More Than We Expect

Epiphany 2

Isa. 62:1-5 • Ps. 36:5-10 • 1 Cor. 12:1-11 • John 2:1-11

The Gospel for this Sunday relates the story of the wedding at Cana. It is a familiar story to Christians, but its very familiarity can obscure one of its main points: that God’s methods are unfamiliar to us. We had been on notice that this was the case, and we might plausibly have, as it were, expected the unexpected. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord told his people, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (55:8). Nevertheless, knowing a thing intellectually is very different from experiencing it. John Henry Newman said that experiencing God’s work within the world is, for humans, like waiting and listening for a clock to strike, and yet when finally it does, it startles us.

Just so, we ought to be a little unsettled by the wedding at Cana. It is the fulfillment of grand prophecies, as the lectionary’s inclusion of this Sunday’s Old Testament lesson suggests. At the wedding at Cana, we see the Builder of Zion rejoicing over his Bride. We see fulfilled the prophetic expectation that the advent of the Messiah would mean an abundance of wine (cf. Amos 9:13). Jesus here takes upon himself the traditional responsibility of the Bridegroom: providing a lot of good wine for the guests at the feast.

Jesus’ mother is also conspicuous in this story, even oddly so. John begins by telling us that “the mother of Jesus was there,” and that Jesus and his disciples had “also” been invited (vv. 1-2). It must be said that although the Gospel is not about Mary, nevertheless she is all about the Gospel. And we find her at Cana fulfilling her divine vocation, spoken to her by the angel at the Annunciation. Here too, perhaps, there is a foretaste of the sword which the aged Simeon said would pierce Mary’s soul at Golgotha (Luke 2:35): when Mary tells Jesus about the embarrassing shortage of wine, his reply might make us wince: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). Here the identity of her divine son stretches beyond the horizon of Mary’s understanding. Perhaps these words were painful for her to hear. Discovering Jesus to be other, and always more, than what we thought him to be can be acutely painful. And the pain of this experience is proportional to the love that had bound us to him in the first place.

But Mary’s word to the servants (v. 5) exemplifies her superlative faith in God, on account of which her cousin had pronounced her blessed among women (Luke 1:42, 45). Undaunted even by her son’s admonition, led by her mother’s love and her heroic faith, she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5), and we come to the crux of the matter. Suddenly Jesus’ “hour” has indeed come. He turns water into an abundance of good wine, and in doing so, he “revealed his glory.” And the story concludes with John telling us that those who had eyes to see “believed in him” (v. 11).

Look It Up
An abudance of wine was a recurring theme among the prophets, and a sign of the dawn of the Messianic age and of Israel’s deliverance. How does Jesus meet or unsettle these expectations at Cana?

Think About It
We tend to think of prayer as being about speaking to God. In John 2, Mary’s word to the servants is, “Do whatever he tells you.” We are reminded that prayer must be as much (or more) about listening than about speaking. As you listen to him in prayer, what is Jesus telling you to do?


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