Second Luminous Mystery, The Wedding in Cana

Anthony Zimmerman
November 14, 2002
Reproduced with Permission

The fact that Mary was quick to see that the wedding party was headed for disaster because the wine had run out suggests that she was part of the volunteer team helping to make the celebration for the newlyweds a success. She must do something, and do it quickly. Her Son was there, with His newly won disciples, and the day must not be marred by a fiasco.

Wine was presumably a normal part of the meal at the time, and the wine at Cana, even today, is good wine. When classmate Father Wiesen and I stopped our rented car at the Cana site some years ago, a welcoming Franciscan appeared at the door and Fr. Wiesen yelled: "We came to see you change some water into wine for us." "O, I was waiting for you to come and try it yourself" he joshed. "I got all those jugs filled and ready." Soon we were inside, and saw huge jars, six feet tall, just as described in the Bible. Also a well to draw water to fill them. Sure enough the host regaled us with lore about the miracle and the neighborhood, and as he poured wine for us, explained that much sunshine in the area makes for good wine. Good it was, indeed.

Back to the Bible story. Mary turned to Jesus: "They have no wine." Jesus initially put her off, but she had been living with Him for all these years and knew things about Jesus that we don't know. The rest is history:

And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast." So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now" (John 2:3-10).

Did she have a request for a miracle in mind? The answer of Jesus: "My hour has not yet come" points to nothing less. His use of the word "Woman" rather than "Mother" makes us anticipate a solemn event.

"My HOUR has not yet come," Jesus responded. What is this HOUR? As John's Gospel unravels, we learn that it refers to His passion and death to be followed by His glorification. In John 12:27-28 Jesus refers to His coming HOUR: "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." Apparently, the HOUR was much on the mind of Jesus. In that HOUR He would change the orientation of the cosmos as He hung on the cross..

When Jesus hung on the cross and was performing this HOUR, we again hear from His lips the word "Woman" instead of the word "Mother. "Woman, behold thy son", He said.

The Bible is a seamless garment, so we look for another passage where the word Woman marks an important cosmic turning point. We find the word in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."

Salvation comes from Jesus crucified and glorified. The counterpart of the Woman of Genesis 3:15 is now attending this wedding feast in Cana. But her Son and herself have not yet engaged in the ultimate crushing of the serpent's head. Is Jesus reminding Mary that miracles and works of salvation are on hold until after the HOUR of Redemption?

Mary brushes off this apparent refusal. She knows that redemption is still in the future, but she knows also that Jesus had already been working with promissory notes from that treasury. Had she not been conceived immaculately, and had He not already filled her with God's grace? And the saints of the Old Testament, had they not been receiving saving grace in view of the future HOUR? Despite His negative response, the new Eve turned daringly to the waiters: "Do whatever he tells you." She was challenging Jesus, nothing less!. It is a remarkable response. By her towering force of will she discouraged any hesitation on part of the waiters and intimidated them from asking questions. Her look told them: "I don't want any arguments! Just do as He says." Perhaps the waiters, men we assume, had never been bossed like that by a woman before.

And obey they did. "Jesus said to them, 'Fill the jars with water.' And they filled them up to the brim" (John 2:7). The task of filling the jars must have taken some time. I remember using a five gallon bucket to pull up water from an extra well in our pasture, and carrying bucketful after bucketful to the watering tank. The six jars holding 25 gallons each would require 30 bucketfuls of 5 gallons each if they were empty to start with, all drawn from out of the well and then poured into the jars. Maybe Mary had to do some extra coaxing to get the servants to fill the stone jars to the brim.

Mary's advice to them is good advice today for all of us. When we do what Jesus tells us to do, under the watchful eyes of Mary, the results will be just fine. Had the servants poured less water, there would have been less wine. Pope John Paul II binds himself personally to Mary's directions by his motto: "Totus tuus." We learned to pray: "O my Queen, O my Mother, I give myself entirely to thee." Mary's influence on us adds a mother's warmth to the good works we do. Mother Teresa used to tell her sisters to not just care for the sick, but to smile to them when they do so. How many doctors and nurses, how many mothers and fathers, and how many priests enrich their own lives and the lives of dependents because Mary adds quality to their work. And she draws, without bashfulness or shame, in huge amounts, from the treasury of the HOUR of Jesus. This is one great lesson of the Second Luminous Mystery.

Okay, the jars are filled to the brim, and now what? Apparently nothing. We hear no words spoken by Jesus over the jars. He would speak to the winds and waves to quiet down, but he spoke no word to the six jars full of water. Yet water turned into wine.

