Whose Wedding?

JMJ

The assignment was a five-minute homily on the stated passage. We began with the exegetical work in an earlier post.

Scripture: John 2:1-11

Today, Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, is calling us to our wedding feast.

A CHALLENGE has come to me three times: in two podcasts and a book. The podcasts are Every Knee Shall Bow and The Bible Project; the book has the very dry title, Elements of Homiletic. The challenge is to read each story or passage in the Bible in such a way as to see the whole Gospel message. Keeping that in mind let’s look again at this wedding story.

Mary is at a wedding to which Jesus and his disciples are called. The bridal families are out of wine and Jesus asks the servants to fill up some jars with water. Jesus changes water into wine. 

Problem solved: Everyone’s happy. 

St John the Evangelist has left some strategically ambiguous openings which allow us to read this wedding as a meditation on our life in Christ.

Notice, first, that Jesus and the disciples are “invited to the wedding”. That’s us – we’re all invited. “Disciple” means “Student”, beginners or advanced, we are all disciples together. If you are here today – even if you’re not yet Catholic – you’re a disciple.

There is another symbol for us: the jars standing empty. We’re called to this feast and we come – beginner or advanced – because recognize that we are empty. There is a God-shaped hole in us craving to be filled.

Any disciple’s first step is turning to God. It’s a step we must take every day as we are all weak. To turn to God is to repent.  The scriptures and Church Fathers call us to weep tears of repentance. We can imagine these tears poured out as the water poured into the jars. 

John says those jars are for “ceremonial washing”. We can think, also, of Baptism when the Church responds to our repentance with the living water of Baptism. 

This is also true each time we are reminded of our Baptism in the confessional. The Byzantine rite refers to confession as the “grace of a second baptism”. Combined with these living waters, our tears become joy.

Did you ever notice that the bridal couple stays off-screen? We never meet them. No name is mentioned and they have no words to say. 

Who does St John want us to imagine is getting married here? 

Mary says, “They are out of wine”.

Jesus asks, “What has that to do with me?”

Mary commands, Do whatever he tells you…

Two wedding guests seem to act as if they are the family at the wedding: as if Jesus is the groom and somehow responsible for the wedding. If Jesus is getting married, then, who is the bride? 

One more thing to notice: the Bible is full of wedding imagery! The Church follows the tradition begun in Ancient Israel (carried in St Paul and the book of Revelation): the intimacy of Matrimony is a sign of how God relates to his people. John, as a storyteller, allows us to see Jesus fulfilling those images. 

Look at the reading again and see: 

Jesus is God coming to his wedding with his people. We are the disciples called to the feast, no longer as students or penitents but as the bride.

The steward says to the groom, “We’ve had good wine already, but you have saved the best wine for last”. 

It is as if the Steward – and through him, the Guests, all of God’s people – are saying that the covenant of the Torah, the first wine, was amazing, and yet suddenly we’ve been given more than we ever dreamed to ask for.

Jesus and his disciples are called to the wedding feast here in this text and, in a few minutes, He will call us to a deeper union with him here at this altar.

This is no mere reception hall – not a feast with Jesus – but a chance to enter into communion with him so deep that we can only compare it to the mystery of marriage. 

Our Savior draws us here into the deepest intimacy of the Holy Trinity. 

Jesus here gives himself like a groom to his bride in fulfillment of the Covenant. 

Hearing this call, this is why we’ve come. If you’re not Catholic yet, you’ve heard it too. Come, see me after Mass! 

All is prepared. Come to the wedding feast and change your life into wine.

Word count: 713

Showing your work

JMJ

For the first assignment in homiletics we were to read the book Elements of Homiletic: A Method for Preparing to Preach by Otis C. Edwards. Then we were to put the method in play using a randomly assigned Gospel pericope. My passage was the Wedding At Cana, St John 2:1-11. The method, by the way, is quite easy to walk through. It sets one up quite well for writing a homily.


