2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 96:1-3, 7-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-12

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Bridegroom and the Bride
This Sunday the First Reading and the Gospel Reading take us to a wedding.  In both readings we are being introduced to another dimension of our covenant relationship with God.  He is our Divine Father, and by our adoption through the saving work of Jesus and the Sacrament of Baptism we become His children.  But as a corporate covenant people, the Church is the chaste Bride of the Divine Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  Marriage is one of the four reoccurring symbolic images of Yahweh in covenant with His chosen people in the writings of the Old Testament prophets (see the chart Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets.). This is an aspect of covenant unity with the divine that is first mentioned in the wedding at the beginning of the story of salvation history in the marriage between Adam and Eve initiated by God in Eden (Gen 2:23-24).  It is expressed throughout the Bible, especially at the time of God's covenant with Israel at Sinai, and the climax of the Bible is the Wedding of the Lamb and His Bride in the Book of Revelation (Rev 19:9; 21:9; and 22:17). 

When the chosen people are in covenant unity with God, the wholeness of that relationship is expressed as a marriage covenant between God the Bridegroom and the covenant people as His beloved Bride (Ez 16:1-6, 14).  But when the people apostatize from their vows of faithfulness to the covenant, the once pure Bride falls into the sin of adultery and becomes an unfaithful spouse (see Jer 2:20-36; 3:1-13; Ez 16:15-63; Hos 2:4/2-7).  Despite the failures of the covenant people, the love of God, the Divine Bridegroom, never ceases, and He is always willing to reclaim His Bride, the Church, as in our First Reading (also see Hos 2:18-22).

St. John the Baptist announced that Jesus is the divine Bridegroom (Jn 3:29).  It is significant that as Jesus began His ministry that His first public sign took place at a wedding where Jesus changed water into wine (our Gospel Reading), preparing us to take part in His royal wedding feast as He neared the climax of His mission at the Last Supper.  In the parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt 22:1-14), and in His announcement of His New Covenant at the Last Supper (Mt 26:27-28; Lk 22:19-20), Jesus calls all the faithful of humanity to be betrothed to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism and to become "one flesh" with Him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Eph 5:21-33; 2 Cor 11:2).   This is the gift of universal salvation that is the reason we sing a new song to declare God's "glory among the nations, his marvels to every people" in today's Psalm (Ps 96:2b-3).

The First Reading Isaiah 62:1-5 (NJB) ~ The Splendor of God's Bride
1 About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I shall not rest until saving justice dawns for her like a bright light and her salvation like a blazing torch.  2 The nations will then see your saving justice, and all kings your glory, and you will be called a new name which Yahweh's mouth will reveal.  3 You will be a crown of splendor in Yahweh's hand, a princely diadem in the hand of your God.  4 No more will you be known as "Forsaken ['azubah]" or your country be known as "Desolation"' instead, you will be called "My Delight is in her [hephzibah]" and your country "The Wedded [beulah]"; for Yahweh will take delight in you and your country will have its wedding.  5 Like a young man marrying a virgin, your rebuilder [maker/Creator] will wed you [your sons shall marry you], and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.  [...] = Hebrew word in original text.

The prophet Isaiah introduced the symbolic imagery of God's relationship with the Old Covenant Church in Jerusalem as bride and bridegroom in Isaiah 61:10.  Now he continues the imagery.  Yahweh will join Himself to Zion (a symbolic name for the redeemed of the Church) as His Bride forever.  Marriage is one of the reoccurring symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets in describing the relationship between Yahweh and His covenant people.  The prophets longed for this day when God was to take back His Bride (see Hos 2:16-19/21-25), and on this day God's redeemed people will see their final salvation. 

Isaiah uses three aspects to describe Zion's marriage to Yahweh:

  1. God's determination to bring it about
  2. Zion's splendor
  3. The glory of the wedding celebration

The Temple in Jerusalem is Zion's home when the people offer Yahweh liturgical worship and commune with their God.  For the sake of Jerusalem, God will not be silent until her righteousness and salvation shine forth (verse 1).  Other nations and their kings will see the beauty of God's bride.  It is a beauty that is not external by which lays in her righteousness and the glory of God's grace that she radiates.  She will be given "a new name" and will be "a crown of splendor" in God's hand (verses 2-3).

Zion's judgment for her past sins in the Babylonian conquest and exile had been so horrific that neighboring nations saw her as "forsaken" and "desolation."  But when God rescues His people from their captivity and returns them to Jerusalem, Zion will receive new names signifying her new relationship to her Divine Spouse.  Hephzibah means "my delight is in her" and "Beulah" means "married" (verse 4).

