Tomorrow it will be blue Monday. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but it is supposedly the most depressing day in the year. It is always the third Monday of January; the holidays are over, we’ve already failed our New Year’s resolutions and the summer break is far away. And like on every Monday, even the weekend seems to be ages ahead.
Fortunately, as Christians, we don’t have to despair in January because Christmas is past. We believe Christmas is not the end of Jesus coming to this earth, it is just the beginning. In this season of Epiphany – Epiphany being another word for manifestation or revelation – God is revealed and is made manifest to us through Jesus. Last week we saw how Jesus’ wisdom was shown while asking and answering the teachers in the temple, who were amazed by his understanding and answers. Today St. John reveals Jesus further to us by telling us his eye witness account of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana.
This first miracle is definitely one of the more spectacular ones. Jesus is invited to a wedding and decides to attend. At the wedding, the host runs out of wine, which is told to Jesus. Jesus asks the servants to fill the six stone water jars with water. When the water in these jars is poured out to the master of ceremony, it appears to have changed into an excellent wine. And not a little bit of wine, a couple of bottles to make sure it is enough for a while and then someone can run to the supermarket and acquire extra wine, or if everyone drinks moderately to make it to the end of the party. No, Jesus makes about 500 to 600 litres of wine. In this miracle Jesus is showing himself to be the Lord, the Shepherd from Psalm 23 in which David calls out in wonder and amazement that his cup flows over from all the good wine God pours in. In this story Jesus lets the cup of the married couple flow over by his presence and by his miracle with an abundance of grace.
The bride and groom that were celebrating this wedding wanted to be hospitable, and invited more people than they could afford wine for, or the people drank more wine than they expected. I don’t know if you have ever been at a party where the hosts ran out of wine, but we can well imagine that this is one of the last things you want to experience at your wedding. Last August at our wedding we were very happy this didn’t happen to us. Such a disaster probably follows right after your fiancé saying no at the altar or someone standing up during the service to say that there are plenty of reasons why you should not get married. The hospitality of the couple at this wedding, which is a great virtue, seemed to come back to them like a boomerang: by being hospitable to a larger number of guests, they fail in offering good hospitality to the guests present. How Jesus helps out the couple in this story can be an encouragement for us. We can trust that if our intentions are good God can help and enhance our own efforts at hospitality and charity.
This miracle also leaves us with some questions: Why did Jesus decide to do his first miracle at a wedding? Weddings are almost always very joyful occasions. Two people love each other, wanting to express this in front of all those that are dear to them and want to promise that whatever happens, they will stay together. On a wedding day, even the harshest fights that can sadly sometimes disrupt families and relationships are paused or even resolved. And when someone is very annoying we hold ourselves in not to ruin the feast, the big day of the couple we love. So on a wedding feast not only the marriage between the two people is an expression of love, loyalty and trust, but the whole wedding day is a manifestation of love, forbearance, patience and of course joy. It is a day when the image of God in which we are created shines brighter and more beautiful than on other days. This way we not only in a literal, but also in a spiritual sense make sure to be wearing our nicest suit or dress. This also explains why the union with God and being with God is so often compared to a wedding, or a wedding feast. (Matthew 22, Matthew 25, Song of Songs, John 3:28-29) An earthly wedding might well be one of the clearest expressions of love, and therefore of God’s love and that makes it a suitable place for Jesus to start his ministry. St. Augustine adds a symbolic reason to this. Jesus did his first miracle at the wedding in Cana, to manifest himself for the first time as our groom. He came to earth for us, the church, his bride.
Another question that this story raises is: Why so subtle? Apart from the servants no one knows where this wine has come from. The master of ceremony appears to think that it comes from some secret basement where the groom left another 500-600 litres of wine. But the servants knew and the news of the miracle was probably spread around quickly. But why this hiddenness? Wouldn’t we be more amazed if the miracle was much more spectacular? If Jesus waited until everyone was in deep distress, the party seemed to be over, and then turned up and in front of the whole wedding party changing water into wine, or even creating it from nothing! It would have made Him the hero of the day, so why not?
St. John Chrysostom suggests that Jesus of course could have made the miracle more wonderful, but that could also have made it less credible to many people. He says: ‘Jesus often purposely lessens the greatness of His miracles, so they may be more readily received.’ And Jesus did not tell everyone that He just changed water into wine, because He desired that the power of his miracles should be known gently. Little by little. When God is calling us to follow him, this is not by force, but it is a gentle call that we can follow by our free will. We’re never forced to faith, like Jesus never forced anyone to believe in Him. In John 6 a number of disciples even leave Him because they find his sayings too hard and they can’t listen anymore. (John 6:60, 66) Jesus lets them freely leave and then asks his remaining disciples: You do not want to leave too, do you? But Peter answers: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’ (John 6:67-68) They are free to leave, but they don’t want to, because they’ve realised that the truth is with Jesus and that being with Jesus brings with it a new freedom previously unknown. Coming closer to God is also coming closer to being and knowing ourselves, and being better able to love.
George McDonald points at this lack of display and writes: ‘for God ministers to us so gently, […] with such a quiet, tender, loving absence of display, that men often drink of his wine […] without knowing whence it comes–without thinking that the giver is beside them, even in their very hearts.’ God is the source of all good gifts and often we’re not aware that all the good things we have in our lives, and all those things we usually have even on blue Monday, come from God. When we’re enjoying our life we are drinking from the good wine God has poured in to us.
How shall we respond to these good gifts of God and the great gift of Jesus? St. Paul is saying that we pour out this good wine, God’s good gifts to us, to others. We do this, according to the grace: that is the good but different gifts, that are given to us. And if we read the instructions of St. Paul in this epistle, we see the image of Jesus shine through. But also, if we read this list and keep in mind our behaviour at a wedding we see many comparisons. Which brings us back to the point that a wedding is one of the utmost manifestations of love and therefore of God, on earth. It was love that brought Jesus to this wedding and love for these people that led him to change water into wine.
Finally, in the Gospels we find only one other creative miracle of Jesus. This is the feeding of the multitude. (Matthew 14:13-21, John 6:1-14) The great biblical commentators throughout the centuries have seen in Jesus’ turning of water into wine, and creating bread for the multitude, a pointing towards Holy Communion in which we can be fed by bread and wine, Jesus’ body and blood. In Holy Communion we can recognize Jesus, being the Holy One of God, and are invited to take part in the feast. We can come, eat the bread, drink God’s good wine and be strengthened in body and soul. So we’re able to go out and in the coming week – especially when people around us might need it most on the so-called most depressing day of the year – make God manifest in the world.