Second Sunday of Ordinary Time: There was a Wedding in Cana

A homily for the second Sunday.  A beautiful triplet of readings.  I really like the reading from Paul, but I could not really see how to work it in with the other two. Writing this was partly influenced by a private detail:  last week was the 30th anniversary of the day I proposed.  What a long strange trip it has been.  As always, thoughts and comments are welcome:  help me learn the art of the homily!

On this Sunday the gospel reading is from John.  This liturgical year we use cycle C in the lectionary, and the vast majority of the gospel readings in ordinary time will be taken from Luke.  But today, the Church instead chooses a reading from the fourth Gospel.  The Gospel of John inaugurates the public ministry of Jesus with this story, telling us:  “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs…and so revealed his glory”.  As we saw  last week, when the Gospel reading described the Baptism of Jesus, today we again see that Jesus’ public ministry will not follow the path one would expect from the Messiah, the promised King of Israel. 

His birth was marked by great signs:  at Christmas, we heard of the multitude of angels who announced his birth to the shepherds; at Epiphany we heard about the Magi from the East who followed heavenly signs to pay him homage.   But the public ministry of Jesus was going to be different.     Appearing at the Jordan where John was proclaiming the advent of the Messiah, Jesus did not call  attention to himself.  Rather, he humbled himself and joined the crowd being baptized by John in preparation for the new kingdom.   Jesus had come to establish this kingdom, but it would not be like earthly kingdoms that are forged with violence and tumult.   As the reading from Isaiah last week put it, “he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.”  

In today’s gospel Jesus performed his first sign, turning water into wine.  But consider the setting:  he did not stand beside the village well,  turning water into wine for anyone who approached him.  He did not gather a large crowd (think of the miracle of loaves and fishes) and then provide them with abundant wine.   Rather, he is one guest among many at a large wedding.  He again does not call attention to himself.   Indeed, from the way John describes it, only a few guests—Jesus, his mother, his disciples—and a handful of servants knew what had happened.  Neither the steward in charge of the feast, nor the groom, the guest of honor, knew.   The story would get around:  surely the servants would tell the story of great stone jars of water changed to wine.   But at the moment Jesus acted quietly, without fanfare, without calling attention away from the bridge and groom, so that his disciples might “begin to believe in him.”  

This would slowly change:  Jesus’ ministry would attract more attention, the crowds would grow, and so would the opposition.  In the end, Jesus would be crucified.  Looking back, John frames this first miracle story to point his readers, to point us,  forward to the final miracle of Jesus.  In the New Testament, the Gospel passage begins “on the third day….”; it ends by telling us that Jesus “revealed his glory.”   The final miracle of Jesus, the one which would inaugurate the Kingdom of God, was his resurrection:  on the third day God raised him up and he again revealed his glory. 

Another important aspect of the gospel today is that it is set at a wedding. In the Old Testament, the prophets frequently used marriage and weddings as symbols to describe the relationship between God and his people.  In the first reading today, the prophet Isaiah promises the Israelites, then in exile in Babylon, that their kingdom will be restored. He uses wedding imagery to describe the occasion:  “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.”  He chose this familiar image because a wedding, full of joy and the promise of a better future, made concrete the depths of God’s love for his people. 

This image continues in the New Testament.  Throughout his ministry , Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom:   he has come to bring to fulfillment the prophecy of Isaiah and claim his bride, the people of God.    By starting his public ministry at a wedding, he is in fact heralding the greater celebration to come:  the wedding feast of the Lamb in Heaven, when all things are made new in the Kingdom of God.  

There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  At this wedding, with little fanfare, Jesus performed his first miracle, a simple gift to the bride and groom. By changing water into wine he allowed their wedding feast to continue uninterrupted,  for friends and family to  celebrate their time of joy.  Today, in the Eucharist, Jesus brings himself to us in the simple gifts of bread and wine, changing them into his body and blood.  In this sacrament we receive a foretaste of the wedding feast of Heaven.  Like the disciples, we see his glory.  Today, therefore, let us approach the altar with joy and thanksgiving, let us celebrate, knowing how much our God rejoices in us.


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  • Debbie Isaacson

    I have to wonder how Jesus’ mother felt. Her adult son hadn’t married. She hadn’t celebrated that milestone. Did she know that it wouldn’t happen? Did they talk about this? Mary obviously had a great deal of faith in Him.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      This is a good question, and one I have never heard asked before. If Jesus was around 30, then he had been avoiding marriage for over a decade. (I am guessing that young men at that time married between 16 and 20.) Surely it was unusual–what did their neighbors think? Rather than imposing 21st century stereotypes on this, I would ask: what do historical sources tell us about unmarried men from this time period? Were they rare? Was there some social category they fit into: i.e., was there some common “explanation” for why they did not get married?

