Fresco of The Wedding at Cana. Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

‘Do Whatever He Tells You’

Reflections on the Wedding Feast at Cana

0

The Gospel of John is divided into two parts. The first part (Jn 1-12) is called the “book of signs.” The second part (Jn 13-21) is called the “book of glory.” The first part is structured around seven signs, each of which reveals something about God manifested in the words and deeds of Jesus.

Here are the seven signs embedded in John 1-12:

1. Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 — “the first of the signs.”

2. Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54.

3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15.

4. Feeding the 5,000 in John 6:5-14.

5. Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-21.

6. Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7.

7. The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-44.

For the Gospel of John, a sign is a miracle that points beyond itself. In the synoptic Gospels, miracles are about the mediation of power. In John’s Gospel, signs point to something beyond the power. They point to the source of the power, God working through Jesus. Significantly, John inaugurates the ministry of Jesus with this particular sign: the wedding feast at Cana.

From this sign will flow the meaning of the remaining signs as they reveal the mystery of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. At the end of each sign, we are informed about the response of those who witnessed it. We discover very realistically that some are convinced and believe in Jesus while at other times there is skepticism and rejection. As for the wedding feast at Cana, it is the beginning of Jesus’ signs, which will reveal his glory and thus lead to his disciples’ believing in him.

The Discourse

The setting for this story is a wedding feast in the small town of Cana. The first person mentioned as being in attendance at this feast is the mother of Jesus (John’s Gospel never calls her Mary). Almost as an aside, we are told that Jesus and his disciples were also invited to this event. We do not know how long this party had been going on, but seven days was not unusual for wedding festivities.

However long it had been underway, a serious problem emerged when the wine ran short. That was never supposed to happen at a wedding feast. The headwaiter was supposed to carefully monitor all this. Failure to do so would lead to serious embarrassment for everyone involved.

The mother of Jesus is the first one to observe that the wine had run short. We are given no details regarding how she knew this. In an almost casual manner, she remarks to Jesus, “They have no wine.”

This comment is in the same vein as when my mom would say to me, “The trash is full.” That was not a command, but I clearly understood what she meant.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Signs of the Kingdom

“The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him. To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask. So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.”

— Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 548

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Jesus too realizes that his mother’s comment is more than mere observation. Nevertheless, his response to her comment is somewhat shocking, or at least startling: “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” The Greek text literally says, “What to me and to you, woman?” (ti emoi kai soi, gunai). The meaning of this phrase continues to be debated by biblical scholars. In addition, Jesus added the following phrase to his comment: “My hour has not yet come.” What are we to make of this strange exchange of words between Jesus and his mother?

The fact that Jesus refers to his mother as “woman” strikes many as strange. Some find it to be derogatory. But while the word woman is neither rude nor hostile, it does create a distance between Jesus and his mother by playing down their familiar relationship. Some translations attempt to soften this response by translating the Greek gunai as “mother.” That is clearly incorrect. The motivation for Jesus’ response to his mother is the fact that his “hour” has not yet come.

Throughout John’s Gospel the word hour signifies the time of Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. The hour is the final glorification and exultation achieved by Jesus through his being lifted up on the cross. The hour is the final goal of Jesus’ life on earth. The time for Jesus’ hour to be fulfilled is to be determined only by God. Jesus will not allow anyone else to exercise that power over him, not even his mother.

The mother of Jesus makes no reply directly to Jesus regarding what he has just said to her. She does not take his words as a personal rebuff. She seems to ignore them altogether. Instead, she addresses the servers present at the wedding feast with the words, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The First Sign

How are these words to be understood? What the mother of Jesus says here is at least as interesting as what Jesus himself said. Keep in mind that she has no more information regarding what Jesus might do than we do. He has not yet done any of his signs, which means that he has not yet publicly revealed anything about himself. Her belief that Jesus can and will do something is not based on anything she has thus far seen him do.

Remember, this is his first sign. Think of the mother of Jesus as occupying a mediating position between Jesus and the disciples This mixture of incomprehension and compliance is surely part of the meaning of the story. Without knowing any of the details, the mother of Jesus clearly believes he can make a difference if he wants. And she is right.

Everything now depends on whether or not the servers obey the command issued by Jesus’ mother, “Do whatever he tells you.” The miracle itself begins with a description of six stone water jars having the capacity to hold 20 to 30 gallons each.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

POPE FRANCIS RECALLS THE WEDDING FEAST

“It is Our Lady who became aware of the problem and discretely brought it to Jesus’ attention. And he intervened without fanfare, almost without being noticed. Everything took place with discretion, everything took place ‘behind the scenes’ — Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water, which became wine. This is how God acts: with closeness and with discretion.”

