Today’s Gospel is an excerpt from the Gospel of John, one of the most beautiful of all the biblical texts, indeed of all the literary texts of the world.
The Gospel of John presents testimony to the Lord Jesus- testimony to Christ’s identity and mission.
The testimony of the Gospel of John presents 7 great signs, each of which reveals something extraordinary about the Lord Jesus. The first of these seven signs is presented in the Gospel text you heard today- the transformation of water into wine that takes place at a wedding feast in the town of Cana.
The wedding feast is about to become a total disaster, when it happens that the hosts of the wedding banquet run out of wine. Saving the whole event from being remembered as the worst wedding ever, the Mother of the Lord Jesus intervenes and requests that her Son rectify the situation, which he does in a display of divine power- he transforms water into wine, and not just any wine, but the best wine.
What does this mean?
On a literal level, the testimony to this extraordinary event directs our attention to the truth that the Lord Jesus is speaking and acting in the person of God. Christ does things that only God can do- he effects the material world in ways that are absolutely extraordinary, in this particular case, transforming water into wine.
Testimony to the divinity of the Lord Jesus is what the Gospel of John, indeed all four of the canonical Gospels are all about. The revelation of the Gospels is not “here is an interesting teaching about ethics or a new theory about religion”. Nor do the Gospels present a self-help manual. Instead they provide the testimony of eyewitnesses to the extraordinary person, whom people came to believe, is God, who had in Christ, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.
While the literal meaning of this Gospel directs our attention towards the revelation of the Lord Jesus as God, it should not be reduced to this meaning alone.
The merely literal is always an incomplete explanation for the meaning the Scriptures. The literal is always intended to disclose a deeper meaning, a more significant truth than what appears to be obvious.
In the case of this Gospel, the deeper meaning is revealed when we consider whose wedding it is that took place in Cana- who was the bridegroom and who was the bride?
The answer is that whosever wedding it was, it was gesturing towards a wedding celebration that was heavenly, rather than earthly.
The bridegroom is God and the bride is his people Israel.
The understanding of the relationship of God and Israel as being like a marriage is referenced throughout the Old Testament. God’s relationship with his people is most like the relationship of husband and wife (and a very passionate and stormy relationship at that!).
Christ is acting to save a wedding celebration from disaster is signaling that God is acting in Christ to save his own wedding, indeed his marriage with his people from disaster.
I know this sounds deeply mysterious, but if you are impatient with mystery, you will never understand the testimony of the Gospels. The Gospels present the uncanny, the strange and the confounding, for this is how God’s revelation usually appears in our world. God is not just a bigger and better version of ourselves, but God is other than what we are and that is why his revelation is always mysterious.
Christ is the most mysterious of God’s revelations, and the most important, because he reveals God in a way that should be impossible, but nevertheless, God makes possible. God shouldn’t be able to accept a human nature and live a real, human life, but this is precisely what God does in Christ.
Through his human nature God makes himself accessible to us, but he in doing so he doesn’t make himself easy to understand, but all the more mysterious. Thus, while the Lord Jesus will always be receptive to us, and we can come to love him as one love’s a friend, there will always be a reality of our experience of the Lord Jesus that will be strange, off-putting, even at times frightening.
Christ the Lord is holy mystery through and through.
The relationship of God and his people, Israel, comes to its fulfillment in the relationship of Christ and his Church.
The relationship of Christ and his Church is best understood in this way as deeply personal as the relationship of bridegroom and bride, and husband and wife.
Christ is a living, divine person. He relates to his Church in the manner that a husband relates to his wife. He is not merely an idea or a feeling. Being in a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church is not the same thing as belonging to a club that might honor him as a significant historical figure, someone who is dead, and who endures only in our memories.
Instead, Christ is alive (he is the living and true God) and being in a relationship with him is best understood as being in relationship with a person.
Today’s Gospel is in its own mysterious ways, gesturing towards all of this- how to best understand the Christ’s relationship with his Church. And the best way to do this is to understand the relationship of Christ and his Church who as a bridegroom and a bride, a husband and a wife. And Christ the Bridegroom will act in extraordinary ways to save his relationship with his Church from disaster.
We experience Christ’s intervention in our own lives in the Mass, where Christ effects a transformation that is far more mysterious and wonderful than his transformation of water into wine.
At the high point of the Mass, Christ effects a transformation- the bread and wine we present to him, he transforms into his Body and his Blood. This is what our Holy Communion really and truly is- we receive what Christ has transformed, bread and wine into his divine life and his divine presence.
Once this happens, he invites us to take his Body and his Blood, his divine life and divine presence into ourselves, consuming what he has transformed as food and drink.
When we do this, when we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we are opening ourselves up to be transformed by what we have received. The purpose of our Holy Communion is meant to make us ever more like what we receive.
Becoming ever more like Christ is what Holy Communion is all about. We receive him so as to become like him. What he is, we hope to be.
Thus, receiving Holy Communion is always a bold and risky decision. What we are offered in the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ, but the means by which we become like Christ. Anyone who receives the Blessed Sacrament faces a test of their sincerity- if you receive this, you are professing before Christ and the Church, that you want to be like him, that you want Jesus Christ to make you like him.
You are saying that you want Jesus Christ to change you, to transform you and re-make you, not more and more like yourself, but more and more like him.
The test of your sincerity is to ask yourself is becoming like Jesus Christ really what you want? Do you want to be like him? And further, if you are willing to receive him, while having no intention of letting him change you, then what you are doing amounts to what is called perjury.
You are telling a lie- to Christ.
Christ transformed water into wine, and through his Blessed Sacrament, he wants to transform you so you can be like him.
You see Christians, if we just remain like ourselves, resisting transformation in Christ, resisting becoming like him, we become like water that was supposed to be transformed into wine.
And in our resistance to being changed, being transformed, experiencing what the Gospel calls conversion, then we risk ruining the wedding feast of the Bridegroom and his Bride, the wedding feast of Christ and his Church.
But if we let him change us, transform us, what a wedding celebration we will have!