Like It Matters

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 2
January 16, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: The first sign Jesus performed in the Gospel of John is invisible. Only the servants whom no one is paying attention to really see what Jesus is about. What's this to you and me? Well, maybe God doesn't have to call our attention to every divine action in our lives, but rest assured, God is involved, God is among us and God cares not only that we find a way through troubles, but that we enjoy ourselves on occasion as well.

Nowadays it's not unusual to read about a 70th wedding anniversary. Thanks to antibiotics, vaccines, improved health and the fact that childbirth is no longer a fatal condition for both infant and mother, the average lifespan has lengthened dramatically. Women and men who married in their late teens or early twenties who make it to their late eighties or early nineties stand a good chance of celebrating seven decades together.

The average lifespan of an infant girl born today is 80.5 years. The average lifespan of a male born today is 77.8. That means, of course, that some will not live as long, and that many will live a lot longer.1

Contrast that with the Holy Land 2,000 years ago. Now no one kept statistics during the time of Jesus like we do now, but the best estimate of the average lifespan back then was 30 to 35 years. Some lived a whole lot longer - like when we read that Anna, who took delight in the infant Jesus when he was presented in the temple, was at least 84 years old.2 But for the most part people didn't live nearly as long as us.

Thus, a 20th anniversary might have been a much rarer event back then. All the same, I was recently trying to imagine the couple whose marriage feast was saved by the first miracle, or sign, performed by Jesus in this story from the Gospel of John, and what they thought about that day looking back.

We don't know much about the wedding customs of that day. When Jesus told the parable of the bridesmaids, half of whom were ready for the groom's arrival, and the other half who failed to keep their lamps trimmed and burning, no one is sure if he was describing a local or a universal custom.3

Why didn't John describe the wedding ceremony in Cana? Well, why would you waste time describing what everyone already knows, any more than you would spend five pages in a modern novel describing how you flip a switch to turn on the light?

The out-of-sight miracle

One thing we do know: Marriage was not a private affair involving two people so much as a public celebration that lasted a week. Everyone came. Everyone ate and drank constantly. (Remember, wine was often a safer drink than water in those days.) To run out of wine would have been a disaster.

But I wonder if the bride and groom knew how close their wedding party came to such a disaster, which would have covered them and their families with shame.

After all, this feels like an invisible miracle. Jesus is not the star of the show. People were there for the wedding, not him. Besides, he was not yet the celebrity he would become later in the Gospel. He had not yet performed a public act or a public pronouncement.

Nor does it sound like everyone crowded around while Jesus turned water into wine. No one involved in the wedding asked him to save the day. For some reason Mary, the mother of Jesus, becomes aware of this looming full-blown disaster and tells Jesus bluntly "They have no wine." Despite the fact Jesus answers her bluntly, even rudely, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?" (The Greek is only five words: Ti emoi kai soi, gune? ") she directs the servants working for the steward of the wedding feast, "Do whatever he tells you."4 And according to the text, neither the steward nor the bridegroom (nor the bride, we assume) even know this is going on.

This leads to the astounding conclusion that this miracle, the first Jesus performed in the Gospel of John, occurred out of the sight and understanding of all those who enjoyed the wine, including the steward, the bridegroom and the bride.

Why is this important? Because in the Gospel of John, the miracles are called signs, as in road signs that point the way to Jesus. In the other signs there is dialog where Jesus makes it clear what happened and why. But what good is a sign that no one sees, even if everyone benefits from it? What does this tell us about the Word Made Flesh?

A sign of what?

What kind of sign is this, then? What do we learn about Jesus? Well, another characteristic of the Gospel of John is that Jesus makes "I am" statements that tell us who he is. As in "I am the bread of life,"5 "I am the way, the truth, and the life,"6 and so on.

So, let's try some I am statements to go with the wedding story:

In no other gospel is the divinity of Jesus made so clear, from the opening poem about the Word made flesh who dwelt among us to the proclamations of Martha ("I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one coming into the world.")7 and Thomas ("My Lord and my God!")8

But in addition to making Jesus' divinity clear, John also shows his humanity clearly, as through the tenderness Jesus offers to Mary Magdalene in the garden, the tears he sheds over Lazarus and the kindness he extends to the ostracized Samaritan woman at the well.

Ah yes, I remember it well �

Imagine this scene: It's 20 years later, and the couple are married there in Cana, still together and well. One day, the wife turns to her husband and says, "Did you know that Jesus?"

"Jesus?" her husband replies, "The one whose followers are turning the world upside down? What about him?"

"He was at our wedding," she says. "Did you know that?"

"Well, no," he says. "Why was he there, and how come I don't remember?"

"His mother was related to one of your cousins by marriage, I think."

"What brought this on?" the husband asks.

"Well, I was talking to old Deborah who was a servant in your parents' household forever, and she brought up the wedding, and told me that Jesus saved the day."

"How did he do that?"

"Evidently we ran out of wine."

"No, we didn't. We had plenty of wine. As a matter of fact, the steward asked me why we'd saved the best wine for later and I said, 'You're the one in charge. You tell me!'"

"Well, according to Deborah, we ran out of wine and this Jesus turned several stone jars of water into wine. And the wedding was saved."

"Really?" he says. "I wonder why she didn't tell us 20 years ago?"

"Well," his wife said, "I asked her that. She said at first they were all too busy, and later, well, you know your mother."

The bridegroom started to laugh.

"Why are you laughing?" his wife asks.

"Oh, just thinking about my mother if she'd heard we almost ran out of wine. How did she fail to notice? She had her nose in every single detail."

"Oh, they kept it from her, bless her heart."

After a silence he said, "It was the best wine, wasn't it? I don't think we've ever had anything like it."

A real sign

When Jesus said bluntly to his mother, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?" he was, in effect, saying, "Like it matters?" And she challenged Jesus to treat this ordinary wedding like it mattered!

I invite you to think about some of your "best wine" experiences - ones that seemed to have nothing to do with church or prayer or anything directly to do with Jesus. Maybe a little disaster was averted. Things just came together, almost as if by a - dare I say it - miracle?

Or maybe, just maybe, it was a sign that the great I AM is always present with us, whether we know it or not, whether we offer up thanksgiving or not.

So remember God can be active in our lives without having to call attention to everything the divine is doing.

Because it matters. Because we matter.