  • Jack Hartjes

    “God rejoices in us!” As always these “homilies” offer some real spiritual nourishment. I have a question and I wonder if it’s sometimes on your mind too. I’m a modern Catholic and dabbler in modern Bible scholarship. I notice among many Catholic scholars (Raymond Brown and Walter Kasper for 2 examples) a questioning and even denial of the historicity of many Bible stories. These would include practically everything in the infancy stories and this story of changing water into wine. Pope Francis says God reveals himself as history not as a compendium of abstract ideas, so it seems to me it must be important to get the history more or less right, including in homilies in our parishes. How does a homilist take the best modern Bible scholarship into account and still provide inspiration and support for the life of faith to ordinary Christians?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      Thanks for the positive feedback! I really appreciate it.

      With regards to your question: this is a good one, but I think the answer is to remember that there are many schools of modern biblical criticism, and the homilist (or concerned Catholic layperson) needs to learn what they are, what they have to offer, and what their drawbacks are. Thus historical criticism (source, form and redaction criticism) are helpful in sorting out the multiple relationships between the Gospels. I can use this without accepting every word of such criticism, and I feel free to walk away from the more radical ideas of, say, the Jesus seminar. Thus, in my own writing I keep critical commentaries in mind, and you may note occasional comments where I date some piece of Isaiah to the exile, implicitly accepting the scholarship that sees the book with two and perhaps three authors. But I also do not tie myself into knots about whether a given pericope is “true.” Thus, in preaching on the wedding at Cana, I take it more or less for granted that this happened, but my interpretation reads into the symbolic meaning as well.

  • gaudetetheology

    The homily I heard tied all the readings together by noting that they were all beautiful joyful proclamations and/or deeds that were occurring despite, or in the midst of, difficulty: the unhappiness after the return from exile, the quarreling and divisiveness in Corinth, and the disastrous social shame that would have resulted from running out of wine at a wedding.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      Yes, that does tie them together, but not very deeply. If had wanted to use Cana as a springboard to talk about the sacrament of marriage I could have easily tied in the reading from Paul, but I felt no inclination to go that way.

      • gaudetetheology

        Not deeply in an exegetical sense, but from a pastoral perspective, it was very effective: look, the Good News is proclaimed and enacted in the middle of… pretty crappy social circumstances, actually. Kinda like our lives.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

          Point well taken. I guess the scholar in me is still resisting these kinds of connections. I want things to be linked deeply on an intellectual level before I use them to make the theological and pastoral points I want to convey.

  • Tanco

    David [January 17, 2016]: “ Looking back, John frames this first miracle story to point his readers, to point us, forward to the final miracle of Jesus.

    The church I now attend depicts, in a stained-glass window at the apex of the apse, a rather curious layering of Johannine symbolism. The window depicts the crucifixion, but with angels, chalices in hand, collecting the precious blood dripping from the sacred wounds of Christ’s hands. For a long time I thought the window to be rather sentimental and even kitschy, in keeping with aspects of the late 19th century sensibilities of the church’s art and architecture.

    However, your homily highlights a different perspective. Perhaps this window highlights your recollection of the symbolism of Cana as the beginning of a crescendo, a narrative arc, ending in the all-sufficient sacrifice of the Cross. If one interprets the wine of the wedding feast as a foreshadowing of the precious blood of Golgotha, then this apse window reminds us that Jesus’ miracles and Christ’s sacrifice constantly recirculate in the re-presentation of this same sacrifice in Mass. That is, the light of the apse representation illuminates the holy sacrifice. This is all quite profound, as the various images disperse in a prismatic fashion, and also can be viewed as a plano depiction of a simultaneous event.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS

      Tanco, thanks for drawing this connection. My comment was drawn out by the language—one of the commentaries I read pointed to the “third day” and “glory” parallels. But I had not thought about how the wine at Cana ties to either the wine at the Last Supper or the blood poured out at Calvary. To explore this further: could you combine this with bread of life discourse to see an extended meditation by John on the Eucharist, replacing the Institution narratives in the Synoptics? And indeed, the connection to the Eucharist at which the reading is heard is a theme I come back to when I am thinking about homilies.

      With regards to your Church’s window: this is a pretty old image. I have seen it 16th century art; there is a Raphael that captures it beautifully. And a Google search turned it up in some late medieval artwork. I would be interested in knowing the history of the image, and how it was shaped by specific theologies (dare I say, memes?) of the Eucharist at the time.