January 20, 2019
SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Jerusalem like a bride
Ps 96:1-3. 7-10
Sing to the Lord a new song
1 Cor 12:4-11
Many gifts but one Spirit
The wedding at Cana
In the daily readings we are already a week into the Ordinary Time of the church year. But now, the Sundays are in step with the season as well. The baptism of Jesus was the first Sunday. The second Sunday brings us into the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee in the Gospels.
We return to the pattern of Ordinary Time. In the special seasons, the readings were tailored to the occasion. Now we follow the Gospel narrative, with an Old Testament reading to match it. Meanwhile, as with the Gospel, we progress through a letter of Paul in the New Testament reading.
At this time, the letter is I Corinthians. This letter begins every year, but with different parts selected. We are beginning the C Cycle, so it is the final section of the letter, Chapters 12-15, that we will be reading for awhile. This will include the discussion of spiritual gifts, in Chapters 12-14, followed by Paul’s teaching on resurrection, in Chapter 15. Today we hear about the gifts of the Spirit.
The passage from Isaiah 62 is a paean of praise for Jerusalem. The original setting was the return of Israel from exile in Babylon. It may have been chosen for today’s celebration because of its image of Jerusalem as a bride, fitting for a Gospel reading about a wedding. For the prophet, the metaphor of a wedding is an appropriate image for the restoration of the city into God’s favor. During the exile it was destroyed and the site abandoned, as Babylon has moved the administrative center to Mizpah (Jer 40). But now it is restored.
The wedding at Cana is one of the more famous Bible stories. It is connected both to what has gone before and what follows. As to what precedes it, we have had the four days of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ gathering of his disciples. The story of Cana begins with “On the third day” (omitted in the liturgical reading). If we add the four days previous, we have seven days. This is consistent with the opening of the Gospel — “In the beginning” — announcing a new creation.
But the Cana event is also linked to what follows. It is the first of the “signs” in John’s Gospel. And in response to the request of his mother, Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come,” implying that this is not where he planned to start his ministry. But now this is the beginning.
A further indication is the pairing with the later Cana episode of John 4:46-52. Restoration of a royal official’s son back to health is identified as the second sign. These two events at Cana form a bracket around the early ministry of Jesus. In these early chapters, John shows Jesus replacing sacred places — the Jerusalem Temple (2:13-22) and the Samaritan site of Jacob’s well (4:21). And shortly the opposition to his efforts will emerge among the Pharisees and high priests.
The Catholic tradition of Marian devotion sees, in Mary’s persuasiveness in this story, a precedent for appealing to her advocacy. It is not clear why Mary insists that Jesus do something. Some commentators suggest that his appearance on the scene with a group of disciples overwhelmed the ability of the host to provide enough wine.
Others suggest that the wedding party is related to Mary and Jesus, which is why she knows about the shortage. Perhaps she has been working in the kitchen. In this view, the groom’s family underestimated the demand or simply lacked the necessary resources. Mary wishes to save them from embarrassment. In any case, Jesus is not particularly inclined to supply the missing service. Nevertheless, she persisted.
For reflection: The Cana miracle says different things to different people.
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.