Did Jesus do that with His human power, with the strength of His created human will? It is a mystery. Jesus is almighty God, one divine Person impersonating two natures, one divine, one human. He was there in Person when creating the cosmos, but He was not yet impersonating a human nature before being born in time. He is now in Person at Cana, sporting two natures, when water turns into wine. Only God can create something from nothing. Changing water to wine, whether by an act of creation, or by a or by a reshuffling of the atoms and molecules, it is an act of God, I believe, not done merely with an act of ChristÕs human will, but with His divine power. For Jesus there is no problem. He is God, He is man. At the Last Supper He will say over the bread "This is my body" and over the wine, "This is my blood." The substance of the bread and the substance of the wine He will change into the substance of His body and blood. Maybe we can say that the divine power is the efficient cause, and human free will of Jesus is the instrumental cause. At any rate, without further ado or external commotion, Jesus gives the order: "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast."

Did Jesus change all the water in the stone jars into wine at once? JohnÕs text has two hints that Jesus did just that: he tells us the number of jars and their size; he also relates that the servants filled them up to the brim. The details related so minutely point, I believe - to a sudden change of 150 gallons of water into 150 gallons of wine - of better than ordinary table wine. Christ indicated thereby that He was immensely pleased to do this favor for His mother; I think He wants us to know that we should not be afraid to ask Mary for favors; for really big favors. If she asks, He will have the pleasure of obliging her. He also manifested by this generous miracle that marriage and weddings are to His liking. It was an unforgettable event for all at the party.

Perhaps Mary told the helpers to wash up now and put on starched shirts before they march into the festive hall. Perhaps she straightened out their bow ties, put the beakers into their hands and towels over their arms and then paraded them off in style to the chief steward. After all, this is the first miracle done by Jesus in public life, and was done at her request. She wants the disciples to be impressed and to remember this event. And she wants all the world to know that Jesus is not a killjoy but that He keenly appreciates the good things of creation. And she wants that every couple of newly-weds by thus blessed and made happy by the presence of Her Son, Jesus.

The master of ceremonies, likely a professional, lifted his eyebrows in astonishment. Then, after tasting, he was ecstatic: "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." Joy and feasting knew no bounds.

Does God change His mind when we pray? Did Mary's request overturn the pre-set schedule of Christ? What else can we conclude from the way John relates the miracle worked by Jesus at Cana? When I was a first year theology student in our seminary, a fourth year theologian was assigned to each of us to help us practice preaching. I was practicing my sermon with my guide, the sermon I was scheduled to give to the rest of the seminarians at a Saturday evening meal when my turn would come. Yes, at that time we had silence at meals except on Sundays and feasts, and we listened to readings from spiritual books, and endured hearing test sermons from teething preachers.

While practicing, I asserted that God can change His mind in answer to our prayers. "No, No," my senior mentor said. "God does not change His mind. Ever!" But I held my ground. "Look at what happened in Cana," I said. I was not called a heretic when I gave the practice sermon, and I believe today that God is waiting for us to pray so that He can give us favors that He really wants to give us, but does not do so unless we ask. If Mary upset the apple cart of the plans of Jesus by her earnest request, and if Jesus then cooperated so very willingly and generously, then we have every reason to do as Jesus says: "Ask, and you shall receive." Let us remember that the confidence Mary exhibited when daring to override the plans of her Son was also a grace given to her by Jesus. And when we pray with confidence, it is God who is helping us to pray.

Jesus was making more than one point at Cana, of course. He put the world on notice that He is all in favor of weddings and of family life (and incidentally, also of good food and wine). Eventually He ruled out divorce and re-marriage, and instituted the Sacrament of Matrimony, "for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." Let us pray for families when we pray this Mystery. The perversion of legal no-fault divorce, foisted by one partner upon the other, was NOT made in Cana. It is a racket of lawyers and courts and social workers. It can be stopped. Pray.

Does Jesus want us to ask favors through Mary? Decidedly so. This is one of the great points He surely wanted to make at Cana. If we are sometimes overawed to pray directly to Almighty God, Jesus here suggests making an approach through His Mother. After all, she stood under the cross and bore the pains with Him during His HOUR. He rewarded her by charging that she become the Mother of us all.

John concludes the Cana story with this summary: "This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him." Let us also believe in Him when we pray this Second Luminous Mystery. And let us thank the Pope who gave us this new opening to pray, to reflect, and to enrich our lives.