(John 2:1-11 )
In 1982, just before I entered the Jesuits, I went to Israel and spent several months walking through the Holy Land to learn more about Jesus, and I remember walking the six miles from Nazareth to Cana, which would have been a tiny village in those days, and everyone in town would have gone to this Jewish wedding. The bride and groom were probably friends or relatives of Jesus. They would have had prayers, a huge meal, great music and dancing.
Now if you read this text carefully, it says Jesus showed up with his disciples and the next sentence is–the wine ran out. I think the disciples drank all the wine! And Mary is completely mortified and embarrassed by Jesus and his friends, who polished off all the wine, so she says to him, “You do something about this,” and she tells the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”
So Jesus tells them to fill the six empty ceremonial washing jars with water which then miraculously turns into wine, and the host announces that the best wine has been saved for last, and finally everyone begins to believe in Jesus. Now apparently, the water jugs were used for Jewish purification rituals. Everything about Jewish culture and the law required you to be purified because you were unclean, but here, John says that the purification jars are empty. So I think the Gospel is telling us that the law and its rituals and customs and purification practices have run dry and that Jesus has come to do away with all these purification rituals and all oppressive religious practices. On top of that, we’re told that each water jug contained 30 gallons. So if we do the math, that means Jesus produced 180 gallons of really fine wine. We’re talking about a serious party!
So I pick up three lessons from our Gospel. First, I think the Gospel is saying that Jesus wants us to enjoy life, to live life to the full, that life in his kingdom is like a never-ending wedding banquet where the best wine never runs out and where Jesus is the life of the party. The Gospel says that God is not stingy, that God is extravagant, that God wants us to live life in God’s reign as a never-ending celebration of peace and joy for everyone.
Second, Mary gives us a great instruction here, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” That should be the guiding principle of our lives. We are a people who do what Jesus tells us to do. That’s how we make our decisions. We ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” and then we can go and do what he would do.
Finally, if we are to live life, we have to oppose the forces of death. We’re supposed to be people of life, not death. We’re supposed to bring life to one another, not death. We’re suppose to celebrate life, not inflict death on anyone, so for example, we cannot just be against abortion. If we are truly pro-life, we have to be against all forms of death and violence, including domestic violence, the death penalty, corporate greed, hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, the war, our occupation of Iraq, our weapons of mass destruction at Los Alamos and all nuclear weapons.
Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the great prophet of nonviolence. His whole life was trying to bring life to people, to the poor, to minorities, to our enemies, and to stop the infliction of death on others, whether through racism and segregation or poverty and hunger or war and nuclear weapons.
One year to the day before he was killed, Dr. King said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. War is not the answer. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and to declare eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. Let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter–but beautiful–struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons and daughters of God.”
I think the Gospel calls us to continue the work of Dr. King, to promote life for everyone, to live life to the full, to stop the forces of death upon the world, to make life a never-ending wedding banquet of love and peace for all people, so that no one anywhere suffers the forces of death, but everyone everywhere enjoys the fullness of life.
The good news today is that the miracle of Cana continues because as we come now to the table, Jesus still wants us to have the best wine, so he becomes the cup of life, the best wine, and so I invite us today to do what Jesus tells us to do and celebrate life, to continue the great work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and oppose the forces of death and to enjoy the wedding banquet of life. Let the party begin!