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 Him so that He can realign our hearts with His rule and governance 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 perhaps even alarmed when the Angel Gabriel visited her prior to the conception of God’s Son in her womb. How can this be, she wondered 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) The Blessed Virgin pondered these things in her heart because she was often confused and flummoxed. Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing, (St. Luke ii. 48) she exclaims this morning. Through prudence she struggled to understand her son. 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 urged her to silence. But, again, Mary kept all of these things and pondered them in her heart. (Ibid, 51)
To be fair to the Blessed Virgin, human wisdom or prudence is essential to acting with virtue. 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 opens the human mind 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 rejoice to learn that Jesus blesses the institution of Holy Matrimony. The Holy Union of male and female is Divinely ordained, and Christ will reveal how the wisdom in it points to a heavenly end.
Cana means zeal, and Galilee means passage. On this third day, then, Jesus will embrace Holy Matrimony with zeal and transform it as a rite of passage 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 married couple is celebrating that zeal of passage, devoting themselves the one to the other so that the two shall be one flesh. (Gen. ii. 24) Marriage reveals a conscientious devotion that purifies affection and orders human love. And Jesus Christ, God’s Word, Wisdom, and Plan made flesh rejoices to bless and perfect the devotion of those who will follow Him conscientiously to God’s Kingdom.
But being the good Jewish mother that she is, the Blessed Virgin becomes consumed with the earthly elements that should contribute to the perfection of the marriage celebration. So, she tugs at Jesus’ tunic and exclaims, they have no wine. (St. John ii. 3) Jesus seems irritated. O, woman what is that to me and thee? (St. John ii, 4) A better translation would be: Woman what does your concern have to do with me? (Orthodox Study Bible transl.) Or what do you expect me to do about it? For, He adds, mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid, 4) Jesus, as last week’s Gospel reminded us, must be about [His] Father’s business. (St. Luke ii, 49). He means no disrespect to His earthly mother, but she does not grasp the true meaning of His Heavenly mission. Her motherly prudence and concern arise from a fear that the perfect wedding is about to come to an abrupt halt. She does not yet grasp how Holy Matrimony is an outward and visible sign of that conscientious devotion that moves from guilt to blessedness through God’s Grace.
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? 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 earthly Birth? Mary is silenced and probably shamed by 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. Her fear of earthly embarrassment for the bride’s parents collapses in the presence of Heaven’s plan. 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) She remembers that earthly good must be perfected by God’s Grace as she learns to trust and obey her Heaven-sent Son.
But what is Heaven’s Plan that Jesus brings to earth? Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) We know what happens next. 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 waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. (St. John ii, 6,7) Jesus will use not wine-skins but pots meant to hold water for ritual cleansing and purification. Add water to the vessels for purification Jesus says.
So the holy water becomes a basis for a miracle that manifests a number of things. First, we see that Jesus' Heavenly Mission has begun. Next, we learn that the Wisdom that Jesus reveals is not of this world and that His Mother’s worldly prudence must subject itself to the priority of the Divine Mission. Jesus takes the old waters of purification and then fortifies them with Heavenly Potency. The wine that the wedding guests will drink reveals what God intends to do for man. This is what Thomas Aquinas means 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) According to ancient tradition, the governor of the feast would first taste all wine that was intended to be served. But see how the governor’s mind in drawn into wonder and bewilderment. Why was this wine not served at the beginning, he wonders? The governor marveled not at the miracle -since he was unaware of it, but at the fact that somehow the best wine was saved until the end.
This morning the Blessed Virgin Mary exclaims, they have no wine. Indeed. They have no wine. We have no wine. Both she and we realize that there is no wine until Christ, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Ruler of all Creation makes new wine. Wine maketh glad the heart of man. Today’s miracle is a foreshadowing of the new wine that He will pour forth from the vine of the His Body on the Cross of Calvary. Christ’s hour is not yet come. (Idem) With the Blessed Virgin we must wait for the Bridegroom to pour out His life for His Bride. His Bride is the Church. We cannot be filled with the new wine of His Blood until He has given Himself to us in Perfect Love and Sacrifice from the Tree of New Life. The new wine is the libation of His Blood through which we shall be born again in marital union with Him. In consummation with Him, as one flesh, we shall become bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, one flesh with Him, as His Bride.
Will Christ make our water into wine? Will we listen to Him? Will we do whatsoever he saith? Will our minds be turned from earthly wine and the merriment it brings to the new wine that he saves and serves last? John 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 to seek out and find the new wine of salvation that Jesus the Bridegroom will give to us if we faithfully wait until His hour is come (Idem). His hour has come. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again. Christ gives us His new life in the Bread of His Body and the Wine of His Blood. As Pope Benedict XVI has said:
In the Eucharist, a communion takes place that corresponds to the union of man and woman in marriage. Just as they become ‘one flesh,’ so in Communion, we all become ‘one spirit,’ one person, with Christ. The spousal mystery, announced in the Old Testament, of the intimate union of God and man takes place in the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, precisely through his Passion and in a very real way (see Eph 5:29-32; I Cor 6:17; Gal 3:28).”
With the servants at the feast, we should depend upon Christ who saves the best wine ‘til last.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: