January 18, 2015
They have no wine…(St. John ii. 3)
Epiphany means manifestation or shining forth. And the Epiphany season has been set apart in the Church as a time for Christians to consider the meaning and will of God the Father as revealed in the human life of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. In this season we contemplate the Divinity of Christ ministering to us through His humanity as we encounter it on the pages of Holy Scripture. On this Second Sunday in Epiphany in particular we find God’s power over nature revealed through Jesus. But we find this power only after He has revealed to us the priority of Divine Wisdom in the face of the limitations of human reason. For while God comes into the world to save us, He also takes our nature upon Himself so that He can reacquaint and realign our hearts with the rule and governance of God’s will in human life. Jesus will teach us that the same God whose Wisdom rules and governs all of creation desires to claim our allegiance also. He will begin to reveal this truth to us through the exchange He has with His Mother in today’s Gospel.
When we think of wisdom, we think of human wisdom or what used to be called prudence. In the Gospels no better example of that prudence exists than in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin was, you will remember, astounded and bewildered when the Angel Gabriel visited her prior to the conception of the Word in her womb. How can this be, she asked prudently? Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce through her own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed. (St. Luke ii. 35) In relation to Her Son, like all good mothers, she was often confused, worried, and saddened. Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. (St. Luke ii. 48) Through worldly wisdom she tried to understand the meaning of her Son’s behavior. Wist ye not, He responded, that I must be about my Father’s business? (St. Luke ii. 49) And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them. (Ibid, 50) Humility and prudence commanded her to keep quiet. His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. (Ibid, 51)
To be fair to the Blessed Virgin, human wisdom derives instinctively from human experience. It is the perfected ability to make the right decisions. (The Four Cardinal Virtues: Pieper, p. 6) Yet human wisdom can also be elevated onto a higher plane when God adjusts human habits and customs to a Heavenly end. We find this in this morning’s Gospel, where we read that On the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there with both Jesus and His disciples. (St. John ii, 1) At the outset we should be happy to learn that Jesus blesses the institution of Holy Matrimony with His presence. There are human customs that Christ will bless and there are those He will not. The Holy Union of man and woman is Divinely ordained, and thus Christ will take the wisdom in it and reconcile it to the Divine Wisdom.
Cana means zeal, and Galilee means passage. On this third day, then, Jesus will embrace the zeal and passion of Holy Matrimony and transform this rite of passage onto a way that points to the Father’s Kingdom. Thomas Aquinas tells us that this marriage was celebrated in the zeal of a passage, to suggest that those persons are most worthy of union with Christ who, burning with the zeal of a conscientious devotion, pass over from the state of guilt to the grace of the Church. (STA, Comm. on St. John) The invited guests are celebrating passion that moves into passage, as the man and woman accept the high calling of God, who said that The two shall be one flesh. (Gen. ii. 24) Marriage is essential to God’s plan for His people. And Jesus Christ, God’s Word and Plan for His people made flesh cannot help but rejoice in this Divinely ordained celebration.
But being the good Jewish mother that she is, the Blessed Virgin becomes aware of a human need that she believes only her Son can meet with His Divine potential. So she tugs at his toga, and exclaims, They have no wine. (St. John ii. 3) But at her urging, Jesus seems only irritated: Woman what have I to do with thee? (St. John ii, 4) A better translation would be Woman what does your concern have to do with me? (Orthodox Study Bible transl.) Another way of putting it would be, And…what do you expect me to do about it? To which He adds: mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid, 4) Jesus must be about [His] Father’s, and not His mother’s business. (St. Luke ii, 49). He means no disrespect to His earthly mother, but she does not grasp the true meaning of the Wisdom He has come to bring to mankind. Her motherly wisdom and concern arise from a fear that the perfect wedding is about to come to an abrupt halt. Like most mothers, she, no doubt, has an eye for earthly perfection.
