At first glance, today’s readings seem to have little if any connection. The gospel account of the wedding feast at Cana continues the celebrations of the Epiphany, for it was traditionally commemorated on that occasion with the visit of the Magi and Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan – celebrations extended into the following weeks – all manifestations of the coming of the Savior of the World.
The story of the wedding feast at Cana appears nowhere else in the New Testament. It is completely unknown to
the synoptic tradition, but there may be reason to accord it historical significance because one of the central figures is associated in the Gospel of John in importantly distinctive ways: Jesus’ mother. The Beloved Disciple knew her well, as we learn from a later, and much sadder moment in their lives – the crucifixion of her son [John 19:26-27].
Here, however, we find the first of Jesus’ miracles according to the gospel of John at a party, a wedding feast attended by Jesus and his disciples, perhaps unannounced, and his mom, who seems to have been a significant guest, most likely well-known to the families. When the wine runs out, she is the first to learn of it and turns to her son. After some hesitation, Jesus does what he’s told to do by his mom. Amazingly so.
“Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons” [John 2:6].
At 25 gallons per jar, according to modern standards, 150 gallons would equal about one and a half bathtubs full or 750 bottles of choice red wine. That would come to roughly 3000 glasses of wine or, for a party of 100 guests, about 30 glasses apiece. As Palestinian wedding feasts could last up to three or four days, that would not be an astronomical number, but is a considerable amount, given that the bridegroom had already provided wine for his guests and had run out, possibly because of the extra guests invited by Jesus’ mother. We can assume that she was well known to the bride and groom and may have been sufficiently in charge to tell the servants what to do.
In any case, the additional wine was not only a surprise but a shockingly good vintage. Between them, Jesus and his mom had spared the young couple and their families considerable embarrassment and gave a wonderful demonstration that God loves abundance. It was a fitting start to a mission of grace and generosity. And, it should be added, anonymous generosity.
Perhaps the other readings are not so unrelated at it seems. There is an obvious link in the culminating verse of the reading from Isaiah. But the significance of this passage lies much more deeply embedded in the joyful promise by a gracious God:
“Nations shall behold your vindication, and all kings your glory;
You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall men 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.
As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you;
And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you” [Isaiah 62:2-5].
Graciousness and abundance — a theme amplified by St. Paul in his letter to the Christian in Corinth. After listing a number of the gifts bestowed on the infant church in its members, he sums it up in a brief observation: “it is one and the same Spirit who produces all these gifts, distributing them to each as he will” [1 Cor 12:11].
Tomorrow citizens of the United States and many more throughout the world will mark the birthday of one of the most gifted of ministers of modern times, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. This celebration should be the occasion of some deep soul-searching at this time in our nation’s history, when the freedom, inclusion, and equal justice he dreamed of and fought for seem to be once more in peril not so much by external enemies as from within. Whether because of the ravages of poverty and unequal access to medical aid in the midst of a global pandemic, or because of the perceived threat to powerful interests, people of color and other minorities have become targets of suppression not seen in this country for generations.
The challenge of Isaiah could well have been uttered by King himself and once again bears significantly on the future of freedom and justice everywhere:
“…I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch” [Is 62:1].
May the witness of Dr. King help lead us to confront the threats to full and unfettered participation in our collective efforts to secure the common good and lead to a greater resolve “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth” [Abraham Lincoln].