In Cana of Galilee

Yesterday for Catholics the Gospel at Mass was John 2:1-11 , the Wedding at Cana. This is one of my favorite parts of the Gospel.

This story is so beautiful and so rich with symbolism that I feel compelled to write a little about it here. Even though we have some deep religious thinkers here at the Scene I find we don’t too often write about theology, which is a shame. (I’ve put this in the “Culture” category, but don’t we need a “Theology” one?)

The first import of the story, obviously, is that Jesus’ first miracle is to make booze for a party, and that, my friends, is awesome. I could never find that austerity fits religious life, and apparently neither did the Lord.

Another superficial-but-important layer is another proof that, as I tend to say (in my role as provocateur, as Friend of the Scene Freddie writes), the New Testament is the world’s first feminist work. The Gospels often show how, in the context of a patriarchal society, women played a very important role in the early Church. It is Mary who initiates Jesus’ miracle, and when she brings it up he dismisses her, calling her “woman”. Throughout the Gospels, whenever the men dismiss the women, it is later found out that the women were, in fact, right. After Jesus is resurrected, it is women who first find the empty tomb and, when they report this to the Apostles, they are first dismissed. In a matter of days, the Apostles, the leaders of the Church, have forgotten Jesus’ words about rebuilding the Temple, but the women remember, and accept the revelation. And it is the women, of course, who are right.

Jesus’ public life thus begins and ends with women who, better than the men, understand His Revelation. Furthermore, at Cana, Mary does more than just suggest and initiate: she takes charge, asking for the servants to bring him the jars of water. In the Church, women are not bystanders, they are very much leaders.

(I could also rhapsodize about the significance of the fact that, while the attendees think nothing of the appearance of this wine, it is the servants who witness, and remember the miracle. Beati pauperes indeed.)

But where the depth and significance of the miracle of Cana really shows is where it intersects with Catholic theology (sorry, Protestants).

This initiation of the miracle by Mary is not just an illustration of the importance of women. It also parallels another story, from the Old Testament: that of Eve, who drives Adam to eat the apple. The miracle of Cana shows that, just as Jesus is the New Adam, Mary the Immaculate is the New Eve. Just as Eve had to push Adam to act, Mary pushes Jesus into the world, not simply by giving birth, but also by initiating his public life. What a powerful symbol, that the Redemption of humanity should begin with this mirror, righted image of the Fall. Imagine it for a second: at this stage, Mary knows that pushing him to perform a miracle and start his public life will lead to the humiliation, torture and death of her only son, and yet she is the one who does it. While Jesus is having fun at a party, how serious, how weighty her “They have no wine“ must have been.

And finally, of course, that we had no wine was oh so incredibly true then. The transformation of water into wine presages the transubstantiation of wine into the Blood of Christ. Jesus is wedded to the Church, and the Eucharist here is presaged as a nuptial mystery. Jesus gives himself to the Church, as Paul wrote , like a husband must give himself to his wife: entirely.

The Wedding at Cana is the reading of the Gospel my wife and I chose for our wedding, because of the depth of meaning of this apparently simple story. What it says about women, the dedication of marriage and the Redemption is what we want to keep in mind for the rest of our lives.

Well, that, and booze.

(Since I am a Catholic this is very much a Catholic take on this piece of the Gospel but I would be very curious to learn about other takes on Cana from different religious perspectives.)