The first great “sign” of Jesus was turning the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. The miracle is recounted in the Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy. Jesus and his mother Mary were at a wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee. When Mary learns that the family has run out of wine she tells Jesus. He responds: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” She in turn responds by telling the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus tells the servants to fill the large ceremonial stone water jars (each holding 20 to 30 gallons) with water. They do so. He then tells them to take some to the head waiter. They do. The head waiter tastes the water become wine and is amazed. Not knowing where it had come from he goes to the bridegroom and says: “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
The passage comes from the Gospel according to John. In presenting the Gospel, John selects several of Jesus’ great miracles on which to focus. The stories are detailed and packed with meaning. Changing the water into wine is the first of these miracles or “signs” (to use the language of the Gospel). The ministry of Jesus has now begun and he will manifest or reveal himself as the Father’s son and servant who will lead all who accept him to the Father.
Mary gives the simple but highly significant instruction to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” The servants hearing these words listen and act. Consequently, a great transformation occurs. Plain and abundant water is transformed into a fine wine.
The family who would have been shamed for not providing enough wine for their guests are now saved from rebuke and embarrassment. The celebration of the marriage can continue. Yet those words of Mary and the miracle of Jesus have a still greater significance and meaning for all who hear them.
“Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is sent from the Father to lead us to him. Later in the Gospel Jesus will refer to himself as “the way, and the truth and the life” and the “Good Shepherd.” He will say that he, Jesus, is the “vine” and we his disciples are the “branches.” He will also say, “I am the bread of life” and “I am the resurrection and the life.” All this to say that Jesus leads us to life. The instruction Mary gives to the servants are words that she gives to all who encounter Jesus: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Our faith is a response to Jesus. We first “listen” to him who is the Word of God. In listening with an open heart and mind we encounter Jesus and allow him to enter more deeply into our lives. The word is an invitation — an invitation to life. What happens next? A transformation begins and we become the persons that God has called us to be.
The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy comes from Isaiah. He says that he “will not be silent.” The word he has received he will proclaim. This is a word that brings life — like the dawn that breaks the darkness.
He describes the transformation that will take place for Israel, an oppressed people: “You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused’ … and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” The type of transformation that Isaiah describes comes to us when we “Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you.”
The changing of water into wine was incredible. The headwaiter is dumbfounded when he tastes the wine. It is so good that he questions why it is being served last. The taste might be lost on those who have already had the inferior wine. He rejoices nonetheless that it is here and the guests can enjoy it.
The transformation that occurs in our lives might not be as swift as the miracle of the water turned wine but it is even more powerful and significant. Jesus touches all aspects of our lives with his word and does wonderful things in and for us. When we listen to his word and follow his way we are transformed day by day into the person he calls us to be.
Sadness can turn to joy, hurt can turn to healing, discord can be turned to peace, anger can be turned to understanding, enmity can be turned to mercy, indifference can be turned to love, selfishness to charity, and so much more.
The first sign of Jesus, turning the water into wine, opens the door for even greater signs to come. The saving ministry of Jesus has begun and many people will come to life through him, ourselves included. Our response to Jesus is one of faith. That faith develops and deepens throughout our lives.
The transformation that takes place in our lives is ongoing and wonderful. Mary, in her words to the servants at that wedding feast, gives us the simple yet quite profound way to continue in this transformation: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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