Sunday of Week 2 of Ordinary time (C)

Commentary on Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-12

ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE who ‘feel bad about feeling good’? There are some, maybe more than we think, who seem to think that, in order to be a ‘good’ Catholic they always have to be denying themselves, always ‘making sacrifices’. If they go out to have a good time, they come back afterwards with guilty feelings. If they think they are really enjoying life, there must be something wrong. They are being ‘too worldly’.
Yet, in today’s Gospel we read a story about Jesus and his mother and his disciples taking part in a friend’s wedding party. Do we feel that Jesus should have just attended the wedding ceremony (the ‘religious part’) and kept away from the festivities? (Or do we have a problem with Mary enjoying a glass or two of wine?)
Not only that, when the wine runs out, Jesus is the one who sees that there is a plentiful supply. In fact, he provides them with so much that they could not possibly have drunk it all.
One clear message of today’s readings is that our Christian religion is a religion of joy. The genuine Christian really knows how to enjoy life. So many Christians have such a gloomy outlook on life and an even more gloomy attitude towards their religion. When you go into an average church on a Sunday morning, do you get the impression that this is really a happy bunch of people who have come to celebrate? For many people, religion, the Catholic religion, seems a terribly serious business.
Giving life
Today’s Gospel comes from John and the theme of this gospel is that Jesus is the source of life. In chapter 10 Jesus says: “I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness.” If, then, you are one of those people who feel that to be a Christian is a burden, then it seems that you have not yet grasped the meaning of Christ’s message. To be a Christian is to experience a real sense of liberation – to experience a new life, a new sense of happiness, a new peace, a new relationship with people.
A revelation
During the recent Christmas season and up to now, we have been seeing God revealing himself through Jesus in several ways.
First, when Jesus is born, as a refugee and homeless poor person lying in an animal’s feeding box, God is revealing himself in his solidarity with the poor and needy of the world. The first people to visit him are the poor and social outcasts, the shepherds. They recognise their God and worship him with hearts full of joy.
Second, God reveals himself to the foreigners, strangers, believers in other religions and no religion, coming from remote parts of the world. This happens on the feast of the Epiphany when we remember those ‘wise men’ who come from ‘a far country’ to worship and offer precious gifts. Again the atmosphere is one of joy and gladness.
Third, God reveals himself when Jesus is baptised in the river Jordan and is filled with the Spirit of God. Of this young carpenter, at this stage still a non-entity in the crowd, it is said: “This is my beloved Son – listen to him.” To listen to this young man, Jesus, is to listen to God himself.
And now, today, for a fourth time, in John’s gospel, God reveals himself when Jesus performs his first ‘sign’. (John does not call them ‘miracles’ but ‘signs’ of God acting among his people. There will be seven such ‘signs’ altogether in his gospel.)
Understanding the symbolism
To understand today’s story we need to be aware that, like much of John’s writing, it is full of symbolic language. We would miss much if we were to see here only a ‘miracle’ by which Jesus helps a young bridegroom who finds himself in an embarrassing position on his wedding day.
In the first part of John’s gospel, after the Prologue, the events described are seen as taking place over a period of seven days, one week. Today’s story takes place on the seventh day of that week. According to the Hebrew Testament, when God created the world, when he gave life, he used six days for his work and rested on the seventh. In John’s gospel, too, it opens with a seven-day period which represents a “new creation”, when new life is given to the world through Jesus. And, on this final day of the “week”, we celebrate the life that God has given us through Jesus.
Even more significantly, today’s passage begins with the words “on the third day”, that is, on the third day after the previous incident was described but, overall, the seventh day of that creative work. [Unfortunately, the words “on the third day” are not included in the Gospel text in our Mass reading.] Of course, the phrase “on the third day” is a foretaste of that “third day” on which the crucified Jesus rose to new life, a new life which was to be shared with all of us.
So as God rested on the seventh day when his work was complete, in John’s gospel the seventh day is one of joy and celebration for the life we have received.