Verse 5 can be translated either "your sons will marry you" or "your rebuilder/maker/Creator will marry you," depending on how the Hebrew is translated and where the vowels are placed.  Hebrew was originally written only in consonants. 

Looking at this passage from their side of salvation history, the Fathers of the Church saw in it a prophecy of the wedding of the Lamb and His Bride the New Covenant Church and the prophesied "new name" as "The Bride of Christ."  The "sons" who will wed/marry her will be the New Covenant priests, who are "sons of the Church" that take a vow to indeed wed themselves to the Church in making a lifetime commitment to serving the Bride of Christ.

Since the sixth century AD, the Church has used this poem in the liturgy on Christmas Day.  The concept of Christ's union with His Bride the Church is beautifully expressed in a sermon from the Middle Ages: "Like the bridegroom who comes out of his chamber, the Lord came down from heaven to dwell on earth and to become one with the Church through his incarnation.  The Church was gathered together from among the Gentiles, to whom he gave his dowry and his blessings—his dowry, when God was made man; his blessings, when he was sacrificed for their salvation" (Fausto de Riez, Sermo 5 in Epiphania).

Responsorial Psalm 96:1-3, 7-8, 9b-10a, c (NJB) ~ A Call to Rejoice in Yahweh
The response is: "Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations."
 
1 Sing a new song to Yahweh!  Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!  2a Sing to Yahweh; bless his name.
Response:
2b Proclaim his salvation, day after day, 3 declare his glory among the nations, his marvels to every people!
Response:
7 Give to Yahweh, families of nations, give to Yahweh glory and power [praise]; 8a give to Yahweh the glory due his name!
Response:
8b Bring an offering and enter his courts, 9b Tremble before him, all the earth. 10a Say among the nations: "Yahweh is king."  10c He will judge the nations with justice.
Response:

Psalm 96 is one of a group of psalms that celebrate the kingship of God (Ps 93-100).    The psalm invites the whole earth to give glory to Yahweh in a new song of praise and to join in singing and praising God by invoking His name in worship.  The singing of a "new song" (verses 1-3) is also mentioned in Psalm 33:3; Psalm 40:3; and in Isaiah 42:10.  It is because of His promise of salvation (verse 2b) that all the peoples are invited to worship Him and to bring offerings in the liturgy of worship (verses 7-8).  All people of the earth are invited to acknowledge that Yahweh is the divine King of all nations who dispenses justice with equity by causing evil to disappear, by bringing blessings, and by keeping His promises.

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NAB) ~ Gifts of the Holy Spirit
4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.  7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.  8 To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; 10 to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues.  11 But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

St. Paul's point is that God loves all of us and He gives His same Spirit of love to all members of His Church.  At the same time God recognizes that we are all different, and His response to our differences is revealed in the different kinds of gifts of the Spirit that He gives us.  To make his point, St. Paul names nine different kinds of spiritual gifts.  Even though these are the "different workings" or ministries, it is the same God who produces those works in us to advance the Kingdom of the Church.

The Gospel of John 2:1-12 (NJB) ~ Jesus' First Public Sign at the Wedding at Cana
1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.  The mother of Jesus was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.  And they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the feast had all been used, and the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."  4 Jesus said, "Woman, what do you want from me?  My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."  6 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.  7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water," and they filled them to the brim.  8 Then he said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the president of the feast." 9 They did this; the president tasted the water, and it had turned into wine.  Having no idea where it came from—though the servants who had drawn the water knew—the president of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said, "Everyone serves good wine first and the worse wine when the guests are well wined; but you have kept the best wine till now." 11 This was the first of Jesus' signs: it was at Cana in Galilee.  He revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.  12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, but they stayed there only a few days.

Cana in Galilee is probably the modern village of Keb Kenna, which is about four miles northeast of Jesus' hometown of Nazareth.  The Jewish Talmud directs that the marriage of a virgin should be on the fourth day of the week, our Wednesday.  The only day with a "name" was the Sabbath, Saturday.  Sunday was the "first" day of the week [Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1], therefore, as the ancients counted the "fourth" day is Wednesday [there was no concept of a 0 mathematical place-value in the 1st century AD].  Today this custom is still observed and marriage feasts are generally held in the afternoon or evening.  If this custom was observed in Jesus' day that would make the day Andrew and John were called as disciples the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday.  That they "stayed with him the rest of the day" would certainly make sense since travel was (and still is for Orthodox Jews) restricted on the Sabbath.   

