The last three weeks we have been looking at the three classic “epiphanies” of Jesus. The first, on the feast of the Epiphany, was his manifestation to the Wise Men. The second, the opening of Ordinary Time, was the voice of the Father at his Baptism. And the third, this week, is “the beginning of his signs, at Cana in Galilee,” in which he “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”
In each of these three classic Epiphanies, he reveals who he is. This week, he reveals himself as the Lover.
We warmed up with a reading from late Isaiah. “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse.”
We will not tarry on this reading, except to say that it gets us started with the idea of God’s love for us, a love compared to the love of a Bridegroom.
We see, too, God’s love for the land itself. I have been learning recently about the Song of Songs. There is a strong argument that there, too, the bride is no human woman, but the land of Israel itself. This helps makes sense of strange lines such as, “Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes” (Songs 6:6). It’s not just a bizarre metaphor. The Song of Songs is a love song of God for the nation as a whole – even the land where they dwell.
The central reading this week though is the magnificent Gospel of Cana. How does he love us? Let us count the ways:
He comes to the wedding. Jesus wants to be where his people are. He is not there to manifest himself – in fact, when Mary asks for a miracle, his first response his reluctance. He is there to be with the people he loves.
He has a mother, and follows her. Jesus loves the couple, but he loves his mother, too. The whole story is rich with presence, simply being with the people he loves.
He brings wine to the wedding. It’s nothing important, nothing salvific. It’s just kindness to the people he loves. The gratuity of Cana marks love – just as the celebratory aspect of a wedding marks nothing but the goodness of love.
Let us go a step deeper. When Mary says, “They have no wine,” Jesus responds, “What is this to me and to you, woman.” One way to interpret this is as the question: does this couple’s misfortune – and this kind of misfortune, lacking wine, not lacking anything really important – really affect us?”
The American Lectionary’s translation has, “Woman, how does your concern affect me.” But in the Greek, “What is this to me and to you” seems to put Mary and Jesus on the same side of the question. Not, “how does your concern affect me” but “how does their concern affect you or me?”
Mary’s response is itself a kind of question. (Deeper down there may be an important aspect of Jewish rhetoric here, where everything moves forward by questions, not assertions. Note, for example, that the twelve-year-old Jesus teaches them in the Temple by asking questions.) When Jesus says, “what is this to you and to me?” Mary responds by telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
It is as if she responds to Jesus’s question with another question, or as if she says to him, “I don’t know, you tell me.” The ball’s in your court, Jesus. Does the lack of wine matter to you? Should it matter to me? I will do nothing but submit to your judgment: you act, and I will follow.
And he acts, with bravado. He chooses the water jugs for purification, so it is clear they are pure water. He has the servants fill them, so there are witnesses. He makes the wine excellent.
Mary says, “You tell me, Jesus, do you care about such things?” And he says, with his actions, “Yes, yes, I do.”
There’s so much to tell about this story, and yet it comes down to one thing: he loves us very much. Cana is a celebration of that love.
But his love is not really about wine – anymore than the couple’s love was really about the wine. The wine is just a manifestation, an epiphany, of that love.
So our reading from First Corinthians 12 shows us the real gifts of the Bridegroom: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, might deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, the interpretation of tongues. The real gift is not the wine, but the Spirit.
And it is a gift, again, that leave us not merely as individuals, but drawn together into the Body of Christ – just as in Isaiah, the Lord’s love created a land for them, a nation, and just as at Cana he built up a marriage and a community of friends.
God loves us, and gives us love.
What would change for you today if you really believed God loves us?