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Monday, January 01, 2007

Do Whatever He Tells You

We open this year, 2007 in honor of Mary; today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary and Father's homily was the third time someone had told me to consecrate myself to Mary this year. And so this blog is likewise consecrated to Mary, for I seek, as a child, to take her hand and I ask her to lead me to Jesus and help me to understand who He is.

It is fitting, then, that I discuss a reading, not from today, but one that is very near and dear to my heart. I actually thought I had written on this topic last summer, so imagine my surprise upon my review of posts to learn that I had not!

On January 14, the Gospel is the Wedding at Cana, which is one of the two pillars upon which the Gospel of John rests. The other pillar, of course, is the Passion. It may seem premature to discuss these readings so far in advance, but as the layers of this Gospel message are so deep, perhaps it's best that we all spend some time meditating upon them and use the two weeks to consider not just this text alone, but the total context that leads us in to the mystery Jesus has revealed to us through scripture, and the role that Mary fulfills by virtue of the very fiat she gave in obedience and love.

You may read the full text of readings here.

Jn 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told the them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
-. although the servers who had drawn the water knew -.,
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

I would advise you first to open your own Bibles and take a look at the timing of this particular text; the Wedding begins "on the third day". Keep this in mind as you read and meditate upon this, the first miracle performed by Jesus. I will come back to this theme.

As the Gospel opens, it says that there was a marriage in Galilee, and MARY was there. Almost as an afterthought, "so were Jesus and his disciples". If we take a closer look at this, we realize that it was Mary who had been invited, and Jesus, as her son, and his disciples were there only because SHE was. It almost seems strange that this reading would open with the fact that Mary seems to be the main character here, taking a more important role than Jesus. It was SHE who was at the wedding and John is telling us something about her through this; it seems that perhaps she was a person of standing in her community, and her son was only that; her son. Thus he and his friends were certainly welcome as well. What this teaches us is that Jesus this there becase Mary is there; and thus, in our own lives, if we go to Mary, we also go to Jesus for he wants to be wherever she is.

Then the wine failed. We don't know through this text whether the hosts of the party were even aware of the problem, but clearly MARY was aware and through her maternal instinct, she must have sought to help the new couple avoid embarassment. During that time in history, a wedding was a major event, more on par with our annual town festivals versus the one-night soirees weddings are today. And also in that time, a wedding involved the entire town, so great quantities were needed so sustain the celebration for that entire week. The fact that the wine ran out could have been quite the disaster, but Mary, recognizing the problem, did not go to the hosts or to the steward (headwaiter); rather, she went to Jesus, knowing that somehow, he could fix this.

Mary went to Jesus and told him, "They have no wine."

Jesus responded to her, "O Woman, what has this to do with me? My hour has not yet come." (Plese note I took this rendering from the Ignatious RSV-CE).

Doesn't this seem to be such a rude thing to say to one's mother? Yet in that time, the term "Woman" or "Man" were commonplace, although I'm not certain that it was a term normally used between mother and son. In this context, Jesus is not being rude; he is pointing to Mary's role in salvation history; that of the new Eve. Turn to Genesis, where we see that Eve was termed "Woman". Jesus is using this term for his mother as a clue to all of us regarding the role she fulfills. And far from being a rebuff, Jesus' question, "What has this to do with me?" is really an invitation to penetrate more deeply the mystery of who He is. He is not telling her to go away; his words are a simple question, inviting a response. And then He tells her, "My hour has not yet come."

(Where else in the Gospel of John do we see the reference to "my hour"? In the Passion; Jesus's "hour" was his death on the cross.)

And Mary, like a good mother, ignores the apparent rebuff; remember that Mary knew her son and understood what we do not, so she responded to him by rising, by invitation, to the next level.

She turned her attention from Jesus to the servants and directed them: "Do whatever he tells you."

And in all scripture, this is the LAST time that Mary speaks. Although she appears at the foot of the cross, and although she has important actions to fulfill, she never speaks again. So take a good, long, look at this one line, and remember Mary's testament to us all: "Do whatever he tells you."

Now remember: Jesus is a good Jewish son, and will not leave his mother hanging. He was raised to be obedient to his mother, and so he was. He immediately turned to the servants and directed them to fill the six stone jars with water. As scripture tells us, these jars were used for rites of purfication which are detailed in the Old Law, the Law of Moses, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. This is a great deal of water, and by this context, we can only surmise that the jars were empty at the time.

So let's take a step back and consider what these jars represent. Consider their purpose; the ablutions detailed in the Law of Moses, in the Old Testament. This, again, is symbolic; it is pointing to the mystery of the fulfillment of Messaianic prophecy. Remember that the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New, and that this was Jesus' first miracle. How fitting that he chooses to use a symbol of the Old Law, and purification. But we have to ask; can simple water in stone jars, likely wrought with sediment from the well, really purify? Remember that the chosen people continued to sin, continued to turn away from God throughout the Old Testament. And consider what happens with these jars. This is a symbol of what Jesus is going to do on the cross...transforming the Old Law into the New Life of the Gospel.

Look also at the symbol in the number of jars: There were six jars, which is the number of imperfection as represented in scripture. Seven is the number of perfection. See how close those numbers are! Jesus takes the number "six" and transforms it into something more, a symbol of the purification only HE can provide.

As we read on, the Gospel discusses how the servants immediately go to work in filling those six stone jars. They cannot simply run a hose to them, or run to a sink. During that time, they had to carry buckets out to the well, drop maybe a five or six-gallon bucket down into the well via a pulley system, fill it, raise the water, carry it to the jars, sloshing and stumbling all the way, and then repeat the process. This is a lot of work! But the servants did this without question because something told them that Jesus had a point in all this seemingly endless and pointless labor.

