Mary’s Part

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Who does not love the story of Jesus’ changing the water into wine? [Jn 2:1-11] Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana is exciting, mysterious, and intriguing. It sets the stage for the ongoing revelation of Jesus’ glory to his disciples. It is a richly symbolic multiplication story foretelling the kind of restorative mission Jesus is about to begin. It compares an abundance of the finest wine at a wedding banquet to God’s overflowing love in the Kingdom of God.

The metaphor of marriage is woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe God’s covenant relationship with human beings, and it’s no secret that it has not always been a happy union.  But here, in the telling of Jesus’ miraculous production of a copious supply of the finest wine in the midst of a wedding banquet where there was none, the gospel writer invites us to lift our glasses in celebration of a renewed union between God and humanity.

Abundance overcomes emptiness. Change cures lethargy. The permanent shift from the old to the new has been brought about by the life and passion of Jesus. This wine will not run out. The celebration will never end.

Clearly, this story is about Jesus. But, can we talk about Mary’s role?

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. ² Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. ³ When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [Jn 2:1-3]

Let’s give Mary some props. She’s the one who recognized the need, and she’s the one who brought it to Jesus.

In those days, wedding feasts went on for several days. The gospel doesn’t say how many days of celebrating had passed when the wine ran out—it didn’t matter— Mary knew, as any good host knows, that when the wine runs out, the party is over.

So, Mary brought her concern to the one she trusted would take care of it. She turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.”  Now, Jesus might have said, “Oh, I’ll let the bridegroom know”, or “It’s getting late, we should probably head out soon anyways,” but Jesus knew his mother’s statement was more than a simple appeal for his help. He said “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” [Jn 2:4]

Let’s sidestep Jesus’ astonishingly fresh retort to his mother and note that Mary wisely ignored it. In doing so, she turned the entire matter over to him, telling the servers to do whatever he said.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a few lifeless banquets, events and liturgies during which I might have said, “They have no wine.” I probably have been the host or facilitator of some of them.  To be fair, on occasion, it was my own lack of spirit that was the issue. Mary noticed a lack of wine, but her words can also be heard as an observation of the banquet’s spiritual dryness.  Mary knew something had to be done to bring the party back to life, so she turned to Jesus.

With that, Mary’s job was complete—and in more ways than one.

First, her instruction to the servers to “Do whatever he tells you” [Jn 2:5] established her awareness of Jesus’ authority.

Second, because she brought the need to Jesus, the wedding celebration was spared party paralysis (indeed, the festivities continue to this day).

Third, theologically speaking, Mary’s understanding of God’s will for her life, which led from her fiat to the foot of the cross, included putting her trust in Jesus.

Fourth, Mary’s words and actions provide us with a model for prayer: in times of spiritual dryness—our own, that of our family, community, church or even our country—we should bring our concern to Jesus, and do whatever he tells us.

Fifth, although a mother’s job never ends, Mary’s part in the miracle included both her recognition of Jesus’ hour—his readiness to fly, so to speak—and her time to let him go.

Change happens when the old ways no longer achieve their originally intended purpose. Jesus’ miracle did exactly this. The results of ritual practices, such as those for which the six water jars were designed, were temporary. The miracle at Cana produced a permanent change. Jesus himself was the miracle at Cana. And Mary played a part in it.

Now, how about some wine?

Today’s readings can be found here.

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It’s a miracle!

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

In August, 2013 a news story circulated about a mysterious roadside “angel” who appeared at the scene of a head-on collision where the victim was trapped inside her crushed vehicle. The man, described as wearing priestly garb, prayed with and anointed the 19-year-old woman, provided calming reassurances to the rescue workers that all would be well, and then disappeared from the scene without a trace.

This story took off and gained international attention. The Missouri miracle, as it was called, was intriguing. Who was this man who emerged from the corn fields with anointing oils? How was it possible for anyone to come and go when the road was blocked in both directions? And why did none of the photos taken at the scene include this person? News reports and the internet buzzed with speculation. Even Diane Sawyer wanted to know.

