Our Lady of Lourdes – Readings

Commentary on Isaiah 66:10-14; John 2:1-11

The Gospel is the story of the marriage feast at Cana from John. The passage comes at the end of a week introducing the person of Jesus and his first disciples, a week which recalls the week of creation in the book of Genesis. 

On this last day there is a new creation, the creation of the New Covenant between God and his people, who from now on will include people from all over the world.

A wedding is a traditional Old Testament image for people’s relationship with God. Some of the prophets have described God as the spouse of his people, a people who again and again are scolded for their unfaithfulness to their Spouse.

Here at this wedding, we are told that the wine began to run short, a dreadful thing to happen for the hosts, who would have been the bride’s family. The mother of Jesus draws Jesus’ attention to the crisis. And Jesus at first tries to brush it off as none of his business. But his mother ignores his response and goes and tells the servant to go and do what Jesus tells them. He then instructs the servants to fill six large jars, each capable of holding 20-30 gallons, with water and then to bring them to the steward. When the steward was invited to taste, what had now just been water was discovered to be a wine of the very first quality. The steward is amazed. It was the custom to serve the good wine first and then, when people’s palates had been dulled, to serve a lower quality of wine.

The meaning is clear. Those six jars of water are the heart of the story. They represent a traditional Jewish custom, according to the Law, of purifying oneself on entering the house and, by implication, the whole of the Mosaic Law, whose observance was the core of serving God. 

For John, numbers are important. The perfect number is seven – for instance, there are seven ‘signs’ which Jesus gives in this gospel; there are seven ‘I AM…’ statements. But here there are only six jars, short of perfection. They are now replaced by the high class wine of the New Covenant, of which Jesus is the sign. In fact, the passage ends with “this deed at Cana in Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glories and led his disciples to believe in him”.

In a way all this happened because Mary told Jesus what he should do. So here, as we honour Our Lady of Lourdes, we see Mary now telling Bernadette what she should do. And that is just how Bernadette responded, so that today literally millions of people go on pilgrimage to Lourdes in search of peace and healing.

The First Reading, which is from the prophet Isaiah, speaks of Jerusalem as the source of peace for the Jewish people of the time. Here it is applied to what Lourdes means for so many people.

I will send peace flowing over her like a river…As a mother comforts her son, so will I myself comfort you

In the passage, they are the words of God, but here it is through the Mother of Jesus that the promise is made. And many have discovered that it is really true.

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