witnesses to the fact that we must never lack hope for who are without grace and, in particular, witnesses to the most powerful intercession of Mary, particularly for hardened sinners.

Finally, of course, the whole setting of a marriage feast gives us a hint of something that is, at yet, unknowable to us. The current English translation of the Mass has these words just before communion, "Blessed are those who are called to his supper." The original scriptural reference, however, is found in the Book of Revelation, "Blessed are those who are called to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb" (Rev 19:9). My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, we are not just called to live marginally better lives in this passing world; we have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb. May God give us the grace to surrender to grace, to seek to live each day, and even each moment of each day in loving union with God, to endure patiently the sufferings that may come our way, as part of our purification, and to be prepared, one day, to enjoy the company of the saints in heaven.

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