Ps 96 R/. Declare the marvellous works of the Lord among all the peoples.
1 Cor 12:4-11
After a short theological introduction, the Gospel of John recounts the first week of Jesus’ public life. On each day, we encounter a different testimony about Jesus: first, it was John the Baptist (twice), then Andrew, then Philip and Nathanael, and then, three days later, Jesus Himself. The first week begins with anonymity and ends with a Marriage feast on the seventh day. This is no accident! John purposefully structured it this way to say something profound about who Jesus is and what He’s here to do.
And John also filled this Marriage scene with a lot of symbolism. In fact, there is so much symbolism here that it’s impossible for me to cover it all even in a long homily, so I’ll spare you that and focus on just a few key points.
Now, the Marriage feast Jesus is attending isn’t just a setting during in which John tells a story about a miracle. It’s actually the reverse: the Marriage feast is the story! And the miracle serves to point to the nature of this feast.
You see, John begins his Gospel with the Wedding Feast at Cana and ends his Book of Revelation with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (cf. Rev 19:7). In doing so, he frames the relationship of Christ and His Church in a marital context, and he presents the Kingdom of God as a wedding feast. At Cana, John isn’t merely telling us that Jesus and His mother and disciples attended a banquet. No, he’s using an image that we understand to teach us about God’s plan for humanity: we’re to be united with Him as in a Marriage, and when this union is fulfilled — when Christ returns in glory—, our life with and in God will be like a Marriage feast. This isn’t a new image: we find it in the Song of Songs, the Psalms, and in Isaiah, as we heard in the first reading: …as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder shall marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Is 62:5).
Now in the Jewish tradition, a Marriage was celebrated by seven days of feasting. This required a lot of supplies, so you can imagine that when the wine ran out, it would’ve been embarrassing. It meant they hadn’t planned properly or perhaps that they were too poor to supply adequately for their guests. Either way, it would’ve been a moment of shame for the host and the newlyweds: shame when there should be rejoicing.
Well, isn’t this much like our own condition? We, the crown of God’s creation, are insufficient for our own fulfilment. In itself, humanity can’t reach the goal for which God created it: we’re incapable of uniting ourselves to God. Our sinfulness has emptied us dry; our fallen human nature is inadequate to supply for the feast of the Kingdom. This is what Mary brought to Jesus’ attention: they have no wine (Jn 2:3).
Now, water can be seen here as a symbol of human nature: in itself, it’s good and it brings us life, but it’s not enough to satisfy us; it leaves us empty. We see this ever more clearly as society becomes more and more secular. Humanity is finite: we’re mortal, and left to ourselves we have no hope, no joy in this life, only pleasure and distraction.
There’s a wonderful scene in the movie Babette’s Feast where we see this quite clearly. Babette, a Catholic, had put on a banquet of the finest French cuisine for about a dozen people. The guests, who were Protestant Puritans, attended reluctantly but decided they shouldn’t enjoy these ‘pleasures of the flesh’. Having had only wine with the meal, they were relieved to see water served before the last course. Now in this particular scene, we see one of the women eagerly sip from her water only to find, with great displeasure, that it’s flavourless and unsatisfying, so she promptly puts down the water and takes up her glass of wine with a smile.
With Cana, John reminds us that our fallen nature is bland and unsatisfying; we need God in order to be fulfilled, to be joyful, to have ‘flavour’ (cf. Mt 5:13). And this is what Jesus does. In these eleven verses, John manages to summarise the Incarnation: Christ has come to fulfill humanity. The Catechism says,
The sign of water turned into wine … announces the Hour of Jesus’ glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ (CCC 1335).
And so, through this passage, John also begins his teaching on the Eucharist. He tells us that Jesus didn’t just give them wine, but that He gave them the best wine, and lots of it! You see, Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10), and John teaches us that it’s through the Eucharist that Jesus gives us this gift of abundant life: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53).
By receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace and by spending time in Adoration, we acknowledge that our wine has run out, and that we need Jesus’ help. Through His grace, the water of our human frailty is changed into the wine of the Kingdom, and our lives are transformed into a sign of God’s glory, so that His love might be revealed in and through us and that others might come to believe in Him. Because, just as the new wine at Cana was shared with all present, so too is the new wine of our life in Christ to be shared with the world. This is our mission; this is how we build the Kingdom of God. May Jesus turn our water into wine so that His glory may be revealed in us. Amen.