Who doesn’t love the idea of a miracle? Miracles seem to point to a higher power’s participation in worldly events. They cause doubters to pause. Believers want to attribute these baffling life-saving events to divine intervention, and why not? But as well-known Jesuit priest and author, Fr. James Martin, said in a comment to the Huffington Post “Most likely the priest will be identified, and people will be able to thank him.” Spoilsport. Still, Fr. Martin’s point is that human acts of bravery and extreme kindness happen all the time. Oftentimes they point to God’s engagement in human history. But this kind of pragmatic response just pops the balloon of hope held out by many who hunger for a “real” miracle.

The multiplication of the loaves and fishes [John 6:1-15] was a real miracle. It was an opportunity for Jesus to teach the disciples about spiritual abundance, and the crowd enjoyed the miraculous result. The feeding of the 5,000 revealed that God does great things with just the smallest offering; the tiniest spark of faith was more than enough to work with. And after everyone had their fill, the disciples gathered 12 baskets of fragments.

Lesson learned.

But the next day the crowd was hungry again, and they went in search of Jesus and more bread. The crowd did not see the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as a miraculous sign of God’s care; they saw it as dinner.

Jesus knew this and in one of his most difficult teachings challenged the crowd to understand his identity as one sent to fill their lives, not their bellies.

“Don’t work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life” [John 6:27a]. The double play on the word work referred both to the kind of work that provides enough to eat and the kind of work expressed through obedience to the Law given by Moses. The Jews in the crowd who heard the latter grew uneasy. They asked, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” and Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” [John 6:28-29].

Oh boy. Understand how outrageous this statement was to the hearers: “We have Moses, are you implying you are greater than Moses? If so, what can you do to prove it? Moses gave us manna to eat!”

Spiritual hunger: that universal human longing for the moreness of life. The myriad religious expression in human history acknowledges there is not a single civilization which has not attempted to satisfy the desire to know the higher power. But, Jesus says “Don’t work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life.” In other words, Jesus is the bread of life whose presence makes God known in the world. A life nourished by and lived in imitation of Jesus is a life lived toward union with God.

And sometimes that union is expressed in miraculous events.

Many people hoped the Missouri miracle man really was an angelic apparition. Turns out Fr. Martin was right and Rev. Patrick Dowling, a priest of the diocese of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, MO, stepped forward a few days after the accident. In an interview with ABC News, Fr. Dowling said, “he was only doing the basic job of a priest and most of the credit goes to God.” He went on to add, “I have no doubt the Most High answered their prayers and I was part of his answer, but only part.”

Was the Missouri miracle a miracle? Absolutely. As Fr. Dowling stated, “the credit goes to God.”

Today’s readings can be found here.

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Still hungry? Gospel texts from John’s “Bread of Life” discourse [John 6] are read from the 17-21st weeks of Ordinary Time (B) [Lectionary for Mass and the Revised Common Lectionary], and will be explored with a view towards discipleship here on The Good Disciple blog..

There is enough, there is always enough.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Did he, or didn’t he?

Did Jesus actually organize a meal to feed a crowd of 5,000 from just five barley loaves and two fish?

Yes.

Did Jesus use a child’s contribution as a way to encourage those in the crowd who had some food to share it with those who had none?

Yes.

Some people are offended by the latter explanation. They claim it undermines the intent of the gospel writer. They claim it weakens Jesus by dismissing the possibility that he actually created a bottomless bread basket and endless fish platter from the five loaves and two fish. Others (including me) disagree. Jesus did create a bottomless bread basket and endless fish platter. He did it by changing the hearts of those who said “I’ve got mine, go get your own” to “I have a little, but I can share it with you.” This was as much a miracle then as it is today.

Like the five barley loaves and two fish the child offered to help feed the multitudes, the humblest offering has the capacity to transform society. Jesus knew this; everyone ate, everyone had their fill, and there were leftovers. There is enough, there is always enough.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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(This gospel [John 6:1-15] begins the “Bread of Life” discourse which will be the topic for the next five weeks.)