Six water pots
The Gospel today says there were six large stone pots full of water. They were there for the ceremonies of purification which were required by tradition on coming into the house and before eating. In this story, they represent the laws and religious customs of the Hebrew dispensation. And there are six, which is one short of the complete number, seven. (John tends to give a lot of meaning to numbers, especially the number ‘7’, in his gospel.)
Through the intervention of Jesus, the water in these jars is transformed into wine and a first-class wine at that (“You have kept the best wine until now.”). This wine represents the Christian Testament, the new life, the new Way of Jesus. It takes the place of the ritual water of the old Covenant.
A similar image is presented in the other gospels. In the confrontation between the Jewish leaders and Jesus he speaks of the “new wine” which cannot be put into old containers. The new wine which he gives needs new wineskins. In other words, the new vision of life that Jesus brings can only be understood by leaving behind traditional ways of thinking and doing.
And there is an awful lot of wine. Each jar, we are told, could hold up to 20 or 30 gallons. Altogether 120-180 gallons of wine! Even the grandest party thrown by the super rich would hardly provide that much – and this is just a village wedding!
Again, this is a symbol of the generosity and liberality of God and the fullness of life which he wants us to experience. It reminds us of the feeding of vast numbers of people in the desert when so much was left over. God wants to give us life, life in abundance. There is no need to feel bad about feeling good. No one should be enjoying life more than the disciple of Jesus.
A wedding
All this is taking place at a wedding banquet. In the Hebrew Testament, as the First Reading indicates, Israel was visualised as the bride of God. In the Christian (New) Testament, the Church, the Christian community, is the bride of Jesus. This image is spelt out in the Letter to the Ephesians where it is also linked to marriage.
When we wish to celebrate – a wedding, a birthday, an anniversary, or whatever – we normally sit down together to eat. In the Scripture, too, life with God and with Jesus is pictured as a banquet. It is not a time for self-denial and sacrifice but a time to enjoy and be happy together. Why should the disciples fast when the Bridegroom is with them?
Reminder of the Eucharist
And so this wedding today reminds us of the meal we celebrate every Sunday, the Eucharist, when we gather to eat and drink around the table of the Lord. Our Mass is also a time of celebration. There is something sadly missing if we find it a boring experience. It is tragic if we regard ‘faithful attendance’ (the phrase is revealing) as a kind of ‘sacrifice’ or ‘penance’ or even a ‘duty’. “Even though it is terribly boring, I never miss it.”
And what is there to celebrate? At its deepest, we celebrate all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ through his life, his teaching, his suffering, death and resurrection – all signs of God’s overwhelming love for us.
In the Second Reading, too, Paul reminds us of the treasury of gifts that has been given to each one of us. These gifts are not merely to be used for ourselves. They are the means, the “talents”, we have been given through which we make our unique contribution to our Christian community and to the overall task of building a society based on love, justice, freedom and peace.
And we have much to celebrate and be thankful for in so far as so many people have used their gifts to promote my well-being and help me in my needs. The degree to which each of us does this decides the level of celebration in our Eucharist. Perhaps our Eucharists are not very exciting because, in fact, we have not been using our gifts for each other as much as we should.
Place of Mary
Finally, Mary is there at the feast. It was through her sensitive awareness that Jesus came to know about the bridegroom’s predicament. In this story, she is not only the mother of Jesus; she also represents the Church.
It is through the Christian community that Jesus comes to us. It is through the Church, through our brothers and sisters in the community, that we learn about the life that God in Jesus wants us to enjoy and share with him.
Through the Church, we receive the help we need to lead that “full life”. And through me, because I, too, am a member of that community, others are helped to fullness of life. And so the Second Reading speaks of the unique gifts that each one has been given. These gifts have one purpose only – the building up of the community to greater fullness of life.
That is the life of the Church: we all give and we all receive. Today, what will I give to help others towards enjoying a fuller and happier life.

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