At first blush, today’s readings may seem unrelated, except for the reference to marriage at the end of the passage from Isaiah and the wedding context of Jesus’ first public miracle in the Gospel of John. It is the reading from First Corinthians that stands out as exceptional. That
great epistle has not been the source of a Sunday reading for months. Looking closely, it is not hard to see in this beautiful passage a link between the anticipated fulfillment of the promise of deliverance in Isaiah or the wonderful and unexpected gratuity of God’s favor in the story of the wedding feast at Cana.
There’s more than a hint in it of the action of the Holy Spirit, who despite the great variety of gifts and manifestations, assures and achieves the unity of all believers. “The particular way in which the spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose,” Paul writes. More: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
…varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
…varieties of service, but the same Lord;
…varieties of working, but the same God inspiring them in everyone.
All inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as God wills.
Paul’s emphasis, of course, is on preserving unity despite the tendency towards factionalism and competition that seem inevitably to arise out of differences. Witness the American and English political situations, and many others as well. Or even divisions and rivalries in the Church itself.
There’s a subtle point here that is all the more pertinent as the people of this country and elsewhere tomorrow celebrate the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr. For differences are not only good, but God-given. God loves unity but loves diversity even more! But diversity does not mean division. God also loves abundance — there’s no such thing as divine stinginess.
Getting back to the wedding feast at Cana, there are two points that many people miss in the story. The second has to do with abundance. The first is that Jesus was not being rude to his mother. Any elementary Greek student could tell you that there is one and only one way to translate what Jesus says to Mary when she tells him “they have no more wine.” Ti emoi kai soi — “what’s that to me and you?” And then he shows her, us, and the world, by going on to break the divine secret, revealing himself ahead of schedule out of obedience and compassion. And in no mean way!
By my count, it takes about 4 pounds of grapes to make a bottle of wine. The six water jars held about 120 gallons of wine, which translates to 1440 pounds of grapes, probably the better part of the village harvest that year. Put another way, at 750 ml a bottle, it would equal about 360 bottles or 30 cases of fine wine. As any father who ever paid for the champagne at his daughter’s wedding will testify, that’s some gift!
And so it is with the gifts distributed in the Church. They are measured not by our need or desire, but by the manifestation of God’s care, providence, and goodness. Each reveals a facet of the infinite glory of God. And God pours them out, often in great abundance even to one individual — certainly the case with Dr. King.
At Cana, Jesus could no more help turning the water into wine than he could help loving his mother or being present to friends in need. And faced with human need, desperation, injustice, and oppression, Martin Luther King, Jr., could not turn away. Out of love and obedience he poured out his whole life.
One Saturday night in the midst of the historic 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, King was near despair. He could have been a highly paid and respected professor in a northern seminary. But he had chosen to work with the poor and oppressed in the heart of the most racially segregated area of the country. And now, everything seemed to be failing, and his career was in tatters. But as he prayed at the kitchen table that night, he felt God’s presence and heard the same promise: I will be there, I will support you, I will give you the strength.
King was a good scholar and knew his bible well enough to realize that probably meant he would wind up like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul: an exile, opposed, slandered, hunted, imprisoned, beaten, and ultimately killed in a far-off place. But he, too, said yes.
Ultimately, it may be the water in the jars that offers us the best paradigm of witness. It was made a sacrament of God’s presence by becoming what it could never have been by just being there. Like Moses, like Jesus, like Paul, and like Martin Luther King, Jr., it was given the opportunity to change, to grow great, to manifest the loving abundance of God’s mercy and justice, and it said yes the only way it could. So may we all.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Peace Prize address, 1964.