January 2010

Turning Water into Wine ©

I have never before written or preached about the wedding at Cana. It has been one of those familiar stories that has never touched me personally…at least not until this year.

In May, my son Nicolas will marry. He will commit his life before God, family and friends to a sacred union with a dear young lady with whom he shares an exciting vision and a mature understanding of love. Together, they will witness to one another the reality of God’s love. So when I read the Gospel account of Jesus miraculously turning water into wine, I am touched more deeply by its blessing than I ever have before.

Typically, we are so intrigued by Jesus turning water into wine that we may miss some of the meaningful events that surround this first reported miracle. For instance, we may miss the profound significance of his being there in the first place.

By celebrating this marriage with friends and relatives, Jesus reveals to us that this is a deeply incarnational moment. It gives weight to the wondrous miracle of love: that “the Word became flesh and lived among us” so that we may see “his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 14)

By revealing his glory publicly, Jesus made known that epiphanies are more common than we might think: manifestations of divinity in forms that we can recognize and understand.

Jesus also reveals that life is worth celebrating, and that marriage is among the most amazing proclamations of life because it is filled with faith, hope and love. Hope may perhaps be its strongest virtue because it extends faith and love into an unknowable future.

If it has hope, a wedding is marked by joyful hope, and calls the partners and all those present to deepen their understanding of true joy. Grace and truth make known the enduring quality of joy. That joy is rooted in what lies within.

Wine stands for joy. It also prefigures the use of wine at the Last Supper. Turning water into wine is nothing compared to turning wine into the blood of Christ. And that is the miracle of a wedding that includes the Eucharist. Eucharist completes the matrimonial sacrament because it is the ultimate sign of union. God turns a cup of wine and a drop of water, the perfect sign of union between God and humanity, into the nourishment needed to live in joy that is complete and the peace that only he can give.
The same power of grace and transformation that occurred at Cana, the same one that we experience at the Eucharist, is the one that is operating in matrimony. This is the allegorical meaning of turning water into wine.

The importance of this story cannot be exaggerated. It summarizes the awesome gift of God to transform the ordinary into something quite extraordinary?

What can be more extraordinary that two people, distinct in personality and history, becoming one in spirit and purpose? What can be more miraculous than two people proving that faithful union with one another bears more fruit than either could ever wish to accomplish alone or even together without God in the mix?
But perhaps the most significant verse in this scriptural story does not involve the wine itself. It is, rather, the instruction that Mary gives to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” I imagine that she says it discreetly, but with confidence. Mary says it in spite of just being admonished for even concerning herself with the lack of wine.

There is much that could be said about this instruction. By it, Mary, who knows Jesus more intimately than anyone else, gave us the key of rising above the pettiness that degrades the quality of married life. Rely on the example and wisdom of Jesus; turn to him for friendship in loneliness and guidance in darkness. Let him be the reconciler in times of discord. Let him be your solace in suffering, particularly when divisions seem unbridgeable.

Most of all, do what he tells you when he asks you to pour the water of baptism into the earthen vessel of your own life. Just as he transformed you at the moment of baptism into a child of God, he will now transform you into a channel of his peace in matrimony.

What is striking about the transformation of water into wine is the great generosity of God that is communicated by it. Here, God is doing more than provide a basic necessity of life. He inaugurates the kingdom of abundant life that he came to earth to deliver.

This miracle is the first in a particular series of events that symbolize the abundance of God’s love for us and the life to which we are heirs because of our faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

In a way, we can say that making wine available to the wedding guests runs parallel to Jesus miraculously feeding thousands of people because he is “the bread of life.” It also points to raising Lazarus because he is “the resurrection and the life,” (Jn11:38-53) and healing the man born blind because he is “the light of life.” (Jn9:1-12)

Our benevolent God wants to give us love in unimaginable proportions. What’s more, he wants us to give it in a way that allows us to share in the joy of being channels of his peace; of love and hope for each person.

Life cannot be sustained without hope. Without hope, there can be no love because love requires the willingness to expose our vulnerability and risk disappointment and even suffering. Where can we find this hope but in Jesus who is himself a miracle of humanity and divinity resurrected?

Christian marriage is a sacramental life precisely because it comes into being by the meeting of humanity and divinity, and lives on clothed in Christ. When we are more than ourselves by being united to another in love, we are like the wise men who journeyed by the light of a powerful star. When we love, we see the sweet face of Jesus.

When two people love each other in marriage, they also show the face of Jesus to others. By their commitment, they recall the words of the prophet Isaiah to God’s chosen people: “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall God rejoice over you.” (Is.62:5)

In effect, in union with Christ, a couple lives out its baptismal life by being itself prophetic in the renewal of this promise; priest by its sacrifice in the name of God who is Love and king by the moral leadership that it inspires.

We may never know why Jesus reproved his mother and then did as she suggested. Then maybe we need look no further than our own experience of relationship with our own mothers. Could Jesus have been so different! Like his meeting with the Phoenician woman who so insisted on being healed that he would eventually relent (Mk7:24-30), Mary was an agent of God’s Holy Spirit to “grow in wisdom” as he had through his childhood. (Cf. Lk2:52)

One thing is certain: God’s love is not abstract. We apprehend it, not through theology but through spirituality. We experience it by loving, not by talking about love. That’s the lesson for which marriage is the finest school, and that is why the wedding feast at Cana is so important in the unfolding of Jesus’ public ministry.

A lifetime with someone seems like a long time, until it ends. Then we are reminded of how short it really was. Then, and perhaps only then, do we understand the wise words of l’Abbé Pierre, the French Resistance nickname of a priest whose love for his people, particularly the poor, also shows that there are many ways of being bound to others in love.

The founder of the worldwide Emmaus movement wrote, “Living is a short amount of time given over in freedom, if we chose, to learn to love in anticipation of the meeting with Eternal Love in the Forever beyond time.”

Love is a school from which we will never graduate in this life. Still, couples teach one another how to love in the joyful hope that there will be on one great day an awesome convocation. At the feast of Cana, Jesus shows us that this is so.