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Loving you is a feast

In a village in Galilee a wedding feast is celebrated. There are the guests who gathered to spend a few happy days, but here’s a disappointment: there is no wine and there is not even water because—according to the story—the jars are empty. A situation of abandonment, of general sadness. This is the surface. What’s in depth? 

The name Israel is for us masculine, in Hebrew it is feminine: a chance that the prophets did not miss to introduce in the description the symbolism of marital relationship of their people with the Lord. He—they say—is the faithful husband, while Israel is the bride that often lets herself be seduced by idols, giving her love to strangers.

In the Bible drunkenness is condemned (Proverbs 23:30) but wine is a symbol of happiness and love (Ecclesiastes 10:19). “Wine and music gladden the heart” (Sirach 40:20). 

At the time of Jesus, Israel expects the kingdom of God, the kingdom that the prophets have described as a banquet laden with rich food and choice wines, meat full of marrows, fine wine strained (Isaiah 25:6). This kingdom, however, still seems to be far away. The people are sad, like those who celebrate a wedding feast without wine.

Why is she in this condition? The reason is simple: the bride’s rapport with God is no longer there. The relationship is like that of the slave forced to obey the orders of the master. 

The religion taught by the rabbis is one of merits. Who acquires them and is faithful to the law is loved by God. To help people to observe it, the spiritual leaders begin to give an interpretation in which they specify, point out, define, stand up to reduce the word of God to a code of standards, an inextricable maze of provisions of detailed little rules impossible to observe.

Since transgressions are inevitable and one always feels unclean and guilty, the purification rites were devised. 

The ritual baths for which having water at hand is essential. Water is not at all easy to get because it cannot be transported with containers, but must flow through special canals.

Here it is the symbolic significance of the six empty stone jars: they represent the religion of purification, that set of practices and rituals unable to communicate serenity, joy, peace. 

Not from this water, but from what Jesus orders to draw—his water—that will result in the best wine.

The wedding at Cana without wine represents the sad condition of the people of Israel disappointed and dissatisfied, which replaced the momentum of love for the Lord with the fulfillment of legal provisions. This way of relating with God never gave joy.

Jesus’ mother can be Mary, yes, but she can also represent the spiritual community into which Jesus was born and by which he was educated. In today’s passage, she certainly represents the pious people of Israel, those who first realise that the religious situation they live in is unsustainable. 

John places this sign at the beginning of his gospel because it is a synthesis of all that Jesus will do later. He is the one who will celebrate the wedding feast with the community.

His hour has not yet come because he is only at the beginning of his public life. The feast has begun, but will culminate when “his hour will come,” when, on Calvary, he will manifest all his love by giving his life for the bride.

Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications