Sunday, January 17, 2016

the wedding feast at Cana and the humanity of our Lord

May I speak in the name of the Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

Today our Gospel tells us of our Lord's visit to the Wedding Feast in Cana. We may imagine it taking place on a fine day in late spring or early summer. I say this because we know that our Lord began his ministry shortly after he turned 30; and we have good reason to believe the accuracy of the traditional dating of his birthday to late December. His visit to Cana takes place after his baptism by John and therefore also after his time of prayer and fasting and temptation in the wilderness. So we must be talking about some months later. And as wedding parties took place our of doors in that culture, even though the weather in winter in that area is not as cold as it would be here, it is reasonable to suppose that the time of late spring or early summer, when it was warmer but not the blazing heat of summer in that region, would have been seen as the ideal time for a wedding.
St John tells us that this was the first of our Lord's great signs – miracles that displayed his divine power and authority. But we can also see in it some great examples of the humanity of Jesus – something that is important, because we must ever keep before our minds that even as he was fully God he was also fully man.

And what beautifully ordinary things we see him engaged in on this occasion. He is there with his followers – in other words a young man has gone to a wedding with his friends. His mother is there also; so most likely this is some kind of a family occasion, where the bride or groom or possibly even both are some distant relation of his. This is a family event. And as all young men do on such occasions, our Lord is enjoying himself – eating the delicious food, partaking of the wine, conversing happily with friends and family, and no doubt dancing – but in a very appropriate fashion! There were none of your modern slow sets in those days!

But then his mother comes to him: they have no wine, she tells him. We can easily guess what has happened. If these are relatives of our Lord, then they are also a poor family. But they have been so generous in their joy on such an occasion that they have invited more people than they can hope to cater for … all the aunts, cousins, friends, neighbours for miles around are there … even those with only a slight acquaintance, such as the new friends Jesus made while at the Jordan have been made welcome. Too many! And they have run out of wine – the party is over; and all will see the poverty of this family on display. How embarrassing for them; and such a shame for the happy day to end in such a way … and perhaps be the first thing to be remembered by all there when they look back on this day.

And so his blessed mother goes to our Lord. His response might to our ears sound a bit curt, disrespectful almost: 'Woman, what concern is that to you and me?' Who calls their mother 'woman'? But we must remember we are reading the translation of a translation – from his spoken Aramaic to St John's Greek to our own English; and we must remember the very different cultural context in which he spoke her. In fact, his term of address shows the greatest respect and tenderness; it would be as if he were to call her 'my lady' in a more courtly age. Indeed, the echo of his words to his mother at the foot of the cross 'woman, behold your son' assures us that this is no brusque form of address. And consider how the response of 'my lady, what concern is that to you and me?' also serves in a sense to place them in a position of equality … which is courtesy indeed; for even though she is his mother he is God and they are not equal; for however great she is as the Mother of God, she remains infinitesimally less than God himself. But still, he calls her my lady and treats her with the courtesy due to an equal; thus displaying the full humanity of our Lord, and how he is indeed the perfect man. For we know that ordinary men, in their fallen state, may treat their parents with disrespect; but the ideal man never will … and Jesus is that ideal man. And, of course, that is not the totality of his reply. For he goes on to say 'My hour has not yet come.' There is a good reason for question he has responded to her with.

But we must also note that his response is not a refusal to act or a dismissal of her concerns; and his mother does not take it as such.

Instead she instructs the servants to 'do whatever he tells you.' And as we all know the day is saved. And again this is a beautiful insight into the full humanity of our Lord; he may be God, but he is also the son of Mary. And no good son takes the reasonable requests of his mother lightly. It is particularly beautiful how our Lord uses the prompting of his mother and the opportunity the occasion presents to perform his first great sign and to bring blessing upon blessing upon the special day of a couple who are doing as God commanded from the first and becoming one flesh in holy matrimony. How lovely that our Lord cares about such a seemingly simple and so very human thing as a family wedding to intervene to make sure the day is not spoiled.

But even as we marvel at the humanity shown by our Lord on this occasion, neither can we lose sight of the divinity. For that is the reason that his mother bring the matter to his attention – she the one who we have heard so often said during the readings leading up to Christmas and during it saw and heard so many wondrous things and pondered them in her heart – knowing that he could help, because she knew that he was not only her son, but also the Son of God. That is why she could say with confidence to the servants: 'do whatever he tells you.' And this is why we must also listen to the words she spoke that day as if she stood before us know and spoke them to each and everyone of us individually … and do whatever it is that he tell us. Amen

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