January 16, 2022| 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Isiah 62: 1-5
I Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2: 1-11
Light cannot be contained. You can snuff a candle and you can turn off a light bulb. But light as such cannot be contained. It is bound to expand and reach into the distance. Imagine walking at night with a lantern under your cloak. Pretty soon everybody who is around, that night, will detect your presence. If they also have a light, but yours is much more powerful, you will be found out. Such is the situation of Jesus, the light of the world, at the beginning of the Gospel of John. He tells his mother that his “hour” has not yet come. As if he could keep the light hidden a bit longer. But mother knows better.
In ancient Mediterranean societies, and to some extent still today, the bond between mother and son was stronger than the one between husband and wife. It is true that in the Gospel of Mark the family of Jesus, including his mother, is depicted as resisting his public ministry, his prophetic career, perhaps fearing that it would bring dishonor on the family. Some tension between Jesus and his family can still be detected in the Gospel of John (7:1-5), but we should beware of reading too much in the word “woman” with which Jesus addresses his mother. Yes, there is an element of resistance on the part of Jesus, a kind of pushback. “It is not yet my time, mother!” But the point is not that of illustrating a tension or a conflict between Mary and Jesus. It is not even a secondary point of the story. Later on, in his meeting with the Samaritan woman, Jesus will say: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming...” In both cases, with the appellative “woman” Jesus expresses a disagreement with what he hears, yet in both cases there is no disparaging on his part.
The Gospel of John, indeed, presents Jesus in close relationships with women, all of them honored in particular ways. The Samaritan woman, an outcast with whom Jesus has a conversation, to the astonishment of his male disciples, is presented as the one who witnesses Christ to her tribe (4:39). Mary of Magdala is the first one who meets Jesus after his death; she is sent to the male apostles to announce the resurrection, effectively becoming the apostle to the apostles (20:18). Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, is the one who confesses: “I believe that you are the Messiah” (11:27). Functionally, she takes the place that in the other Gospels is reserved to Peter. Then the mother of Jesus, who appears in this story of the wedding of Cana and again at the foot of the cross, with the beloved disciple, when everybody else has left him. She is there when finally, the “hour” of Jesus has come in its fullness.
The point of the story of the first “sign” of Jesus, performed at the wedding at Cana, is the bursting out of an awesome light, which cannot be hidden or contained for long. Yet, the presence of the “woman element” gives some important nuances to the story itself, if we remember that the Gospel of John is symbolic through and through. The scene is that of a wedding banquet. No Jew at the time of Jesus could miss the reference to the eschatological times, to the splendid banquet that heaven and earth will witness when God will marry his people. God has already tied himself to Israel, yet their complete union is still to come. That is, in this world there are all sorts of hardships and mistakes that delay the joys of the wedding chamber. Life is not at all an ideal wedding day every day. People who are invited to the feast, that is, to enjoy the fullness of their life potential, often hide or run away for mysterious reasons, as we see in parables told in the other Gospels. But the ideal wedding feast, so eloquently described by the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today, is an explosion of joy because the potential shame of the woman is lifted. In ancient Israel, women who did not marry and women who could not have children had to wear a very heavy burden. They were made to feel forsaken, ashamed, isolated. Marriage, first, and then childbearing, were the necessary steps for a full life, a life without shame. Now, of course, there is no moral teaching for us here. But there is a symbolic teaching that is still very meaningful. The condition of the people of Israel before God and, by extension, our condition, can be one of shame for a number of reasons. Because we feel broken, by life or by our own mistakes; because we feel desolate, and we don't even know why; because we are not able to believe that there is a wedding feast waiting for us. We may fell as if we missed the last train. Here is where the mother of Jesus intervenes. “They have no wine”. Nothing can be more shameful for a Palestinian family offering a wedding banquet. Jesus believes it is not yet his time. But mother knows better. It is not yet his time, true, and yet it is already his time. It is only on the cross that the fullness of the light will be revealed, a shocking and frankly blinding light. But here, at the beginning of the narrative, the light already cannot be contained. Jesus should not try to keep it under the bushel. It is always the time for the light of God to flood our life. The cross we cannot understand. But the wedding banquet, we can. We all know of terrible marriages and even terrible wedding feasts, but we also understand clearly the ideal of the feast of feasts, the ideal moment in which love triumphs, union is perfected, and joy flows. For such a banquet, you don't just need wine, you need rivers of wine, and of a very good quality. That is what Jesus provides. Whether Jesus was a magician is debatable, but unless we understand this story symbolically, we get nothing out of it. What God is telling us today, I believe, is that joy is at hand. Not just joy, but the fullness of joy. Even more, that joy is at beginning of our itinerary of faith, if we are to follow the teachings of the Gospel of John. And that is a hard teaching for us who are living in difficult times and, on top of that, are fearful and ashamed. By no means I want to minimize the pain, the suffering, even the tragedies that some of us live through at this moment. I am not saying: “Get over it!” I am saying that hidden behind our own heavy cloaks there is a light, a divine light. It lingers in the caves of our hearts. It is the light of pure joy even in the midst of suffering. It is always there because God is always there. In our theological tradition we talk of the Holy Spirit as this light of pure love that lives in us. Perhaps we don't talk enough about it. We get busy with problem solving, and we forget the essential. That a feast is waiting for us at the center of our heart. It is always there. Unfortunately, too often we play the role of the prisoner and the jailer at the same time. We prevent ourselves to access the hall of the banquet and we don't see what we are doing. The light of Christ is here for us, today and every day, to show to us our inner joyous light, or rather the presence of such a light in us, the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It's a good thing if we realize that we are not joyous, if we refuse to be fake and go along with a fabricated joy. It is even better if we come to know what are the inner blocks that prevent the flood of joy to flow. And then we must, we must always pray to remain open to the work of the light of Christ in our hearts. The Gospel of John is clear: we are not required to perform great deeds; we are only required to believe that they are possible. We leave to Jesus the turning of great quantities of water into wine, but we fix our gaze on such a splurge. We don't try to imitate the disciples when, at the end of his life, complain about Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, because she is anointing Jesus with very costly fragrances (12:3). Another splurge. She is, indeed, another one of those women who get it. There is another kind of logic here at play, like in the case of Mary the mother of Jesus in the episode of the wedding at Cana. God is not stingy at all; God wants for spend for us all of himself; or rather, the whole point of God's own existence as pure light is that of making more joyful the life of creatures
Christ, revealing the splendid glory of God, did not eliminate suffering from our life. But as light bursting out, impossible to contain, Christ showed us clearly that we can look at our life from a different vantage point. We can ask ourselves: What if, while I diligently try to solve the problems and overcome the obstacles that I find on my path, I always remember that my main task is, in fact, another? My main task is to sit and learn how to perceive joy. Only when we do so, it makes sense to talk about Church and its various ministries, as Paul does in his correspondence to the church at Corinth. Only if the various tasks that we perform in and for the church are animated by the light of the Spirit they make sense. Otherwise, we are running around life fools in the darkness. We may think that we are doing great things, but they are worth nothing. We are presently engaged in problem solving in this parish as we might have never been in recent decades. That we must do, without forgetting the essential. The church is here, you are here, I am here, to remind each other that the light is already in us. We minister to each other because we are animated by the divine light, and we learn that we are animated by the divine light because we minister to each other. So, we come full circle. Of course, this virtuous circle at times gets strained. Then our job is to come back to the center and make the energy of love flow again. Amen.