THE WEDDING FEAST OF CANA
To understand fully this evangelical episode, we must place it in its proper geographical and historical set up.
We are then at the very beginning of Jesus’ public life.
At the age of 30, Jesus definitively leaves the paternal home of Nazareth, in Galilee. He leaves Mary, his mother, who is a widow. For her, it is truly solitude…
He goes down to Judea, on the banks of the Jordan, where he receives the Baptism from John the Baptist.
Then, he goes and fasts for 40 days in the desert.
The following day, he receives his first three disciples: John, Andrew, and his brother Peter.
The day after, Jesus welcomes two more disciples: Philip, who comes from Bethsaida (as do also Andrew and Peter), and Nathanael, from the small town of Cana. (Jn 21, 2)
Most likely, it is Nathanael who came down to Judea to invite Jesus and his new disciples to attend the wedding feast at Cana, and at the same time to make his acquaintance, as Philip had talked to him about Jesus. Although, this invitation, originally, might have come from Mary herself, and Nathanael would have only passed it on to Jesus, on her behalf. Very likely she was anxious to see him again.
Why do I say this?
Red the text attentively: Jesus was invited to the Wedding Feast in Cana, – but Mary was there. So Mary was not invited: she was there.
How did she find herself there?
To understand her presence at Cana, we must consider the Jewish customs at the time.
First of all, the wedding feast used to last about one week. All the passers-by were able to go and bring their wishes to the newly-wed, because the doors of the houses were open to all…, – which is what explains that, at the end of the week, the wine might come to run out…
It was the custom that all women, spinsters and friends of the married couple, came to give a hand, at least one week ahead, to prepare the wedding banquet.
As the small town of Nazareth – hardly a score of families in Jesus’ days – was at a distance of ten miles or so from Cana, it is highly plausible that Mary had gone to her friends to help with the cooking, prepare the feast and serve at the tables.
One understands better, then, how Mary – who was helping in the kitchen – could have known that the wine had run out.
One understands better as well her very great influence over the servants with whom she had worked to prepare the feast – what wouldn’t one do for her? – when she asked them for a heroic act of faith, telling them: “Do whatever my son tells you…”
In fact, Jesus asks the servants to fill up six great stone jars, each containing about 20 gallons!
Try and put yourself in the servants’ place… There was no running water or aqueducts at the time. The public well, very likely was far from the house. They were nearing the last days of the feast, since there was no more wine. Surely, the servants were tired and they were in no mood for any joke. What is all this about? There is no more wine, and he asks us to fill these heavy jars with water?
Let’s not forget that Jesus had not performed any miracle so far, since this will be his first one.
What would we have done in their place?
Perhaps we would have agreed to fill up one of the jars to half its capacity, waiting to see the results.
In fact, the first miracle has taken place in the hearts of the servants. Very likely in order to please Mary who had asked them to do so…they filled up the six jars to the brim!
What precious treasure they would have lost, had they limited their work.
Of how many favours are we depriving ourselves as well when we put and break on our generosity, on our dedication to the service of God and of our neighbour?
The servants only had water to pour in, but their poverty was precisely going to bring to light God’s infinite riches.
As we were saying in the beginning, Mary had been completely alone since Jesus had started on his own public life…that was about three months ago. How anxious she must have been to see him again, – after having been near him for 30 years! And how happy she must have been to see him again with several disciples, all of them full of enthusiasm and happiness, when they met at the wedding feast! It was the joy of the reunion she had so wished for.
Some people will find surprising that Mary got worried about the wine – not in order to ration the guests, telling them “not to drink so much,” but rather so that the wine might continue to flow abundantly.
And Jesus, for his part, presents the newly-wed, in his own name and in the name of his disciples, six great jars – 20 gallons each of them that are 120 gallons of a delicious wine. What a wedding present! Of course, one does not attend a wedding without bringing along one’s own gift.
Grumpy people, as were the Pharisees of those days like those of today, probably asked themselves:
- Is this serious on the part of the Messiah?
- Is this his place? His role?
And they must have looked scandalized. Others will think: let’s not mix up things: religion belongs to the church and wine to the wedding feast.
Well, it is not so. God is not a spoil-feast, no more than joyous feast is a spoil religion.
There is not, on one side, nature with all good things and the joys it provides – its wine, its wedding feasts, and on the other side, grace with its fasts, prayers and penances, and between the two: man, pulled from both sides…washing his feasts in the confessional, and drowning his confessions in the wine of the feast.
It is the same God who has created the world and its joys, man and his heart, the soul and the body, marriage and its pleasures, the Church and its sacraments.
One pays homage to God through praying and through fasting. One pays him equally homage through eating and drinking with gratefulness and in the joy of thanksgiving.
God has created good things for us to enjoy them, together us in joy, to unite us in sharing, and the entire better if it is among the music, the sunshine and the songs. This gives us a foretaste of heaven.
All the joy in man delights God’s heart. He would like the joy to be contagious, and he would not like anybody to be left outside, lonely and sad while others enjoy themselves.
If Jesus raves about the rich, it is not because they feast splendidly every day, it is because they leave poor Lazarus outside their circle of abundance and of rejoicing.
The first lesson Jesus give his newly-recruited disciples consists in throwing them among a crowd of men, in the joy of the wedding feast, where the good wine is shared between all. If he wants them to be as he is himself, hard at work and courageous to preach the Gospel, – even to the point of shedding their blood – he first wants them open to life and merry companions.
Because he came to save everything: the earth, and not only heaven, youth and beauty, and not only disgrace and decrepitude: married people and not only priests and religious… He came to save everything and would like to already see Paradise everywhere.
It is the Church’s task; it is our task as Christians to bring Paradise all around us to sow joy everywhere.
We must continue to hear these words of Mary’s to the servants:
“Do all my son tells you…”
Then Jesus tells us what, when facing a neighbour’s distress, or an old person’s isolation, or the discouragement of an unemployed, or the hunger of so many poor people.
He tells us: “They have nobody to help them. They have no health left. They have no more work. They have no more bread.”
Let’s listen to the Lord today, and let’s do all he tells us.
This is the miracle of Cana: when a man refuses to be happy on his own.
* * * * *