Sunday, August 14, 2016

The wedding at Cana

In the second chapter of the Gospel according to John, we find the story about Jesus and his mother and disciples at the wedding in Cana. I want to consider this passage roughly verse-by-verse, and see what instruction I can find in this episode.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding (John 2:1-2).
Jesus and his disciples, along with his mother, were invited to be at this wedding. He was a respected rabbi who had amassed a small group of followers, and these persons who were getting married wanted to include the teacher of the Law and those who were religious at this event. They wanted their wedding to include the people of God and, in this way, God himself; they did not want to embark on such an important journey apart from the special presence and blessing of God, nor without his people. In the same way, I think, it is right for us to "invite" Jesus and his disciples to participate in our important endeavors as well, perhaps especially those which have to do with the family.

What does it mean to invite Jesus to participate in my endeavors? More than that, what can it mean to invite his disciples and his mother, as well? There are various ways to answer these questions, I think. Consider the following passage from James:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil (Jas 4:13-16).
The first way we can invite Jesus to participate in our endeavors is this: by recognizing that we can only fulfill our plans if it is his will. Apart from him we can do nothing, of course, and as the Proverb says: In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps (Prov 16:9). We might have all sorts of plans, but they may not be fulfilled apart from the cooperation and grace of God. For this reason, we ought to see if God wants us to do what we are planning to do; and if we think so, we ought to invite him to help us bring it to completion.

But there is another way of inviting Jesus to participate in our endeavors, and that is by heeding his commandments in everything we do. By keeping his commandments and in this way showing our love for him, we bring him near to us; we carry him about with us wherever we might go; we are working to bring the fulfillment of our prayer -- thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven -- that much closer. And when we learn from the teaching and the example of his disciples, all the holy apostles and those who have ever loved Jesus Christ and learned from him, and from his mother who especially in this episode will give us an example of faith -- when we do all this, then especially we will have invited them to come with us, as well. All the family of God will be participants in our endeavors if we learn from them and follow their example and heed their words.
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine” (v. 3).
In most Protestant churches, there is very little talk of Mary except at Christmas time. They do not pray to her, they do not venerate her, they do not invoke her help in anything; they mention her when the most relevant texts are the conception and birth narratives, and that's that. But I think we have much more to learn from Mary, and she ought to be considered more often than she actually is among many Protestant churches. In this text especially, she gives us an important example of faithfulness to Jesus from which we can all learn.

This is the first aspect of her example: when others are in trouble, she notices and turns to Jesus for help. She is not indifferent to the problems which others face, but she takes notice of them in her compassion. Not everyone is like this: some persons are too concerned with their own lives and their own problems to be moved by the travails of their neighbors. But this speaks to a lack of love for neighbor, which is the greatest commandment and the fulfillment of the Law. The Mother of God notices that they had run out of wine -- understand this apparently, relatively trivial problem as representing the disasters your neighbors may run into, whether greater or smaller -- and her sympathy and compassion moves her to action.

What is her action, exactly? She goes to her son, Jesus, and informs him of the problem. Implicit in this act is an open and trusting faith in the ability of Jesus to solve all these problems. Mary trusts in God, and she trusts in the Son which God had miraculously given her. Her compassion and her faith work hand in hand, so that at the sight of suffering in the world she is not hopeless, nor does she simply cross her arms and refuse to help on the grounds that it is pointless. So long as we can pray to Jesus, it is never pointless, because he is all-powerful and he can help us in our troubles, whether great or small.
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come” (v. 4).
Indeed, the hour of Jesus has not yet come. It is not yet the time in which his kingdom is fully established, as is evidenced by the preponderance of evil and sin in every direction. For a while we are still taught to pray thy kingdom come, thy will be done, because the kingdom is not yet here. So long as Jesus' hour has not yet come, weddings will run out of wine; i.e., times of celebration and joy which we have through the grace of God will be cut short by suffering and lack, by unexpected twists and turns of events.

In general, we ought not to be exaggeratedly optimistic. It is true that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ, and that he will be with us to the end of the age. But may the Lord forbid us from ever thinking on this basis that we ought not meet with suffering for the reason that all power has been given to him. The power of Christ did not keep the apostles and all the martyrs and confessors throughout the history of the Church from suffering. Neither will it keep me from suffering unless he wills it; and in any case, We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

I ought to know, too, that I am part of the reason why his hour has not yet come. When I pray that his kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, but I refuse to obey his commandments, I am impeding his kingdom entirely on my own. When I make the choice to live in sin apart from Christ, I have no need to blame the devil or society or anyone else for any of my sins and for any of the evils that happen to me. I am crucifying myself by my own selfish desire, as Catherine of Siena says in the Dialogue of sinners: I have only myself to blame. And for that reason, the hour of Christ in which he will drink again from the fruit of the vine in the Kingdom of his Father (Mt 26:29) is delayed because of me and my sin. God help me!
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5).
Here is the second aspect of the example of Mary: not only is she compassionate and concerned for the troubles of others, and not only does she bring prayers to Jesus for the sake of others, but she also teaches us to do whatever he tells us. This is the perfect faith of the Mother of God, which ought to be ours as well: it is such a faith in the goodness and power of Jesus that she both prays to him as well as teaches others to do whatever he asks. It is isn't easy to to adopt an attitude of unconditional obedience to anyone. It isn't natural; our inclination is rather to obey others when it is easy and when it is convenient and advantageous for us. But Mary teaches us to be faithful to Jesus in absolutely everything.