— Angelus address, Jan. 16, 2022

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Stone jars were used for Jewish ritual cleansings since stone was understood to be free from ritual impurity. Purification rituals included the washing of hands, feet, eating utensils, cups, plates and pots of all kinds. Notice how everything about this description is overdrawn.

Jesus walking on the sea
Jesus Christ walking on the sea. Tony Baggett/AdobeStock

Everything points to extravagance. Jesus instructs the servers to fill the stone jars with water and then draw some out and take it to the headwaiter. In between the filling of the jars with water and taking some of it to the headwaiter an extravagant miracle took place. The water has been transformed into choice wine, and we have no idea how this happened. The miracle is never described. The headwaiter has no idea what has happened, except somehow this choice wine, which should have been served first, was being served last.

Literally, new wine has been created in old vessels of the Jewish purification rites. Symbolically, the old forms are given a new content. This is not a rejection of Judaism. Instead, it is the creation of something new in Judaism.

In the Old Testament, an abundance of good wine is an eschatological symbol. It is a sign of a joyous arrival of God’s new age (cf. Am 9:13-14; Jl 4:18). This is a miracle of abundance, extravagance, transformation and new possibilities. All of this is a sign pointing to Jesus’ glory.

Wise interpreters will not attempt to have this miracle make sense. The fundamental purpose of a miracle is to remind us that we do not know how the things of God really work. This is, even more, the case with the signs of John’s Gospel. There is a big distance between certainty and faith.

A Mother’s Instruction

Let us return once again to those haunting words of the mother of Jesus, which she directed to the servers at the wedding feast: “Do whatever he tells you.” The mother’s instruction that the servers do whatever Jesus tells them was followed to perfection. The importance of accepting the word of Jesus is a theme that runs throughout the entire Gospel of John.

The mother of Jesus is portrayed here as having unconditional faith in the word of her son. That unconditional faith initiated a series of events that led to the revelation of the glory of God. What Jesus said was done and his glory was manifested as a consequence of an unconditional acceptance of his word. Doing whatever Jesus commands is for the fourth Evangelist the essence of discipleship.

Having looked at the key elements of the wedding feast at Cana, we are faced with a question similar to the one Jesus addressed to his mother. What does all this have to do with us?

We understand that the result of this miraculous sign of turning gallons of water into choice wine is the manifestation of the glory of Jesus and the faith of the disciples who thus began to believe in him. However, the model for us in this story is not Jesus himself. The real model for us and all believers is the mother of Jesus.

When she instructs the servers to “do whatever he tells you,” she has no idea what Jesus might do or say. Nevertheless, she clearly shows her openness to trust in “whatever” the word of Jesus requires. Her confident command depends entirely upon a yet-to-be verified trust in the word of her son.

Application to Priests

Jesus and Lazarus
Jesus Christ and Lazarus. ruskpp/AdobeStock

Those of us called to serve the Church as priests are faced daily with pastoral issues for which there are no simple answers. Metaphorically we hear that voice saying, “They have no wine.”

The future is not clear. Pope Francis continues to call us to accountability and to deepen our sense of discipleship. But how are we to do that? If we were to bring that challenge to the mother of Jesus, I suspect she would say the same thing to us that she said to those servers at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Listen carefully to his word and then do it. This means, of course, that we have to be willing to listen broadly and deeply. We do not know what that word might be just as the mother of Jesus did not know. It might not come from the people or places of our preference. And we might never know how that word appeared, just as the headwaiter did not know how the choice wine suddenly appeared in abundance. Nevertheless, discipleship today requires what it did at the time of Jesus. We are to do whatever he tells us.

FATHER EUGENE HENSELL, OSB, is a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana, and an associate professor of Scripture at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Listen and Follow

In his message for the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations on May 11, 2014, Pope Francis said: “I invite you to listen to and follow Jesus, and to allow yourselves to be transformed interiorly by his words, which ‘are spirit and life’ (Jn 6:62). Mary, the Mother of Jesus and ours, also says to us, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5). It will help you to participate in a communal journey that is able to release the best energies in you and around you. A vocation is a fruit that ripens in a well-cultivated field of mutual love that becomes mutual service, in the context of an authentic ecclesial life. No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people, in the experience of fraternal love. Did not Jesus say, ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (Jn 13:35)?”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe now.
Send feedback to us at PriestFeedback@osv.com