On the third day...
On the third day from the previous day mentioned in 1:43.  In chapter 1:29, 35, and 43 you may have noticed the repetition of the words "the next day."  In each case the Greek word epaurion is used.  The literal translation of this word is "on the morrow." If there is "a tomorrow" that suggests that there was a previous day:

The next verse, which is John 2:1, begins 3 days later, "on the third day" from the last day mentioned in verse 43 as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value.  The fourth day plus three more days (Jn 2:1) yields the 7th day. 

It is important to notice how St. John's Creation imagery from the prologue is continued.  In John 1:1-5 of the prologue John gave us Creation imagery in his use of the words "light" and "darkness" and in the "Word" of God who brought Creation into being.  Then in verse 32, I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him... there is the imagery of God the Holy Spirit descending from heaven and hovering above the waters of the Jordan River over Christ just as God's spirit descended and hovered over the waters of creation in Genesis chapter 1

Chapter two is a continuation of that creation imagery.  On the 7th day of Creation, according to tradition, there was a wedding!  This is why, in the Old Covenant tradition, a wedding celebration lasted 7 days.  It was the father of the groom who would decide when the wedding could take place.  The usual festivities consisted of a procession in which the bridegroom and his friends would escort the bride to the groom's house.  The blowing of a trumpet (shofar) signaled the beginning of the procession (see 1Thes 4:16 where the shofar announces Christ the Bridegroom coming for His Bride, the Church).  After the Bridegroom escorted the Bride to His Father's house, the wedding feast would last 7 days (for a Biblical reference see Genesis 29:27; Judges 14:8-10, 18; Tobit 11:15-20; also see the Talmud where the "7 blessings", the Sheva Berachot, are repeated each day; and The Jewish Book of Why, vol. I, page 45).

According to the ancient custom, it was on the 7th day of the feast that the bridegroom finally lifted the veil that covered the face of his bride.  For the first time she would be fully revealed to Him and the marriage could be consummated that night.  In the first century this moment of revelation in the lifting of the veil was called "the apocalypse," which means, "the unveiling."  Understanding the significance of this moment is a significant key to understanding St. John's other great book: "The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ to His Servant John."  It is the last book in the New Testament and it is a book about the "unveiling" of the Bride as she is received by Christ, the Bridegroom.  The Bride is the Church.

In the story of Creation on the 7th day God rested.  Yes, but there is more. On the 6th day of Creation God created the beasts and Adam, and then knowing that Adam needed a companion [in chapter 2 of Genesis] God put Adam into a deep sleep and created the woman [Adam would not name her Hawwah, "Eve," "the mother of all living," until after their fall from grace in Genesis 3:20].  According to Old Covenant Hebrew tradition Adam and the woman awoke from their deep sleep the next day, the 7th day, and God joined them together with Adam acknowledging the union by saying these words: "This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!  She is to be called Woman because she was taken from Man." And Scripture continues: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife and they become one flesh (Gen 2:23-24). 

In John chapter 2 St. John brings the Creation imagery established in John chapter 1 to the 7th day of Creation which recalls the wedding of the Adam and Eve and now unites that imagery to the wedding at Cana.  It was immediately after that first wedding that Adam and Eve fell from grace.  Now Jesus, the "new Adam" (1 Cor 15:22-45) will begin His ministry and restore the grace that was lost through Adam and Eve's sin.  The connection between this wedding and the Genesis story of the woman's connection with man's fall from grace is further connected through Jesus' way of addressing His mother when she makes her request to him.  The wedding at Cana is the 7th day of the New Creation.

But there is a nagging question that must first be addressed: Why didn't John just number the days up to the Wedding at Cana in a more straightforward manner?  Why did he purposely establish a "third day" reference (Jn 2:1, On the third day...) which is also the 7th day?  Remember, nothing in Sacred Scripture is just an accident.  There is always a reason why the inspired writers use certain wording or word order.  The answer is that there is another Old Testament connection to the 3rd and the 7th day.  The Old Testament book of Numbers lists the prescribed rules and regulations for water purification when an Israelite comes in contact with a dead body.  The "holy water" to be used in this rite must be mixed with the ashes of a red heifer that was without fault or blemish and has never borne a yoke (Num 19:1-10).  These ashes were then mixed with the water and blessed by a priest.  This "holy water" was to be used for ritual purification just as the "holy water" in stone vessels was used in the miracle of turning water into wine. 

In Numbers 19:11-13 a person who has become impure through contact with a dead body becomes "as though he were dead" to his community through his contamination.  The person must be ritually purified on the 3rd day and the 7th day in order to be restored/resurrected.  In other words, under the old Law two resurrections are required before the impure individual can be completely restored or resurrected to the covenant people of God.  The connection to Christ and the salvation that He will give to us through His Passion, death, and resurrection is that those of us who are "dead" to sin, are we meant to experience two resurrections:

  1. In the Sacrament of Baptism we are buried into Christ's death from which "he raises [us] up by resurrection with him, as 'a new creature'" (CCC# 1214).  In Revelation 20:6a we are told: Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection; the second death has no power over them..; and also see Ephesians 2:4-6; Romans 5:8-11; and especially Colossians 2:12-13, and CCC# 1002-4, 1214-1215.
  2.  The 2nd resurrection will be experienced with the 2nd Coming of Christ in the resurrection of the dead.  It is at that time that the living and the dead will receive their glorified bodies. Christ promises that those who experience the "second resurrection" will not experience the "second death" (see Rev 2:11; 20:6; 21:8).  This is the fullness of Christ's promise to us. 

What is the symbolism then illustrated by the reference to the 3rd day and the 7th day in John's Gospel and its connection to the old Law ritual cleansing of those made impure by contact with the dead?  Jesus has come to cleanse the defiled people of the Old Covenant who are dead in their sins.  Cleansed by Christ they will no longer be cut off from God but will be able to approach Him in His Tabernacle.  And where is God in His Tabernacle?  See John 1:14, And the Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us. In the miracle of the wedding at Cana, Christ is preparing His people to be able to approach Him.

The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.
In verse 12 we are told that Jesus' brothers (and perhaps sisters) also attend this wedding: After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and his brothers and his disciples....  The Greek word "brothers", adelphoi (meaning from the womb, plural) can be used to refer to both kinds of siblings, brothers and sisters, when used in the plural form.  This however, does not mean that Jesus had brothers and sisters born of the marriage between Mary and Joseph.  It has always been the tradition of the Church from the time of the Apostles that Mary remained a virgin all of her life (CCC# 496-7; 499; 502-507).  In Hebrew and in Aramaic (the common language spoken at the time of Jesus) there is no single word for cousin or stepbrother or stepsister, or kinsman. All of these relationships were expressed with the Aramaic word "brother".  Even though there are words in Greek for "cousin" or stepbrother, etc., the sacred writers used the Aramaic/Hebrew tradition.  This is obvious in Acts 1:16 where Peter addresses the 120 believers of the New Covenant Church in the Upper Room, both men and women, as Adelphoi—"brothers." In the Western Rite Catholic tradition these kinsmen are assumed to be cousins but in the Eastern Rite tradition they are believed to be both cousins and stepbrothers and stepsisters from Joseph's earlier marriage (see the ancient document The Protoevangelium of James).  Since Joseph the legal father of Jesus is not mentioned it is assumed that he is already dead. For more information on the question of Jesus' "brothers/sisters" see the document Did Jesus have Brothers and Sisters? and CCC# 500).

We do not know how many of Jesus' disciples attended the feast, but from the information given in chapter one we know of at least six.  Notice that John has given Mary prominence over Jesus and the other men because she is named first.  She is the central part of this story.  John will mention Mary as Jesus' mother eight different times in his Gospel (Jn 2:1, 3, 5, 12; 6:42; 19:25, 26 (twice), and 27), but he will refer to Mary by the title "the mother of Jesus" only three different times (Jn 2:1, 3; and 19:25).  John only physically places the Virgin Mary in his Gospel narrative at the beginning of Christ's ministry in this passage and at the end in John 19:25 at the foot of the cross on Cavalry. 

And they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the feast had all been used, and the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
During the seven days of feasting, the women in attendance would have looked after the food preparation; therefore it is not unusual that Mary would have been aware of the emergency caused by the lack of wine.

Jesus said, "Woman, what do you want from me?  My hour has not yet come."
This verse is a scandal to some and a stumbling block to many.  It becomes a stumbling block to those who incorrectly interpret this passage as an expression of Jesus' separation from Mary—that she is not any more important to Him than any other sinner in need of salvation.  It is also a scandal for Catholics who love Mary and cannot understand why Jesus would speak so disrespectfully to His mother!  The problem lies in the interpretation of a Hebrew idiom, which is rendered in Greek as ti emoi kai soi.  This idiom should be literally translated: "What to me and to you?" which means, "What has it to do with you and me?"  This expression implies a divergence of views but the precise meaning must be determined, as always, from the context of the passage.  The context of this passage clearly shows that His comment to His mother was not a rebuttal much less a rebuke!

Jesus kept the Laws of the Sinai Covenant perfectly—He was the only one who could keep them perfectly.  The commandments in Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3 and Deuteronomy 5:16 are to honor one's parents.  This is the only commandment that contains a promise—the promise is long life.  However, the penalty for not showing honor and respect to one's parents was death (Lev 20:9). Is it possible that Jesus rebuked his own mother publicly in this passage? Absolutely not!  He would have been in violation of the Law and a scandal at the wedding feast.  It is unthinkable that He should do such a thing!

It is helpful to look at this same Hebrew idiom in verse 4 in other passages in Scripture. The Hebrew idiom is used in Old Testament passages 5 times:

  1. In Judges 11:12 where Jephthah responds in a hostile challenge to the King of the Ammonites.
  2. In 2 Samuel 16:10 where David says ti emoi kai umin (plural, in the Greek Septuagint translation) to his cousins, the sons of Zeruiah, meaning that he does not agree with their advice (also see 2 Sam 19:23).
  3. In 1 Kings 17:18 when the woman of Zarephath reproaches Elijah for the death of her son.
  4. In 2 Kings 3:13 the prophet Elisha refuses the King of Israel's request to consult with him.
  5. In 2 Chronicles 35:21 when Neco, King of Egypt, tells King Josiah there is no quarrel between them to cause them to go to war.

The phrase, in Greek "ti emoi kai soi" = "what to me and you," is used 6 times in the New Testament:

  1. It is repeated in Matthew 8:29 when the demoniacs of Gadara shouted to Jesus What do you want with us ("what is it to me and you/singular"), Son of God?
  2. Mark 1:24 when Jesus cures the man possessed by a demon at Capernaum when the man shouts What do you want with us ("what to me and to you/plural"), Jesus of Nazareth?
  3. Mark 5:7 when the man with the unclean spirit says the same thing to Jesus in his attempt to urge Jesus to let him alone.
  4. Luke 4:34 which is a repeat of the exchange with the demoniac of Capernaum and
  5. Luke 8:28 which is a repeat of the story of the Gadara demoniacs. 
  6. John 2:4 when Jesus responds to his mother's request concerning the wine.

The phrase does not always imply a reproach, but it suggests a divergence of opinion.  The shade of meaning can be determined only from the context.  In this passage Jesus' objection is only that his hour has not yet come.

References to "the coming hour" will be made repeatedly in John's Gospel.  There are fourteen such references to the "coming hour."
Scripture reference in John's Gospel Scripture passage referring to the "coming hour"
(emphasis added)
1.  2:4 Jesus to His mother: "my hour has not yet come"
2.  4:21 Jesus to the Samaritan woman:  "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem."
3.  4:23 Jesus to the Samaritan woman: "But the hour is coming—indeed is already here—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth..."
4.  5:25 Jesus to the Jewish crowd: "In all truth (amen, amen) I tell you, the hour is coming—indeed it is already here—when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live."
5.  5:28 Jesus to the Jewish crowd cont.: "Do not be surprised at this, for the hour is coming when the dead will leaven their graves at the sound of his voice..."
6.  7:30 They wanted to arrest him then, but because his hour had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.
7.  8:20 He spoke these words in the Treasury, while teaching in the Temple.  No one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
8.  12:23 Jesus replied to them: "Now the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.
9 & 10.  12:27 Jesus to His disciples: "What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour?  But it is for this very reason that I have come to this hour."
11.  13:1 Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end.
12. 16:25 Jesus to the disciples: I have been telling you these things in veiled language.  The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in veiled language but tell you about the Father in plain words.
13. 16:32 Jesus at the Last Supper linking His "hour" to the disciple's "hour": Listen; the hour will come—indeed it has come already—when you are going to be scattered, each going his own way and leaving me alone...
14. 17:1 After saying this, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: "Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that Your Son may glorify you...

To some scholars this reference to "the hour" refers to the "hour" of his glorification.  To others it is the "hour" that marks the beginning of His public ministry and His manifestation as the Messiah.  But all scholars will agree that in John's Gospel the reference to Jesus' "hour" most often points to the "hour" of Christ's passion and death on the cross—an hour that man will not determine but an "hour" that is completely in God's control.  That interpretation fits in the context of this passage where He mentions the "hour" of his death in association with the "best wine" in John 2:10 that was provided through Jesus' miracle at the wedding at Cana, for it will be His blood that is shed that will become the "best wine" of Holy Communion that provides the blessings for all of mankind through His sacrificial death.

Did God know this event would take place?  Of course, God knows everything; therefore, Jesus could not have been surprised by her request.  The purpose of this incident is to instruct us and to help us to understand the power of Mary's intervention not just on behalf of the bride and groom at Cana but her concern and power to intervene for all her children.  The wonderful thing about Mary is that when we petition our holy Mother for her assistance she always prays for us according to the Father's will for our lives—not just according to our request. 

The understanding of the idiom in John 2:4 coupled with the context of the passage and Jesus reference to His "hour" indicates that although it was not part of God's plan to use His power to solve this problem of the wine, Mary's request moves Him to do precisely what she requested. St. Irenaeus (m. 201 AD) in addressing this passage points out that it could not be a reproach but is instead, as Jesus indicated by the mention that "his hour had not yet come", that Jesus is telling Mary, "this is not the plan but leave it to me" (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.17.7).

The question remains if Jesus isn't rebuking His mother, why does He call her "Woman"?  Remember the reoccurring Genesis imagery and see Genesis 3:15: I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers [her seed]; He will strike at your head while you strike at his heel.  This prophecy is known as the Protoevangelium = the first Gospel.  It is the first prophecy of the future Messiah who will redeem mankind and defeat the serpent.  Jesus calls Mary "Woman" because that is her title.  She is the "Woman" whose seed will defeat the serpent.  Only two women in salvation history have been given the title "Woman," Eve and Mary (see Gen 2:23; Jn 2:4, 19:27). 

In Greek the word "woman" is gune which does not have the force of the English equivalent "woman" but is instead a more gentle expression.  It was not unusual for a man to refer to a woman as "gune" in the 1st century, but it is unusual that in Mary's case that there is no article or pronoun associated with the word (i.e. "the woman", " my woman", etc.).  However, at various times Jesus addresses women simple as "gune" (for example see Mt 15:28; Lk 13:12; Jn 4:21; 8:10; 20:15).  But only here in this passage as well as in chapter 19, Jesus used the word "gunai" in addressing his own mother Mary, which some scholars translate as "dear woman"—a clear reference to her role as the new Eve promised in Genesis 3:15.

Mary is the "new Eve."  St. Irenaeus writing in circa 180AD expressed Mary's role as the "new Eve" this way: Eve, however, was disobedient; and when yet a virgin, she did not obey.  Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in Paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply,--having become disobedient, was made the cause for death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race...Thus, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.  What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith (St Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3,22,4, written circa AD 180).

Approximately 30 years later the great Christian apologist Tertullian wrote: "For it was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death.  Likewise, through a Virgin, the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life.  Thus, what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex, was by the same sex re-established in salvation.  Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel.  That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing set straight" (Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ, 17, 4 AD 208-212).  This view of Mary's role in the plan of redemption is also expressed in the Catechism in 411, 511 and 975. 

The two Eves contrasted:
THE VIRGIN EVE THE VIRGIN MARY
Daughter of the first Covenant Daughter of the Sinai Covenant
Pledged obedience under the covenant Pledged obedience under the covenant
Eve's disobedience resulted in the fall into sin of the entire human race.  The result was death, physically and spiritually. Mary's obedience to God resulted in the offer of the gift of salvation to the entire human race.  The result was eternal life

Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.' Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert 'The knot of Eve's disobedience was united by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.'  Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary 'the Mother of the living' and frequently claim" 'Death through Eve, life through Mary" (CCC 494 quoting St. Irenaeus, Epiphanius, and St. Jerome).

How perfect is God's plan that although sin and death entered the world through the disobedience of the woman Eve who led the man Adam into sin, now we can compare the role of women in salvation history to the woman Mary, the new Eve, who leads her son, Jesus—the new Adam—to His first glorious work at Cana!  All women now have Mary as their role model in fulfilling their vocation as mothers to raise up holy children who will continue to work for God's plan of salvation.  Satan used the virgin Eve to bring destruction and God used the Virgin Mary to bring about our redemption from sin.  Just as a woman and a man cooperated to bring sin into to world now a woman (in her obedience to God) and her Son will cooperated to bring salvation. Without Mary's role as the new Eve, women, as a sex, would still bear the burden and condemnation for leading Adam into sin.  Mary releases women from that burden.

