During this Advent and Christmas season, the Office of Spirituality of the University of St. Thomas has been sponsoring reflections written by various members of our university community. One of my two offerings for the series is the one for today. I reproduce it here:
Today’s Gospel is the familiar account of the wedding feast at Cana. This is a scene that is very familiar to us. It sounds like it was a great big party, one of those events where everyone in town is invited. Lots of guests (including Jesus, his mother and his disciples), lots of food, great music and plenty of wine.
But, at a certain point in the celebration, the wine runs out. Imagine your own embarrassment if you are the host of a party and the wine runs out. Of Italian descent, I can well imagine how horrified the host must have been! But anything we can imagine is insufficient to understand the significance of this. In Jewish tradition, wine was a visible sign of God’s loving gifts to human beings, as well as a sign of wisdom used in Jewish rites of purification. And weddings in Palestine were elaborate multi-day events that included processions, speeches, religious blessings, and the wedding banquet feast. So to run out of wine unexpectedly was a big, big deal.
Mary realizes the situation and tells her son, “They have no more wine.” At first we wonder what is the point of her statement or whether anything will happen, because Jesus response is so abrupt and dismissive: “Woman, how does his concern of yours involve me? My hour has not yet come.” Essentially: leave me alone. Not my problem.
If the hearer of that response is a person of timidity of uncertainty, that is the end of the story. Jesus says – this isn’t my problem, and she goes away. But that is not what happens. Mary’s reply, instead, is to turn to those who were waiting on tables, and to say simply, “Do whatever he tells you,” completely secure in the knowledge that Jesus would take some action.
And, Jesus does just that. He tells the waiters to fill some jars with water – and then he turns that water into wine. John ends the wedding at Cana story by pointing out that this was the first of the signs revealing Jesus’ glory, and it was because of it that “his disciples believed in him.”
I’m struck by the contrast between the other disciples and Mary – it was because of this first sign that they believed in him. Mary, however, didn’t need the sign; Mary believed before there was a sign. Mary’s request implied faith in Jesus. She was completely sure of his abilities; completely certain of the power of God. And her words to the waiters: “do whatever he tells you” – words that leaves no room for discussion – are her final recorded spoken words in scriptures.
In his Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, Pope John Paul II wrote,
Mary is present in Cana of Galilee as Mother of Jesus, and in a significant way she contributes to the ‘beginning of the signs’ which reveal the messianic power of her Son…At Cana, thanks to the intercession of Mary and the obedience of the servants, Jesus begins ‘his hour.” At Cana, Mary appears as believing in Jesus. Her faith evokes his first ‘sign’ and helps to kindle the faith of the disciples.
As we move to the end of this Christmas Season, may we take to heart Mary’s final recorded words: Do whatever he tells you.