Irish Dominican Church, Tralee, Co Kerry
Reflections for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (20th January 2019)
"There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons",(John 2:4-5).
It is widely known that, at the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus turned water into wine. What is less well known is how much water was turned into how much wine. And what is also less well known is what all those jars of water lying around Cana were meant to be used for until they were turned into wine.
There were 6 large stone jars, and we are told each one was large enough to carry 20 or 30 gallons. If you do the math, then, there were between 120 and 180 gallons of water that Jesus turned into that much wine. That’s a lot of wine. Especially since they’ve already drank all the wine they had at the wedding up to that point. The miracle Jesus performs is unbelievably generous for a wedding that had about as many people at it as there were gallons of wine.
Such is the generosity of God. Our response to God's gift, like those at Cana, is gratitude. And Joy. The first miracle Jesus performs is associated with Joy. Joy lies at the heart of our entire Christian life. But there is another layer to this story. Those jars were meant for 'ablutions'. That is, they were meant to be used specifically for Jewish ritual purification for uncleanness. Not for celebration. At that time there was a notion people had that as one went through their day or their week, certain actions would make you unclean and so if you wanted to talk to God in prayer you needed to be purified. Actually, a lot of religions still to this day practice this idea of people becoming ritually unclean.
Not just physically unclean but in some sense unclean under the law. If you were near a dead body for example- you were ritually unclean. You’d need to be cleansed before turning to God in prayer. There was a very long list, for men and for women, for everyone- of things that made you unclean. Those Jars that Jesus turned into wine were meant to be used to ritually purify oneself. Instead, they were turned to wine and shared with everyone.
We do not need to be ritually cleansed before turning to God in prayer. God always wants to hear from us. God had come into the world in Jesus. Jesus does not ask you to go for a bath or be perfect before He is willing to talk to you. He has come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly, He says elsewhere in the Gospel. The Gospel itself literally means 'Good News'. It is Joyful news, not a list of awkward regulations.
Finally, about all that wine. Wine is always associated in the Old Testament with Joy. Countless Psalms mention wine in the context of joy. Is Jesus giving everyone so much wine to get them drunk? Intoxicated? No, because there is a deeper meaning here.
Jesus is the New Wine. He gives Himself freely on the Cross for us. The Eucharist is our Thanksgiving, that is what Eucharist means- Thanksgiving. At the Mass, before the consecration, while the priest is preparing the gifts of bread and wine, he will say these words over the wine either silently to himself our out loud:
"Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink".
Ours is not a distant God, but a personal one. He comes down and journeys with us. Jesus is there throughout our life- from the start of our Christian journey at Baptism all the way through First Communion, and Marriage- like at Cana- and at the end of life here on earth.
Written by Fr Daragh