‘This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee.’ In other words, Jesus had performed his first miracle. And what was that miracle? Turning water into wine. Some people might say: a shortage of wine at a wedding is a first-world problem…
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are full of spectacular, awe-inspiring miracles of different kinds, including taming nature, healing, and casting out devils. Those stories have fostered a very strong and commonly accepted perception of miracles solely as actions defying the laws of nature in a spectacular fashion via the power of divine intervention. In that respect, the story in today’s gospel goes almost completely against the common perception of what constitutes a miracle. In the grand scheme of things, a shortage of wine at a wedding party can be inconvenient, even embarrassing; but it’s hardly a matter for divine intervention. Then there’s virtually no audience to gasp in awe; the miracle is performed unobtrusively. Jesus himself seems to be reluctant to become involved in problem-solving. When he does, it looks like he bows to his Mother’s request. Then the miracle itself takes quite a while to accomplish and a lot of hard labour on the part of lots of people to take effect. All that is so anti-climatic, ordinary, run-of-the-mill and not so miraculous…
There’s one particular problem with the common understanding of miracles, with two main possible outcomes. Either the very notion of miraculous divine intervention is completely ridiculed and rejected; or it creates expectations that are impossible to meet, thus leading to disappointment and – occasionally – to a crisis of faith. Dare I say it, either outcome is caused by the ignorance of those in question, and not by God’s reluctance to get involved. The story in today’s gospel can help us to overcome that ignorance. To do so, let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ first miracle.
As I said before, a shortage of wine at a wedding is small beer when compared to the great variety of problems that plague humankind. But, as a proverb has it, ‘close sits my shirt, but closer my skin.’ The newly-weds’ problem is real and significant. Not only their special day stands to be ruined but also their reputation! Who’s spotted the young couple’s anxiety? It’s one of the wedding guests, namely Mary, the Mother of Jesus. By definition, wedding guests are there to enjoy themselves, rather than to become involved in solving other people’s problems. Then Mary’s asks her Son, Jesus, for help. That’s the only request here for divine intervention. Jesus’ response gets people involved; servants who literally have to do the heavy lifting. Jesus orders them to transfer 120 gallons of water from a well to the stone jars. That would amount to 120 modern buckets of water to be carried on their backs. Mary’s additional instruction to ‘Do whatever he tells you’ both reinforces Jesus’ own instruction and urges the servants on to persevere in their seemingly pointless labour as there’s a shortage of wine – not of water – at the wedding. Finally, when exactly does the water turn into wine? We don’t know at what point the transformation took place. What we do know is that the resulting product of the miraculous transformation is of superior quality to the wine originally offered by the newly-weds.
We can draw several conclusions from this story. Firstly, God is interested in our lives and troubles, and He’s willing to get involved. Secondly, divine intervention doesn’t absolve us from taking action; on the contrary, our own involvement is vital. God doesn’t solve our problems on our behalf; He does it with our cooperation. Thirdly, we do not act alone. None of those involved effects the miraculous change single-handedly. Each plays their own role and – taken individually – their actions are as ordinary as they can be; in fact, they are told to get on with doing their chores! But their collective effort is blessed by God and brings about a change for the better.
Undoubtedly, in this story, it is the turning of water into wine that catches our attention. But the real miracle here is the ad-hoc community. Each member of that community does different things: Mary identifies the problem, pleads with Jesus for help, and then instructs the servants to trust Him. Jesus responds to his Mother’s request and comes up with a plan. The servants do the heavy lifting. And somewhere in the process the miracle happens; the miracle that wouldn’t happen without the effort of all those involved.
Similarly, this community is a collective, collaborative miracle-worker. I’d like to thank each one of you for playing your part. I’m grateful and honoured that over the last seven years I have been given the privilege of being a small cog in this large, wonderful machine. May God bless you all most richly!
Photo by Takmeomeo