This Sunday’s gospel is the well-known story of the Wedding Feast at Cana. When the church was looking for a Scripture to ground their conviction that Jesus himself had instituted the sacrament of matrimony, they would appeal to this story. However, later theologians and Scripture scholars have found this to be quite a “stretch.” Much more likely, this event, found only in the Gospel of John, was an introduction and beginning to the public life and ministry of Jesus. As John says himself, “this was the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee.”
If we recall last week’s gospel, this one serves a similar purpose. While Luke has Jesus’ ministry beginning with the baptism of John in the Jordan, John’s introduction to a public Jesus begins with this event of the wedding feast. Since Jesus is ushering in the reign of God, John makes use of this event to draw some contrasts between the “old way” and the “new way.”
In the “old way,” there were limits to love and joy (symbolized in the wedding feast and the wine). The old wine could run out! In the new way, there was a seemingly limitless supply. No wine? Let’s make some! The resources of the “old way” left us with only six large jars of water used for ritual washing. In the “new way,” Jesus uses these meagre resources to make a wonderful wine, in fact, the steward said this was the best wine of the night! The old way of limited resources suggested that the good wine be served first, and later, when the crowd is less “discerning,” one would bring out the cheap wine, the stuff that brought on nasty hangovers! But the steward proclaims with an almost liturgical hallelujah: “But you have saved the best for last!”
I have enjoyed using this gospel when presiding at some weddings. Not so much for the fact that Jesus shows his approval of marriage by attending a wedding, but because the sacredness of this moment of commitment has at its source a spiritual calling from a world of “mine” to a world of “ours.” It is also a moment when we realize that, through the journeys these two people have embarked on, they have found themselves at this church, at this time promising each other a future filled with mystery. Like the steward at the wedding feast of Cana, I get excited to proclaim to this couple that “they have saved the best for last!” For with these promises, Jesus has promised to be at their wedding feast, and that’s what makes this an awesome sacrament.
Resources have little to do with the outcome of a marriage. We have all known wonderful, life-giving couples who have next to nothing, and the opposite is also true. We have seen very well-heeled couples who have little to show for their relationship.
How many of us have heard or experienced the limits of our resources as we embarked on married life? Many even brag about the fact that they didn’t have two dollar bills to rub together! As Tevye (in Fiddler On The Roof) comments about his newly married daughter: “They were so much in love, they didn’t realize how miserably poor they were!” The “new way” is that as long as we’re together, we’ll find a way!
The reign of God is shown in the stories of Jesus showering abundant blessings on those around him. The feeding of the 5,000, the healing of the lepers, the extravagance of his redemptive sacrifice on the cross; all of these are meant to be a sign that Jesus is ushering in a new life of God’s overwhelming grace. This “table of plenty” is contained in the hospitality stories told of our mothers and grandmothers inviting our friends or neighbours in need to stay for dinner with the phrase: “We can just put a little more water in the soup and there’s plenty for everyone.”
One can contrast this approach with the advertisements on TV that suggest what a nightmare it will be if we don’t have “enough” (here you can fill in the blank) money, car, life or health insurance. In this scenario there is never enough! Resources are scarce and limited and we can develop an aching fear that feeds into our hoarding and storing, and our self-centredness, just in case. . . . This is exactly what spawns reality shows like Storage Wars. Since we have just finished the season of Christmas, we are reminded of this attitude when we see the conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The church has proclaimed this Sunday as World Day for Migrants and Refugees. We have just heard the story of one such family — Joseph, Mary and Jesus — with arduous travel to Bethlehem and then a hasty escape to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous hand.
We are asked to pray for migrants and refugees, but to also be involved somehow in making room for those who come to our shores with hope of a better world. Let us be more like the mothers who always made room for one more, and less like the unconverted Scrooge that had no heart for the poor.
For those of us who can, let us make a table of plenty for people without food, home, transportation or relatives to rely on. This is what the “new wine” of Jesus is all about. It’s a new world order, a space and a place for everyone around God’s banquet table. As we all enter that great Banquet Hall at the end of our lives, we will hear the voice of Jesus saying: “Come on in. There’s plenty for everyone! The wine is the best! We have saved the best for last. We’ll just put a little more water in the soup!”
Williston is a retired Parish Life Director for the Diocese of Saskatoon and a former missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.