(Readings of Proper 2, Year C)
The Collect for this Sunday, praying that as Christ is the light of the world, we his people “may shine with the radiance of his glory,” continues the advent theme of manifestation, the shining forth of glory.
In the last chapters of the book one is confronted “by the sober realities of life in the restored community” in which the prophet proclaims the coming vindication of Zion. Today’s passage opens with a song of ‘splendid impatience’: the Lord himself will not wait to declare the end of his people’s shame and ignominy.
Verse 3 declares that Zion will be “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord”; the NJBC notes on this the “the ancient practice of a god’s wearing a crown patterned after the city walls.”
The vindication of Zion is complete in the Lord’s declaration of his delight in her, as great as that of a bridegroom for his bride: although past infidelity had been punished [see Hosea, especially cap 1], God forgives and takes his people back as his spouse. This wedding theme comes to new meaning in the image of the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, Jerusalem coming down our heaven from God [Rev 21.9-11]. This in turn suggests that the Gospel’s wedding at Cana is not merely a suitable background for the Lord’s first sign, but in itself part of that sign.
Here, by the way, is a question of context different from, but no less important than, that of where passage fits in its book and in its historical setting: that is, the question of the context of the Sunday or feast on which it is read and the other passages read with it.
There is an interesting comment in Rashi, a great Rabbi of mediaeval France, on the words “you save both man and beast, O Lord” (verse 6): “People who are as astute as Adam, but who make themselves as humble as beasts, You save, O Lord.”
In Readings in St John’s Gospel, William Temple introduces Chapter 2 and the sign at Cana of Galilee by setting out the seven signs recorded in the Fourth Gospel. He writes:
“‘Sign’ is the word chosen by St John to describe them, and he thus warns us that their meaning is something beyond themselves. Moreover, the fact that he selects seven is a way of telling his readers that they are not to be read as mere episodes but as conveying a special truth which finds expression only in the whole series taken together. we may thus set out the signs and their significance in parallel columns thus;
1. The turning of water into wine: 2.1-11 - The difference that Christ makes
2. The healing of the nobleman’s son: 4.46-54 - Faith the only requisite
3. The healing of the impotent man: 5.2-9 - Christ the restorer of lost powers
4. The feeding of the five thousand: 6.4-13 - Christ the Food by which we live
5. The walking on the water: 6.16-21 - Christ our Guide
6. The healing of the man born blind: 9.1-7 - Christ our Light
7. The raising of Lazarus: 11,1-44 - Christ our Life”
We cannot stress too greatly the abundance of the wine. Six water pots of “two or three measures apiece” is usually worked out to the 20 or 30 gallons given in the NRSV with its usual bad habit of explaining rather than translating. It is however not an exact measure. Some commentators of a parsimonious mind insist that the water only became wine as it was ladled out. The only reason for this seems to be a desire to avoid thinking of so much wine. Changing a ladle-full of water into wine is no less a miracle than changing nearly 200 gallons. The point of this passage is the superabundance of God’s grace : infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. That is what should control our understanding. After all, all the world was created with the same gracious abandon and extravagance.
The water made wine does not only stand for a new Judaism (see RCL notes), though it does that: it stands also for the inner change of one who comes to know Christ. William Temple notes:
“Our first intercourse with Christ—such as we have watched in the typical instances recorded in Chapter I —brings about a change like that from water to wine. Christ is not a grim task-master in obedience to whom life becomes gloomy. He compared himself to children playing at weddings in contrast with John the Baptists whom He compared to children playing at funerals (Lk 7.31-35; Mt 1.16-19). Joy is one of the fruits of His Spirit. We wholly fail to represent Him to men if we fail to make men see this in our lives.”
On “Every man first setteth on the good wine, and when men have well drunk, the less good, but thou hast kept the good wine until now,” Temple notes that there is “a trace of emphasis” on the word man. The word is introduced even though it is not necessary in the Greek, to make an implicit contrast between man and God. This point important point is obscured by the NRSV’s Everyone.
“For here we come to a secondary meaning of this sign. The first is the change effected by the touch of Christ upon our life; the second is the reminder that there is always more and better to come. Every man puts forward first what is best about him. When people first meet us, they find us civil, friendly, considerate; but as they come to know us, especially if they have to live with us, they have to put up with the less good — that which is worse. But in our communion with God it is not so; as we deepen our fellowship with Him, made known in Christ, at every stage we may say, Thou hast kept the good wine until now.”
“They are first called ‘disciples’ at the beginning of this narrative; and by that name they are designated throughout this Gospel. It is as learners that we are to think of them, and $to take our place among them.
“His disciples believed on him. It is the phrase expressive of personal trust. They are not said to believe Him, in the sense of believing what he said was true, but to commit themselves to Him in personal trust.
“This is the faith which justifies.”
With that we must close for now.
PS: Another Resource for Studying the Gospels
The Catena Aurea of St Thomas AquinasThe Catena Aura or Golden Chain is a commentary on of the Gospels by the Early Church Fathers compiled together. Catechetics Online includes it in what appears to be the version translated in 1841 by Newman.
The link for today's Gospel is: