Last week Robert and the ministry team gave me a wonderful painting for my birthday and on the back, was written some words from the Benedictine Tradition: ‘Why have you come?’ Which you might think are strange words, I mean I work here! In the Benedictine tradition when anyone comes to join the religious community they are not given an easy time, in fact Benedict’s rule states that they should be kept outside for 4 or 5 days to see if they persevere with their knocking on the door.
Its good to hear that religious communities want to ask some difficult questions of people who want to join. But it is also common for individuals themselves to be reluctant to respond to a sense of vocation. Often people discerning their vocation to the priesthood say, ‘I was reluctant, but God had other plans’ and traditionally in some parts of the Church those who are asked to be Bishops decline at first as a sign of their humility.
One begins to wonder how anyone ever gets to do anything in the church with on the one hand people saying that they are reluctant and on the other hand the Church asking, ‘Why have you come?’
In the Gospel today, Jesus and his disciples go to a wedding – and they go because they have been invited. The story begins with the words’ ‘On the third day’ which could mean exactly that but could also be a reference to the resurrection which took place ‘on the third day’. This gives us a little clue to some of the ways in which we can read this story. So I just want to share with you some of the key themes of this story to help us unpack it.
This miracle is only in John’s Gospel, it is the first of seven miracles or signs which reveal to us that Jesus is no ordinary man but is the Son of God. That is why we have this reading in Epiphany, the season all about the revelation of Jesus to the world – the miracle at the wedding at Cana is the first sign that Jesus is not just anybody, that Jesus is divine.
At the end of the story we hear that Jesus did this sign, the first of his signs, and that this revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. We, like the disciples, have come to follow Jesus maybe reluctantly, maybe feeling judged by a church which asks us why have you come here, but this miracle is the first stage on the journey – the disciples saw it and they believed in him. So one of the key themes of this story is discipleship – that when we follow Jesus, when we begin the journey, maybe sceptically or reluctantly, God rewards us with the gift of belief. Some more than others, but we are gifted belief.
The second important theme is the wedding. Jesus draws on the theme of the wedding and the banquet often in his ministry. The wedding Banquet is a sign of messianic fulfilment. i.e. it’s a vision of the ideal community of the church, of life in heaven, of our life with God in Jesus. The end of discipleship in this life might be suffering and death but ultimately it is the marriage feast, the banquet in heaven.
So when the waiter says ‘you have kept the good wine until now’ – it’s a proclamation of the coming of the messianic days, that Jesus is the messiah, that God has come to be among us.
And of course, the main theme is the abundance of wine. 120 gallons – that is a lot of wine. Throughout the Old Testament one of the great signs of the Joy of God’s Kingdom is an abundance of wine.
So three big themes: discipleship, the disciples follow and believe, the wedding Feast as a vision of the fulfilment of God’s promises, a vision of heaven and lastly an abundance of wine, a sign of what the kingdom of God is like, filled with the abundance of God’s love.
Aside from Jesus the other key person in this story is Mary and her last recorded words in John’s Gospel: ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Mary can be seen as both a symbol of the Church and of the New Eve. Jesus calls Mary ‘Woman’ in this story, which always sounds a bit rude but it actually gives us a clue about who Mary is. Just as Jesus is sometimes called the New Adam, so Mary is the New Eve in a very particular sense. God is redeeming, saving creation and he does it through showing us a new way of being human, a new Adam and a new Eve. Just as Mary will stand at the foot of the cross and be a sign of God’s mission after the death of Jesus so the Church is called to be a sign of God’s love in the world.
Her words ‘Do whatever he tells you’ are good advice. Once we make the decision to follow Jesus – however reluctantly, sceptically or uncertainly we are obliged to try to live according to Jesus’ instructions. We may fail to live according to Jesus’ advice, but we nevertheless seek to follow it because we consider ourselves to be disciples of Jesus.
So, answering the question ‘Why did you come?’ is in one sense very easy. We came to follow Jesus. But we know from bitter experience that in our life of discipleship we often fail, we are weak, we lack discernment, we lack judgment, we lack courage.
The story of the wedding at Cana is essentially a story about discipleship – about you and me being followers of Jesus. And what it seems to say to me is that although we don’t have all the answers, although we are often confused or hurting, although we are often sceptical or uncertain, yet by remaining faithful disciples we open ourselves up to the free git of a mystical abundance. Not a sufficiency but an abundance.
The abundant love symbolised by the wine at Cana prefigures the abundant love of the cross, resurrection and ascension. This is the wonder of the glorified Christ which Fr. Benson was talking about last week – this is what the wedding Banquet and its abundance of wine represents.
What are you doing here? Why have you come?
Do whatever he tells you.
“What Jesus did at Cana in Galilee marked the beginning of his signs; thus he revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.”