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Wedding at Cana – Part 1 of 2

Let’s begin with a little humor: There is a story about a priest named Fr. Murphy who went to visit a family in his small-town parish for a holiday meal. They all had a great dinner during which the wine flowed rather freely. Then it came time for Father to return home.

The man hosting the meal said, “Hey Father we still have a half-bottle of wine left from the meal. I’m going to put it in the back seat of your car. No reason to let it go to waste.” Well, Fr. didn’t realize it but he was a bit tipsy when he got into his car. As he drove down the road on his way home he didn’t notice that his car was weaving a bit.

Well, the local Sheriff, who knew everyone in town, saw Fr. Murphy’s car weaving and he decided to pull him over to the side of the road. “How are you doing Father,” the sheriff asked. “Oh, just fine Sheriff,” replied Fr. Murphy. “Say Father,” the Sheriff asked, “what’s that in the back seat of your car? “Oh, that’s just a bottle of water,” said the good priest.

“Well, I’ll tell you what Father,” the Sheriff said, “that doesn’t look like water to me. Let me see it.” The sheriff took the bottle in his hand pulled out the cork, gave it a whiff, and said. “That’s wine for sure Father.” And, Fr. McGill said, “My golly he’s done it again!”

All of us who are schooled in the gospel find that little story about Father Murphy to be humorous because we are familiar with the story in the second chapter of John’s gospel. In John’s gospel, the first miracle that Jesus performs is the miracle of changing water into wine at a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.

Since the very beginning of the church’s reflection on the gospels, this particular gospel about a wedding feast in John has been interpreted to be central to the revelation of the identity of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

In the mind of the Fathers of the Church the wedding in Cana was deemed a major epiphany or manifestation of the God-man, Jesus the Lord. In preaching, the Wedding at Cana was tied together with two other epiphanies, namely, the manifestation of Jesus to the Wise Men from the East and the Baptism of the Lord.

Through these events Jesus, who is the perfect image of the Father, comes to illuminate the world with the light of God the Father’s love. Jesus is luminous in his Being and all his works are luminous epiphanies, given to the world so that in receiving the light, people can come to believe in Jesus as God’s own Son.

Thus, in a spectacular way, this gospel passage from John reveals Jesus to us so that we can believe in him. This story is a luminous story, a story of light.

Let’s just review the passage from chapter two of John.

On the third day there was a marriage feast in 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 Mary said to Jesus, “They have no more wine.” (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern involve 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 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus told 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 had come 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.” And the gospel concludes: Jesus did this as the first of his signs in Cana in Galilee, and so revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.

The first thing to notice about this story is very important, namely, that there is a wedding going on.  Actually, if you were to translate these words for “wedding feast” literally from the Aramaic the words “marriage feast” mean a “drinking feast.” A marriage feast was a drinking feast that actually could go on for quite some time. The celebration could last for as much as a week.  Obviously, to run out of wine at a wedding would have been a great disgrace.

In the Old Testament scriptures wine has a special significance, Wine is as sign of celebration, wine is a sign of gladness, wine is a sign of God’s favor and his providence. This pairing of wine with God’s providence is quite evident in chapter 25 of the prophet Isaiah, as in the following words: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich foods and choice wines, juicy rich food and choice wines.”  (Is. 25:6)

In this passage, Isaiah speaks of a future day, the day of the Messianic King, when wine would flow freely at the marriage feast between God and his people.

In the New Testament, wine becomes the symbol of Christ’s Precious Blood, the blood of the Lamb. Where the Sacred Wine of Christ’s Blood is poured out and drunk with faith, the new Kingdom is formed and the Church is brought forth. Where people share in the “one cup,” they are brought into unity of life with Christ and with one another. Where people participate in the Eucharist, they come into the light to share in the glory of God, the same glory that was revealed at Cana. Where people drink from the Sacred Cup, they begin to know what it will be like to be married to God for all eternity.

So, what sort of wedding is this in Cana? It is a ritual Jewish wedding in one sense, but since people are there who are going to come to believe in Jesus, it is also the wedding between Christ and the faithful soul. By anticipation, it is the wedding of all those throughout the ages who will come to believe in Jesus.

In a word, the marriage feast at Cana is the beginning of the wedding between Christ and his Church, which is to last through eternity. As Hugo Rahner says of the marriage Feast at Cana,  “It was a marriage and the God-man changed the water of human nature into the wine of the divine.”(Mary and the Church Pantheon Books, N.Y. 1961 pgs. 50-51)

The wedding at Cana also gives a forevision of the Eucharist, a point brought out by St Ephraim (306-373) when he said, speaking of Christ,

The wine he offers, Christ makes excellent, to suggest the treasures hidden in his life-giving blood.  The first sign he accomplishes is the wine that gladdens the celebrants; the significance is that this blood rejoices the nations.  All earthly joys come together in wine; all of salvation is joined in the mystery of his blood.  He offers the sweet wine that transforms hearts, as they believe in the inebriating doctrine that transforms them.

To be continued...

Written by Fr. John Magdalene Suenram, OCD
Fr. John Magdalene belongs to the Discalced Carmelite Friars, Province of St. Therese.  He is a member of our Friars' community in Oklahoma City where he serves as Councilor.

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