Cana: context

wedding-cana1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.   2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. 9 And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. (John 2:1-11)

Even though we are in Year C of the liturgical cycle, the first gospel proclaimed in Year C-Ordinary Time is taken from the Gospel according to John – the wedding at Cana. In many ways it is considered a type of “proto” ministry before the very public beginning at the synagogue in Capernaum. In the ancient lectionaries of the church, John 2:1–11 was read on Epiphany, a practice carried over into the Eastern church. In the modern Common and Catholic lectionaries, this text is read at the beginning of the Epiphany season (Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year C). This placement reflects the Christological focus of the story and all the gospels that follow. The recounting of the transformation of water into wine is noteworthy at the head of the readings, because it tells the story of the unprecedented grace of Jesus, it reveals the glory of Jesus, and anticipates his ultimate moment of glorification, his death, resurrection, and ascension. That is it’s liturgical placements.

With regards scripture, the account of the “Wedding at Cana” is placed immediately after the Prologue of the Gospel of John. The Prologue, “In the beginning…,” presents many of the major themes and motifs which reappear later in the gospel. The Prologue proclaims Jesus as the preexistent and incarnate Word of God through whom all things were created (1:3,10), who “made his dwelling among us,” (v.14), and who has revealed the Father to us. The rest of the first chapter forms the introduction to the gospel proper and consists of the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus (there is no baptism of Jesus in this gospel—John simply points him out as the Lamb of God), followed by stories of the call of the first disciples, in which various titles said of Jesus in the early church are presented.

The Gospel according to John is a highly symbolic writing. A good monographic overview of the Gospel is available on the US Catholic Bishop’s website – and is well worth the time to review. However, let us also review some of the key points

Signs. The larger Johannine gospel narrative contains a series of “signs” (semeion) the gospel’s word for the miraculous deeds of Jesus. The writer is primarily interested in the significance of these deeds, and so interprets them for the reader by various reflections, narratives, and discourses. The first sign of seven is the transformation of water into wine at Cana (2:1–11); this represents the fulfillment of the Jewish ceremonial washings and symbolizes the entire creative and transforming work of Jesus. The second sign, the cure of the royal official’s son (4:46–54) simply by the word of Jesus at a distance, signifies the power of Jesus’ life-giving word. The third sign, the cure of the paralytic at the pool with five porticoes in chap. 5, continues the theme of water offering newness of life. In the preceding chapter, to the woman at the well in Samaria Jesus had offered living water springing up to eternal life, a symbol of the revelation that Jesus brings; here Jesus’ life-giving word replaces the water of the pool that failed to bring life. John 6 contains two signs, the multiplication of loaves and the walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. These signs are connected much as the manna and the crossing of the Red Sea are in the Passover narrative and symbolize a new exodus. The multiplication of the loaves is interpreted for the reader by the discourse that follows, where the bread of life is used first as a figure for the revelation of God in Jesus and then for the Eucharist. After a series of dialogues reflecting Jesus’ debates with the Jewish authorities at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7 and 8, the sixth sign is presented in John 9, the sign of the young man born blind. This is a narrative illustration of the theme of conflict in the preceding two chapters; it proclaims the triumph of light over darkness, as Jesus is presented as the Light of the world. This is interpreted by a narrative of controversy between the Pharisees and the young man who had been given his sight by Jesus, ending with a discussion of spiritual blindness and spelling out the symbolic meaning of the cure. And finally, the seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus in chap. 11, is the climax of signs. Lazarus is presented as a token of the real life that Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who will now ironically be put to death because of his gift of life to Lazarus, will give to all who believe in him once he has been raised from the dead. [Catholic Study Bible – Reading Guide, 439]

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