THE ASSIGNED TEXT is the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). It follows after the Sunday commemorating the Baptism of Christ although that story is abbreviated in Year C, combining a reference to Jesus’ action with the people’s Baptism.  “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized…” (Luke 6:21). This makes a usable link between these two Sundays because of baptism references in the Cana story.

The first reading for this Sunday is Isaiah 62:1-5 As a young man marries a virgin,  your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. This connects with the marriage reference in the Gospel and refocuses the imagery around being the People of God rather than a specific wedding.

The second reading is I Corinthians 12:4-11 on the different gifts of the Spirit. There might be a connection to follow from Living Water rising up in us to the New and Better Wine, though Pentecost (are these men drunk?) to the Church. 

This story does not appear in other Gospels.

Three things in this story opened up for me: the bride and the groom never appear as actors in the story. The groom is spoken to in verse 10, but never gets any action or words of his own. The bride does not appear at all. (Interesting to note since this is an option at weddings.) Jesus, however, is spoken to as if he were the groom and Mary the mother of the Groom. “There’s not enough wine,” said the Mother to the Groom. “Fix it.” Are we (the readers/hearers) the bride? 

Second, the opening words, on the third day. The Greek can be read as a direct translation of the Hebrew for Tuesday (Yom Shlishi), which reading I rather like. The Complete Jewish Bible actually says, “On Tuesday” here. That said, “Some random Tuesday before Passover…” is not a likely reading. Makes a good “fun fact” though.

My former (Episcopal) pastor noted this phrase in a homily once saying “The only time this phrase gets used in the Bible is to refer to the Resurrection.” He took that to mean the Cana story is only a mystical meditation on the fictional (in his mind) resurrection. The sermon made me angry at the time, but the notes to the Orthodox Study Bible indicate that the phrase sets a “resurrectional tone,” showing that “the marriage of God and His Church will be fulfilled in Christ’s Resurrection”. That turns it into an interesting meditation. Using the Catena App, there are not many commentaries on this phrase. St Bede says it indicates the Third Age of the world (from Creation to Moses, from Moses to Jesus, and from Jesus on). 

This linking of Marriage, Resurrection, and Baptism seems to be the important place if “the entire Gospel” is to be in this – and every – pericope. (Edwards, p. 50 in the Google Play edition).

Finally, the reference to Jewish purification rituals in verse 6. Traditionally such washing had to be done in “living water” which means the ocean, a river, stream, a spring, etc, or from rainwater. Wealthier Jewish homes may have a dedicated pool (called a mikveh) for use by the family. Jewish laws require a certain amount of “living water” to be used but other “normal” water can be brought into contact and – thus ritually purifying all the water to make it acceptable for the ritual. Among other uses, the mikveh was traditional for a bride (and sometimes the groom) to use before the wedding to be in a state of ritual purity. A mikveh requires about 140 gallons of living water or water that had otherwise been purified. (Source retrieved on 9/11/22.) It’s possible the jars are standing empty because the Bride has been to the Mikveh before the wedding. 

Images I’m seeing here: 1) Jesus drawing superabundant life (Wine) from the previously empty jars used for purification after his own baptism. 2) Jesus as Groom and us/church as bride. 3) Post conversion (the baptism last week’s reading) baptism in the Holy Spirit leads to a deeper union with Christ. 4) There’s something interesting about the use of “living water” in a mikveh and Christ promising streams of living water rising up with the believer (John 7:38). The Greek in 7:38 is the same phrase for “living water” in the LXX for Jeremiah 2:13. 

There are several possible messages here: 1) draw a line from the marriage of bride and groom through the Isaiah passage to Christ and the Church; 2) use verse 10 and speak about Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant; and 3) from baptism in last Sunday’s Gospel to (if you will) living wine as a fulfillment in the charisms of the holy spirit. There’s also a longer, more “lectio” type message that could weave all these together fruitfully over a longer presentation.