However, there may be more to Mary's petition that simply helping out a young couple in an embarrassing situation during their wedding celebration.  Her petition has theological significance.  What she is asking Jesus to provide is wine that is a divine gift at a wedding banquet attended by the covenant people.  Her request is for Jesus to initiate a prophetic act that will launch His ministry.  In the reoccurring symbolic images of the prophets, drinking the best wine at banquet in the presence of God is the image of Israel in restored communion with her God.

The Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets:
The Image of Drinking Wine
Image Group Part I
Covenant relationship
Part II
Rebellion
Part III
Redemptive Judgment
Part IV
Restoration
Fulfilled
Drinking Wine Joy of drinking good wine Becoming drunk Loss of wine and drinking the "cup of God's wrath" Rejoicing in the best "new wine" at the Master's table

[examples in Scripture] Jeremiah 40:12;
Isaiah 62:8-9
Isaiah 5:11-12; 28:1;
Jeremiah 8:13; 48:26; 51:7;
Joel 1:5
Joel 4:13; Isaiah 51:17; 63:2-3;
Jeremiah 13:12-14; 25:15-31; 48:26;
Ezekiel 23:32-33
Promise:
Zech.9:15-16
Filled:
Luke 22:19-20;
1 Corinthians 11:23-32;
Revelation 19:7-9

In the book of Revelation, the passage that speaks of the fulfillment of the New Covenant people's relationship with God is presented as a wedding feast—the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride the Church (Rev 19:6-9).  In her petition, Mary, the faithful daughter of Israel, is asking God the Son to begin His mission to bring the restoration of covenant union to her people with Yahweh in a prophetic ot, a symbolic act by a prophet that points to a future work of God in salvation history.  Jesus providing the best wine to a faithful remnant of the old Israel at a wedding banquet prefigures the promised restoration of the new Israel in the Eucharistic banquet that will sustain Mary's New Covenant children on their journey to salvation until the time when they enjoy the wine of salvation at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and His Bride in the heavenly Sanctuary (Rev 12:17 identifies those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus as Mary's children).

His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."  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.
Mary's direction to the servants indicates her understanding of Jesus comment to her in 2:4. Her command to the servants indicates that she has understood from Jesus response to her that He will honor her petition concerning the problem of the wine.  She has confidence that her Son will fulfill her request and so she instructs them to do exactly as He tells them.  This is the same advice Mary gives to all her spiritual children in the family of God: to do as her Son tells them—to be obedient to the will of God in their lives.

Writing to a predominantly Gentile-Christian community, John once again instructs his readers about Old Covenant customs.  Ritual purification was very important under the Laws of the Old Covenant.  We know that these jars held "holy water" because John tells us that they are stone vessels not the usual fired pottery vessels that held wine.  Holy water was kept in stone vessels.  Using the symbolism of numbers, John may be calling attention to the number 6 as just short of perfection, which according to tradition is the number 7.  The Old Covenant rituals of purification were not complete or perfect but were only a preparation for the purity and perfection promised in the New Covenant.

The 6 stone vessels, which John mentions, that were placed outside the wedding reception room are the same type of vessels especially mentioned in Chel. 10.1 [Keley Abhanim] of the Talmud as being expressly used for the purification of the hands (see The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah page 247 and the Mishnah, Seder Tohoroth).  It was customary to have these large water jars of stone in or near the room where a feast was being held so that water might be available for the ceremonial washing of hands prescribed before and after means (see Mk 7:3; 2 Kng 3:11; etc.).  During the Feast of Unleavened Bread when on the first night the Passover lamb or kid was eaten, hands were ritually washed three times: before, during, and after eating the food.  In this case, each of the stone vessels held two or three measures.  A measure is about eight gallons so each jar held between 20 to 30 gallons of water for a total of approximately 150 gallons of water.

Jesus said to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water,' and they filled them to the brim.  Then he said to them, 'Draw some out now and take it to the president of the feast.' They did this; the president tasted the water, and it had turned into wine.  Having no idea where it came from—though the servants who had drawn the water knew...
Since this event took place part way through the feast, some of the water had already been drawn out of the jars for the purification of hands before the meal.  Now Jesus instructs the servants to make sure the jars are filled to the brim, which emphasizes the superabundance and magnificence of the gift produced by the miracle. 

