The image of marriage employed in the Scriptures should, if we were not so used to it, be rather shocking. The Lord, the creator of heaven and earth, becomes the gracious bridegroom to Israel in the book of Isaiah: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken’ ... but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused’” (Is 62:4). Thus, it is no accident in the Gospel of John that the first sign Jesus performs at Cana takes place at a wedding. For, in the Gospel of John, a sign is not simply a demonstration of divine power. Instead, signs are moments in which Jesus’ identity becomes clear, inviting the reader to worship and adore before the Word made flesh.
In the first of seven signs, Jesus attends a wedding with his mother and disciples. These weddings were not four-hour events on a Saturday but weeklong celebrations.
When the wedding runs out of wine, there is a threat of a shortened party, a reception that does not live up to expectations. Jesus’ mother intervenes, and he replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4).
Jesus’ harshness may seem surprising. Yet, in the Gospel of John, it is common that those even who know Jesus quite well fail to grasp the full implications of his identity. That the hour that Jesus speaks about is the final act of glorification upon the cross, when he reveals to the world that God’s love has conquered the darkness of death itself. Indeed, his hour has not yet come. And yet, Jesus’ mother tells the servants to act, and they comply with her wishes.
The quantity of water in the stone jars is obscene — the transformation of up to 180 gallons of water into wine. And this is not poor wine, the kind one might serve in the days in which the party is winding down. Rather, the best wine is served toward the end of the celebration.
As a sign, the Gospel points the reader to see Jesus as the Messiah, the one who comes to bring about God’s nuptial union with Israel. The wine Jesus brings for this celebration is both excessively good and bountiful. In the carrying out of this sign, Jesus announces that the wedding feast of the messianic age has begun. To believe in the sign is therefore not simply to recognize it as worthy of wonder but to worship the sign-producer, Jesus the Christ.
The Church exists in the midst of this messianic wedding feast, living as one “drunk” upon the good wine of salvation. And indeed, this is the source of the mercy that the Church preaches to the world. God so loved the world that he became for us the bridegroom of an undeserving bride.
When the Church seeks to evangelize the world, we are inviting others to share in this love, to join with us in drinking the sweet wine of the nuptial feast.
We go forth to the margins to tell a love story, to woo others to join us in the wedding feast of the Lamb, and to discover in the process that our party is enriched by an increase in the number of revelers.
The bitter waters of every life can be transformed into the good wine of salvation. And so, we attendees and brides at so great a feast must sing out to the world: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready” (Rv 19:7).
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.