And the servants did not shirk their duty; they did not just fill the jars to some invisible and unspoken "fill line". No; they filled the jars TO THE BRIM!

When they had completed this task, Jesus told them to draw some out and take it to the steward of the feast, and when the steward tasted the wine, he called the bridegroom to him. The steward (or headwaiter, in this translation) says:

“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”

There are several things to discuss here as well. Let's look first at the symbolism of the wine. What does it represent throughout scriptural context? Wine is a sign of abundance, of celebration, and joy. It is a sign of the Messaianic prophecies from the OT books of Joel and Amos. And wine is also a sign for us; it is a sign of the Eucharist, the birth of the Church. The wine of new life, the wine undergoing one final transition for our own salvation, that of the transformation into blood at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

If we go back in the Gospel reading, note the lack of wine, what is this telling us? It is a lack of joy, a lack of something. The use of water and the labor to bring the water, this is an important message for all times and seasons. Jesus uses the ordinary, and he wants to see our own labors, even when we do not understand his goal. Notice also that the Gospel NEVER says, "He changed water into wine.", but clearly, that is what He did, without notice. We don't know the moment of the miracle, much as we don't see those miraculous moments in our own lives. Yet we cannot deny that the miracle occurred. The laborers were the witnesses, and the steward gave the judgment, independent of one another; the miracle cannot be denied.

And the last point; the bridegroom. Notice that in this text, the bride and bridegroom are not named, and rather, it is Mary and Jesus who seem to be the main characters. Again, we have to go to the Old Testament to reveal what is happening here. God said to His people, "I will espouse you to me, betroth you to myself. The Lord shall be your husband."

Jesus is the bridegroom, and the Church is the bride. The Wedding at Caana is a foreshadowing of what is to happen; a revelation as to who Jesus is and what he will fulfill, and who Mary is, the role she fulfills. It is a prefiguration of the Wedding feast of the Lamb, a link from the Old Testament scriptures, revealed in the New.

We may ask what this Gospel has to do with us, but when we take some time to understand what is being said, and delve into the depths provided in this scrpture, we begin to understand that there is a lesson here for us all. It is both a rendering of Old Testament prophecies and a revelation of what is to come at Jesus' death on the cross. It leads us to a deeper understanding of the new life provided by Jesus out of the blood and water that poured from his side; the wine of new life. It is a prefiguration of the Lamb's Supper, in which the wine undergoes that final change; that of the blood of Christ, the Holy Eucharist.

Each one of us has the option to choose to read the Bible without any authority but our own, but perhaps it is wise to look back on the readings of the Church Fathers, and take the counsel of Origen, who told us to read the Gospel of John by taking Mary as our Mother and resting our heads upon Jesus' heart, thusly entering into the mystery. There is a great deal more to the Wedding at Cana; each verse alone would be enough for a single post, and perhaps one day I'll write a doctoral dissertation on only Mary's directive to us all: "Do whatever he tells you."

Mary is our Mother, and this is revealed through this Gospel; she was only a guest, and yet her maternal instinct covered everyone. And who are we, but guests at the wedding feast, transformed into the spouse of the bridegroom? And through this reading, we can be transformed, our hearts can be changed as we go deeper, penetrating the mystery of Jesus and Mary, understanding who we are through understanding as to who THEY are. Let us all take Mary as our Mother, and if we do as she directs, we may one day fully understand this mystical union of God and His Church. Mary is the representation of all of us before the throne of God; if we can only understand this one small detail, what God can do to take that small grain of faith and use it to transform our very souls!


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: Superb, simply suburb. What were you saying about not feeling you are able to teach?

Could Jesus Himself also be referenced in the Steward's comment: You have saved the good wine until now?

Adoro said...

Cathy, absolutely. He is referenced for Jesus is the new wine.

I think I could write on this forever just via the little I know!

owenswain said...

On the point of having the freedom to choose to read the bible under my own authority...been there, done that, have the shredded T-shirt.

I willingly, happily, with faith and reason place myself under the sound teaching of our Church, her sacred Tradition and her sacred Scripture.

Peace to you and thank for this very fine first day of the year reflection.

Anonymous said...

What beautiful writing. Pray for me a convert(revert) that God would give me such a sense of his mother in my life. I am just learning to understand a bit better, but long for the appreciation and understanding you displayed in your blog here. God bless

Adoro said...

onionboy ~ I read on another blog that you were a Pentecostal minister? Do you have your conversion story posted anywhere?

Tiber Jumper ~ I think you already have far more understanding than I. What I posted here came from a talk presented by Dr. Mary Healy, PhD, last summer. I attended the talk and picked up the CD, listened to it twice this week....and I don't think she even scratches the surface of this passage. Some of the info is mine but of course, it is all the intellectual and spiritual property of the Church.

Anonymous said...

angela ~ I can't take any credit...I was taught. The info here came from a talk I attended last summer. :-)

I might have to do a post on her recommendations for how to read the Bible and find these little nuggets that aid our understanding.
~ Adoro

HeyJules said...

Adoro, I loved this! I hunger for someone to tell me the significance of the different scriptural stories. I can never get enough of the symbolism and the depth that it reaches. Thank you so much for taking the time to pull all this together and make this story come alive.

Anonymous said...

I did a bible study where Moses and Jesus were compared. Moses's first miracle was changing water into blood.