by Fr. Thomas Keating
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them," Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days. (John 2:1-12)
The baptism of Jesus signifies his oneness with humanity. The miracle of changing the water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana signifies our transformation into Christ. This is the divine project begun in Advent and brought to completion in the threefold feast of Epiphany. God becomes fully human so that we may become divinized.
We are invited to look at the final panel of the triptych of the three events that comprise the feast of the Epiphany: the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the marriage feast of Cana. The marriage feast of Cana is the piece that brings all the rest of the Christmas celebrations to final completion. The divine light that drenched us on Christmas night, and which we have been gradually adjusting to, now reveals the whole panorama of the divine plan of salvation. The human condition, with its brokenness and sinfulness, is wiped out in the divine transformation of human nature, which this panel of the triptych not only reveals, but communicates to us.
There are three ways in which we grasp the meaning of the liturgical handling of the gospel texts. The first is the historical meaning--what actually happened. The second is the significance of what happened. This is usually expressed in the intention, if we can perceive it, of the inspired author. Finally, there is the existential meaning of the feast. That is, what it means in my life.
The feast of the Epiphany focused on the coming of the Magi, the symbol of seekers of all time, finding the truth they sought in a most unlikely place--in the face of an infant who could not even talk. The Magi represent the call of the whole human race to faith in the infinite mercy of God expressed in the Word made flesh--flesh in its most fragile form.
The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is the symbol of purification. He himself did not need the purification but by uniting himself with a human nature and submitting to John's baptism of repentance, Jesus revealed that God is in total solidarity with the human condition just as it is. In other words, Christ is with us in our tragedies, in our sorrows, in our joys, and in our sinfulness to heal all our wounds through the process of the spiritual journey: the sacraments, prayer, and the divine therapy of contemplation.
Here we are looking at a further revelation. It is set in the context of a wedding and described by John the Evangelist as Jesus' first miracle. "There were the six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification." Six is the allegorical number of imperfection in the Old Testament. The six water jars symbolize for John fallen human nature, the old creation that emerged out of the waters of chaos.
What is the sacred writer trying to convey in recounting the miraculous change of water contained in these six jars into wine? In another passage John states that John the Baptist baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. Wine with its sparkling, heady, inebriating character symbolizes the Spirit.
Human nature is to be transformed into what wine symbolizes--namely, the Spirit. Notice that the miracle does not annihilate but transforms the water. The wine is not something entirely new; it is a transformation of what was there before. Similarly, our human nature, our personal history, and our self-identity are not annihilated but transformed.
The weddings in Palestine took three days. No wonder the wine ran out? The mother of Jesus was an observant householder and said to Jesus, "They have run out of wine." To which he replied, equivalently, "So what?" John the Evangelist had been a disciple of John the Baptist, who was the great ascetic. It may not have seemed appropriate to the sacred writers that Jesus should perform his first miracle in favor of providing an enormous amount of a substance that John the Baptist would never thing of touching.
In any case, the text states that Jesus acquiesced to his mother's concern and changed water into wine. The new wine was brought to the head waiter. He calls over the young man and says, "Everybody serves the best vintage first and after the guests have gotten a little groggy, then they bring out the stuff that's not so hot. But you, dear sir, have saved the best wine until now!"
The miracle implies that the new wine that Jesus provides will never run out. It is also a new creation. The old creation, with its burden of sin is erased, and the new creation, the action of the Spirit, is now available. The new creation is the kingdom of God. And what is the entrance fee? Only the consent of faith. The inherent energy of this wine, strong because it comes from God, will enable us, little by little, to overcome our compulsions, addictions, and sinfulness. Having become one with us in our fallen human nature, Jesus transforms our fallen nature into his divinity.
This is what the liturgy proclaims in this feast. We come to this wedding as guests and we leave as brides. Not a bad exchange, especially if we come as rather disreputable guests. It is the moment in which we understand what it means to be in Christ (a favorite term of Paul for incorporation in Christ). The church, that is the people of God, is the extension of Jesus Christ in time. We are the repository of the new wine. We can give to others the old water--our personality, limitations, compulsions, whatever we come to the services with. Or we can give them the sparkling, heady, inebriating wine of sober intoxication. This is the wedding that is now going on but at a level that is not immediately apparent to us until we penetrate by grace and experience the significance of the event.
Wine represents the energy of the Spirit. It is power, but in the service of love. It is too strong to stay in a bottle or in a particular structure. It has to have the freedom to move around and to adjust to circumstances. In this connection, Jesus commanded, "Put new wine into new bottles." The old ones may not be able to contain the chemicals that are being processed in the new wine, whose immense vitality in this case we can only suspect. The one who changed water into wine is even now transforming us into himself through the Eucharist.
From The Kingdom of God is Like . . . by Fr. Thomas Keating.