But Jesus’ Wisdom is not of this world. His concern is for a kind of wine that will overflow perfectly at a kind of wedding she cannot yet imagine. What does your concern have to do with me? You do not yet know me, He implies. For mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid, 4) Have you forgotten what kind of marriage you have with my Heavenly Father’s Spirit that brought about my Birth? Mary is silenced and probably ashamed at the rebuke of the Wisdom of God in her Son. Acquiescing to His Wisdom, she instructs the hired servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. (Ibid, 5) Whatever or whoever her Son is, He is to be heeded. She is lifted above earthly urgency and is confronted by Heavenly power and desire. She remembers that her Son Jesus should be called the Son of the Highest… and of his kingdom there should be no end. (St. Luke i. 32-33) In order for human wisdom to be reconciled to its Heavenly source, it must obey and trust Jesus.
Godly wisdom is higher than worldly wisdom or prudence. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Of course we know what then happens. There were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the water pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. (St. John ii, 6,7) The water pots that Jesus will use are not wine bottles but containers meant to hold water for ritual cleansing and purification. Add to the water of purification, Jesus says.
So the holy water becomes a basis for a miracle that shows forth a number of things. First we see that Jesus’ ministry has begun. Next we learn that the Wisdom that Jesus reveals is not a worldly wisdom. We realize also that the worldly wisdom or prudence of His mother must subject itself to priority of the Divine purpose in Jesus. Jesus takes the old water of purification and fortifies, strengthens, and spiritualizes it. The wine that the wedding guests will drink is the wine of spiritual purification and transformation. This is the meaning of St. Thomas’ words when he writes that Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.
The hired hands obey first Mary and then Jesus and bear the wine to the governor of the feast. (Ibid, 8) When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. (St. Luke ii, 9,10) Jesus had performed a miracle. But see how the governor is ignorant of what has been done because the world has not yet heard the Gospel. Earthly prudence and human tradition dictate that the best wine should be served first, while the tongue is fresh and the senses are clear. [He does have a stash of higher quality port; but that he reserves for his gentlemen buddies, who would retire with him, when the festivities had ended, to the smoking room to sip it with cigars.] So the governor marveled, and was wholly surprised. Why pour out such good wine, he must have wondered, so late in the day, to the kind of people (your wife’s relatives) you have to see only, thank God, once in a blue moon only at weddings or funerals?
This morning through the example and witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary we learn that we must surrender our earthly prudence to Divine Wisdom. Too often we, with her, are concerned with earthly wine and the human happiness it symbolizes. Earnest Christians are not only overly possessed with earthly happiness and joy, but demand first and foremost the absence of any human suffering and disruption to their earthly comfort and complacency. And yet Christ comes to tell us today that with zeal we must seek to enter onto that mystical rite of passage that hungers and thirsts for the wine of spiritual purification. So as we follow Him, we must be purified by His Grace and illuminated by His Wisdom. Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it, says the Blessed Virgin to us today. (Ibid, 5) If ye love me, keep my commandments (St. John xiv. 15) says Jesus. She knows that we must learn from her Son. He desires that we should heed and obey the Heavenly Wisdom that enables us to follow Him to His Father’s kingdom.
Will he make our water into wine? Yes. Will he take the waters by which we desire to be purified and make them into a more potent spiritual drink that alone can save us? Yes. Jean Calvin reminds us that when the Blessed Virgin says, ‘Whatsoever He saith, do it’, we are taught….that if we desire any thing from Christ, we will not obtain our wishes, unless we depend on Him alone, look to him, and, in short, do whatever he commands. What we should desire first is our salvation and then the sanctification that ensures it. So with the Blessed Virgin let us blush with embarrassment at forgetting the love of our Lord which alone can bring us true joy. And with Richard Crashaw let us remember that:
When Christ at Cana’s feast by power Divine,
Inspired cold water with the warmth of wine,
“See” cried they, while in reddening tide it gushed,
“The bashful stream hath seen its God, and blushed!” Amen.