Sacred Scripture promised that the Messiah would bring an abundance of gifts to the people: Psalms 85:12; Joel 2:24; Amos 9:13-15, etc.  These passages emphasize the superabundance of the riches of Redemption and Salvation. In order for the miracle to be performed, Mary stressed to the servants that they must be obedient to Jesus' commands.  This suggests to us the importance of obedience to the will of God in even the smallest details of our lives.

Can you see the humorous side of this part of the story?  You can imagine the expression on the faces of the servants worrying that they will be blamed for bringing water to the president of the feast instead of wine and then their amazement when the president of the feast enthusiastically pronounces what they have brought him the choicest wine!

The president of the feast called the bridegroom and said, "Everyone serves good wine first and the worse wine when the guests are well wined; but you have kept the best wine till now."
The president of the feast is not a servant but is a friend of the groom.  Some scholars suggest that he is what we would call "the best-man"; it is a suggestion that fits well theologically with what John the Baptist will teach at the end of chapter 3.  What does this superior wine coming at the end of the feast suggest to you symbolically?  St. Thomas Aquinas and other Fathers of the Church saw this abundance of good wine kept for the end of the celebrations as symbolizing the crowning moment in Salvation history when God has sent His own Son whose teaching will perfect the old revelation of God received by the patriarchs and Old Covenant Church.  Now the graces Christ brings will far exceed their expectations.  The wine replacing the water in essence symbolized the replacement of the Old Covenant and the superabundance of the New Covenant—the temporal blessings of the Old Covenant with the eternal blessings of the New.  They also saw this good wine coming at the end as prefiguring the reward and the joy of eternal life, which God grants to those who desire to follow Christ in obedience (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on St. John). 

This was the first of Jesus' signs: it was at Cana in Galilee.  He revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.  After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, but they stayed there only a few days.
St. John uses the term "signs," semeion in the common Greek, seventeen times in his Gospel.  John uses the word "sign" because these works performed by Jesus are not just supernatural miracles but are signs that unveil the glory and power of God working through Jesus the Messiah.  These "signs" also recall the signs performed by God's first holy prophet Moses in Exodus 4:8; 4:28-31.  In John's Gospel Jesus performs eight miracles, six of which are not recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, but seven of these miracles are public "signs" that reveal Jesus as the Messiah.  That John records seven public signs draws attention to seven as a number indicating perfection and fullness (see "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture").  

The Seven Public Signs of Jesus in St. John's Gospel
#1  2:1-11 The sign of water turned to wine at the wedding at Cana
#2  4:46-54 The healing of the official's son
#3  5:1-9 The healing of the paralytic
#4  6:1-14 The multiplication of the loaves to feed the 5,000
#5  9:1-41 The healing of the man who was born blind
#6  11:17-44 The raising of Lazarus from the dead
#7  2:18-20* The Resurrection of Jesus that will be fulfilled in 20:1-10

*this sign is prophesized by Jesus in 2:18-20, but not fulfilled until chapter 20.

The private sign is found in chapter 6 when Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee and calms the storm, a private revelation for the Apostles that identifies Jesus as the prophet "greater than Moses."  In John's Gospel there are a total of eight miracles, seven public and one private.  Seven is the number of symbolizing perfection [especially "spiritual" perfection], and eight is the number symbolizing rebirth (i.e., circumcision is on the eighth day of a boy's life when he is "born" into the Sinai Covenant) and it is the number of salvation and resurrection as represented by the eight people who were saved in Noah's Ark after passing through the waters—a sign of baptism.

There is also another Old Testament reference we should not miss connecting stone jars and Moses.  In John chapter 1 there was Creation imagery as well as references to Moses the great prophet and "Lawgiver" of the Old Covenant who turned the water of the Nile into blood—even the water in stone vessels (Ex 7:19).  Now in chapter 2 these "signs" of Jesus recall the "signs" of Moses in Egypt as Jesus turns water in stone vessels into wine but later He will turn the wine into His own blood (Lk 22:20).  Jesus is the new Moses, the prophet, lawgiver, and miracle worker of the New Covenant, and His mother is the new Miriam who will support Him throughout His mission just as Miriam, Moses's sister, supported him. 

Catechism References:

Isaiah 62 (CCC 1611); 62:4-5 (CCC 219)
Psalm 96:2 (CCC 2143)
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (CCC 249); 12:6 (CCC 308); 12:7 (CCC 801, 951); 12:9 (CCC 1508)
John 2:1-12 (CCC 2618); 2:1-11 (CCC 1613); 2:1 (CCC 495); 2:11 (CCC 486, 1335)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016