Opening the Word: Extraordinary revealed

St. John’s account of the wedding in Cana is unique to his Gospel; it is also the first of the seven signs presented in the first half of the Gospel, what is sometimes called “The Book of Signs” (Jn 2-12). These miracles include the healing of the official’s son (Jn 4), the healing of the paralytic (Jn 5), the multiplication of the loaves (Jn 6), walking on water (Jn 6), the restoration of the blind man (Jn 9) and the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11). 

The riches of this Gospel reading are inexhaustible. But there is one word that comes to mind: relationship. There are many relationships implied and depicted here, and they are like the many layers of a detailed painting, revealing more each time it is viewed and contemplated. 

Think back on the previous four Sundays: Christmas, the Holy Family, Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ. Each of these feasts marks a profound event or reality within salvation history; each is directly focused on the mystery of Jesus Christ. Who is he? Why has he come? How will he accomplish the salvation of his people? 

What emerges, among other things, is that the Incarnate Word is fully divine — conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit — and fully human — raised as an “ordinary” boy in a nondescript Jewish family. Until the age of about 30, Jesus appeared to be like so many other young Jewish men. But the nature of his conception and birth, along with the visit by the Magi, pointed to something radical, uncharted, unsettling. His baptism at the hands of his cousin, John, appeared routine at the start, but culminated with the revelation of the Trinity and the heavenly declaration, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

At Cana, eternity was pressing hard against — or within — history. Yet the setting, again, was ordinary enough: a modest wedding celebration in a small town north of Nazareth. The bride and groom are unnamed, but later traditions suggest Mary was the aunt of the bridegroom. It seems that she was involved in helping with the celebration. Jesus and his disciples also knew them, for they were invited to the wedding. It was a large and joyful family gathering. 

But the veil of the ordinary was unsettled by a simple, quiet statement: “They have no wine.” This might seem odd, notes Father Hans Ur von Balthasar, as Mary “had probably not seen any outward miracle by him yet. Yet she knows all that is necessary: she knows of the holy power within him.” The relationship between the Mother and the Son is front and center, even though Mary points always to him: “Do whatever he tells you.” 

There has been much written about the words of Jesus in between his mother’s statement. Was he being rude? Rebuking? Dismissive? What was his point? His reply, wrote St. Maximus of Turin, was meant to foretell “the most glorious hour of his passion and the wine of our redemption, which would obtain life for all. Mary was asking for a temporal favor, but Christ was preparing that would be eternal.” Yet, as Maximus noted, Jesus “did not refuse this small grace while greater graces awaited.” It is the divine, not the devil, who is in the details, for God cares about the ordinary events and mundane concerns of his people. Through the ordinary, the extraordinary is revealed, just as three years later the dark horror of the Cross revealed the splendor of God’s saving love. 

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.

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