Second Sunday: An Epiphany of Love

wedding-feast-a-cana09smThe 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

A Thursday Meditation on the Wedding Feast at Cana and the Heart of Mary

280px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-24-_-_Marriage_at_CanaLet us enter into one of the luminous mysteries by considering the virtues and the beatitudes.

Consider Mary’s Faith.  Cana seems to be the very first miracle of Jesus (though even if we’ve seen miracles before, it’s hard to believe they can happen again).  She has absolute confidence that Jesus can do the impossible and that he loves us enough to do it, even in this thing, so insignificant and so concretely miraculous.  And her faith draws her to Jesus.

Consider Mary’s Hope.  She believes in Jesus’s power over creation.  And she believes in his love for his creation, a love that does not destroy the couple, does not destroy his creation, but builds them up, in the happiest, most affirming way.  And her hope draws her to Jesus.

Consider Mary’s Charity, her love for God and for man.  She loves God’s creation, loves marriage, loves the celebration, loves the wine that blesses it!  She loves the couple, thinks of the couple, frets over the couple.  Ah, but most of all, think of how she must have loved Jesus, the deep, joyful affection she must have felt when she saw his love for the couple.  And love unites her, profoundly, in an ever new way, to Jesus.

Consider Mary’s Poverty.  She has nothing.  She has nothing to offer but her prayers.  She asks nothing for herself, but for their happiness.  Even what she asks is nothing that can be hoarded, only the pleasure of celebrating human and divine love.  And in her poverty she relies on nothing but Jesus, and loves nothing but Jesus, and the joys of his kingdom, celebrated in the marriage feast.

Consider Mary’s Sorrow.  Such a rich, real, human sorrow: “they have no wine!”  Not a selfish sorrow, not a whining sorrow, but a deep compassion for the needs of others, for the deeply human needs of a bride and bridegroom to celebrate their wedding.  And because this is what she sorrows for, she is consoled by the presence, the love, the concern of Jesus, only Jesus, who brings the most abundant consolation.

Consider Mary’s Meekness.  She does not fight, does not blame, does not strive – she only inherits.  Meekness does not grasp, but trusts in the Father to provide.  “Whatever he says”: we receive everything as total gift, trusting that he will not leave us orphans.  And he gives her the earth – not just pie in the sky, Jesus provides wine, here and now, for this celebration, of this marriage.  He cares for the meek on the earth – and her meekness binds her to him even more.

Consider her Hunger and Thirst for Justice.  Justice doesn’t mean punishment or vengeance.  It means things should be right.  The poor couple!  This isn’t right, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be!  At Cana, Mary doesn’t only long for heaven, she longs for things to be right here on earth (and so glimpses the true heavenly city, where all is right).  She thirsts not for the wine, but for the blessing of their wedding, the celebration as it should be.  And Jesus always satisfies.  How that love of Justice makes her love him all the more.

Consider her Mercy.  Misericordia: it is a heart for misery, a feeling of others’ pain.  In Greek we say Eleison, connected to begging for alms, eleemosyne.  She feels for them; her heart is totally united to their disappointment when their wedding feast isn’t as it should be.  She begs for them.  And mercy is hers!  When she feels mercy for them, she feels even deeper the merciful heart of Jesus.

Consider her Purity of Heart.  There is nothing selfish here.  Nothing worldly, either.  What a wonderful mystery, the wedding feast at Cana: there is nothing impure about weddings, nothing impure about feasts, nothing impure about good wine.  It is all the gift of the Creator.  Our hearts are impure, and so we experience all these impurely, to be sure.  But the pure hearts, Jesus and Mary – in these goods things they see only God, the giver of good.  Purity of heart does not hate the world, it just loves God – and loves Jesus, the God who enters into the world, with blessings!

And consider how she Makes Peace.  Fascinating: there is no war here.  To the contrary, what is happening in a wedding, and in a feast, is a union of hearts.  The true peacemaker goes far beyond disarming combatants, or putting them in separate corners.  The true peacemaker makes a banquet, celebrates real fraternity, real, deep union.  Daughter of God, Mary witnesses God as the Father who makes union among his children.

And so she sees the real heart of Jesus, the adorable, wonderful, peacemaking Jesus, the Bridegroom who brings joy to every wedding and every feast, here and in eternity.

How could you contemplate the loving heart of Jesus today?