The Virgin who said, May your word to me be fulfilled (Luke 1:38), teaches us now to be faithful to Jesus in everything. May his word to us be fulfilled! If he teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves, may this word be fulfilled; if he teaches us to love God with everything that we have within us, may this word be fulfilled; if he teaches us to give to others without expecting any sort of repayment, and to turn the other cheek to those who have struck us, may this word be fulfilled. In everything, let us learn to fulfill the word of Jesus. This is what Mary and all the saints throughout the history of the Church teach us, all those who have done exactly this during their own lifetimes and are now enjoying the rewards of their faithfulness.

We have to adopt a certain attitude of openness and faithfulness towards God in order to think like this. Like Mary, I have to say, May your word to me be fulfilled. This means that I trust God in absolutely everything, even if by my own judgment, that which God tells me to do seems strange and doubtful, or excessive, or impossible. Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote:
Three things make the soul worthy of this way so that it recognizes it and walks in it. Firstly, that it wills to come to God, renouncing all self-will, joyfully welcoming God's grace and willingly accepting all its demands against human desires. The second thing which keeps the soul in the way is that all things are welcome to it save sin alone. The third thing makes the creature perfect in the way, namely, that it does all things to the glory of God, so that even its smallest desire will be as highly prized by God as if it were in the highest state of contemplation possible to humanity (The Flowing Light of the Godhead, 27)
This is the kind of faithfulness and openness which Mary had, to which she also calls us: to be open and welcoming to absolutely everything except sin. Sin has no place in our lives; but suffering or strange things or whatever else God might bring us in his providence are welcome, because we trust him and know that he is good and seeks our salvation in everything.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet” (vv. 7-8).
From this I infer the following lesson: in light of God's omnipotence, there is theophanic potential in everything around us. Who would have looked at jars full of water and thought that this could be the solution to the wine problem? Yet God can turn water into wine, he can make water flow out of desert rocks, and he can make bread fall from heaven to satisfy hungry masses if need be.

Look around, left and right, at the people who are seated next to you; consider all the people with whom you have to do throughout the course of the day. In those people, there exists a potential for something miraculous and amazing, a potential for God to make his presence felt in the world in a mode apart. You don't see anything, but if God wants, out of the dry land of your spiritually arid environment, he can make founts of water appear. You don't notice anything but plain water, but if God wants, and if we come to him with faith in prayer, he can turn the water into wine and rejuvenate us.

And there is potential for all this in you, too, because you have also been made in the image and likeness of God. You were created to be a living representation of God, a living presence of God as a bearer of his image. If you will purify yourself of everything that is foreign to this image, if you will cast out everything that obscures this image and impedes its full glory, then you will be an instrument for honorable use in the house of God (2 Tim 2:21). Consider here the words of Origen:
When, in the beginning, God created man, He created him according to His image and likeness, and he placed this image not outside of him, but within him. It was not possible for it to be seen in you as long as your house was unkempt, full of uncleanliness and grime. The fount of knowledge had been placed in you, but it could not give water, because the Philistines had filled it with earth and had drawn in you an earthly image. In the past you bore the earthly image; now, however, after hearing these words, being cleansed by the Word of God of all earthly heaviness and oppression, make the heavenly image shine out of you!
This is the image about which the Father said unto the Son: Let Us make men according to Our image and likeness [Gen 1:26]. The Son of God is the artist of this image. And because the artist is so important and so great, His image can be darkened, through apathy, but it cannot be destroyed through evil. For God's image always remains within you, even if you should paint an earthly image over it.
You paint on this canvas yourself: when pleasure has darkened you, you have put an earthly tone. If avarice burns in you, you have added another. When rage makes you cruel, you add yet another color. The blackness of pride adds yet another color, and still another color is added by the darkness of faithlessness. And in this way, through every sort of evil, just as if various colors had been mixed, you yourself paint this earthly image, which God did not place within you (Origen, Hom. in Gen. XIII, §4).
The potential to be a living representation and presence of God on earth is within me, if I will only stop painting the monstrous image of Satan over the image of God which was intended, and if through God's help I come to resemble Christ instead.
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (vv. 8-10).
When God works, we are always surprised at his generosity. God is generous because he alone is totally self-sufficient. When you can create the entire universe merely through the power of your word, without recourse to any preexisting materials which might limit your activity, you are able to be generous beyond the expectations of others. And so Jesus produces better wine now, out of water, than was previously available at the wedding.

In the same way, if we will follow the advice of Mary and do whatever Christ tells us, if we will invite Jesus and all his disciples into our lives to learn from them and to keep their salutary teaching, then we too will find ourselves surprised at the words of Christ on the day of judgment, when he tells us: Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Mt 25:34-6).  We will be surprised, because we will have thought ourselves unworthy servants who had only done what we ought to have done anyway. But Christ rewards us beyond our expectations or wildest dreams for doing what was a necessity, as Mark the Ascetic wrote:
The Lord, wishing to show that every commandment is a duty, while, on the other hand, that adoption is given to men as a gift for the sake of His blood, says: "When you will have done everything commanded you, you say: 'We are worthless slaves and we have done just what we ought to have done.'" [Luke 17:10] Therefore the Kingdom of heaven is not a payment for deeds, but the grace of the Master, prepared for faithful servants (On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works: 226 Texts, 2)
 As Paul says: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal 6:9-10). In this way, we will be surprised by the generosity of Christ when he welcomes us into his kingdom. Better this surprise than the surprise of exclusion, expecting to receive more than we deserved because we did not know ourselves and our true state.

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