Water pollution is not new to us earth dwellers. In Jesus’ time and in the land where he lived, water was generally contaminated and distasteful. People didn’t drink it unless they had to. The ordinary thirst-quencher was wine. To be without wine was more that an inconvenience or a hardship: it was also considered a curse from God. In the Old Testament there are frequent references to an abundance of wine seen as a blessing from God, and a lack of wine seen as a sign of divine displeasure and punishment. (Need I say that today such a theology, so pagan in nature, is to be totally rejected?)
There is, then, more than at first meets the eye in the Gospel account of the wedding reception at Cana, which we heard minutes ago. It is not merely a question of embarrassment to the bride and groom or to the head waiter that the wine had run out. There is the implication that since on their wedding day, of all days, this unfortunate couple had received a sign of God’s displeasure, what sort of life could they look forward to after so unpromising a start?
Mary, Jesus’ mother, brings the matter to Jesus’ attention. The very first words of his response give us a clue as to why it is that St. John, the author of the gospel account, has selected this incident to be included in it.
Jesus addresses his mother as “Woman”. We don’t like the sound of that. It’s not warm, not normal, maybe not even respectful. But scripture scholars warn us that those who would change the word to “Mother” miss the point that John is making. Mary is here called “Woman” as a reference to Eve, the mother of all the living, the mother of all who would choose to live in union with her son.
The “hour” of his suffering and death and resurrection had not arrived yet, Jesus reminds his mother. But what he is about to do, this changing of water to wine, will be a sign that a new creation is beginning, that God’s power is entering the world in a way even more wonderful than at the original creation! The sin of the human race will not forever frustrate the coming of God’s kingdom, for Jesus is our Lord and Savior.
Who has not felt the the need of a saving power? When I am told that I have stage 4 cancer, or that my beloved spouse has died; when I lose my job and fear for the future of my spouse and children, when family problems crush me, when I see a world that seems to be mindlessly pursuing its own destruction — don’t I then look beyond myself and cry out to a hidden God? What shall save me from concluding that “Messiah” was a hoax, a useless superstition, the triumph of nothingness over life?
The story of our lives continues to unfold, and the ending is predictable. We are destined to be full sharers in the resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime, if we keep faith, he turns the waters of our lives — contaminated, brackish, irritating, threatening — into rich wine!