Minister’s forum: God uses signs in revealing Himself to us
“Today: Parish coffee in the Kennedy Room after the Sunday Masses – All welcome.”
Every day we are exposed to signs. The Parish Coffee sign outside of the church is but one of many that may have caught your attention before the start of Sunday liturgy. If you care to digress, you can recall those other signs that greeted you on your way to church. Indeed, our daily life is so guided and influenced by signs that we take them for granted: traffic signs, advertisements, and even “stay off the grass” signs surround us daily. Our service includes offering one another a sign of peace. Such signs are forms of communication – life-giving means of interaction. One might suggest that life in our present-day world would be unlivable if somehow our present forms of communication were destroyed.
In 1964, Marshall McLuhan of the University of Toronto wrote a bestseller called “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.” He caught the attention of the public with his explanations of how the media of press, TV, movies, etc., have turned the globe into a village. Electronic communications enable news and views to travel faster than local gossip. The main theme of his book is that each of us has learned how to harness electricity in order to make fuller use of the signs around us, so that the sign itself becomes the message.
McLuhan’s notion that the medium is the message is as ancient in one respect as God’s revelation to humankind. When God communicates to us, he makes use of signs that are understandable. Without recognizable signs, God’s revelations would be as useless as an English-speaking person trying to talk to someone who could speak only Arabic. God adopts specific signs to make himself and his message known to us: Covenants with Abraham, Moses and Noah, for example.
No evangelist realized this better than St. John, who devoted the first half of his gospel to an explanation of the signs or miracles that Jesus performed in order to reveal himself to his disciples. The gospel presents the first of such signs in the form of a miracle at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. Cana itself was no water-shed village but an insignificant hamlet some nine miles northwest of Nazareth, the home of Jesus and his mother. The miracle at Cana was not meant to astound the on-lookers as though it were a magic trick, but served as a sign of his glory – the very presence of God in him. In rereading this passage from John 2:1-12 there are a number of unanswered questions. Why did Jesus rebuke his mother and remind her that “his hour has not yet come?” Why did he use the formal title of address, namely ‘woman,’ instead of mother or mama? Doesn’t the word ‘woman’ grind your teeth a little bit, perhaps even a lot? A second question also occurred to me: why did Jesus change the water into a vintage wine that surpassed that which had been supplied by the couple? Wouldn’t they have been embarrassed by serving the best wine last? I believe that it is these unanswered questions that help us to understand what John’s passage is all about.
St. John purposefully situates this miracle early on in Christ’s public life. At the end of his account (verse 11), he adds the purpose for which Jesus worked this miracle: to reveal his glory so that his disciples would believe in him. In this insignificant town at a nameless wedding feast, Jesus revealed his true identity so that the people who saw him might have faith in him. The miracle at Cana pointed to the power that Jesus had over creation. Col. 1:15: “All things have been created through him and for him.” The miracle’s transformative effect on the viewer was far more important than the actual turning of water into wine. Jesus stalled his mother’s request because he wanted to remind her that he had been sent by his Father and was obedient unto him above all else.
Jesus could hardly have chosen a better way of signifying his own close relationship to his disciples than by performing this miracle on the occasion of a wedding feast. Indeed, what closer relationship can there be in life between two persons than that of bride and bridegroom? Moreover, Jesus chose the wedding feast to symbolize the beginning of his messianic mission. The transformation of water into wine prefigures the Eucharistic transformation of wine into the blood of Christ. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus changed water into wine; but at the end of his mission, he changed wine into his own body and blood.
Christ as our bridegroom shows his love for us by giving of himself. In a sense the Eucharistic liturgy can be compared to a wedding feast because it brings Christ and us together in an intimate embrace – into a unique loving union of God and humankind. Turning water into wine at Cana was Jesus’ wedding gift to that unnamed couple, but changing bread and wine into himself is his gift of love to you and me. He has called us by name to be his brothers and sisters.
– Father Richard L. DeMolen is pastor at Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church.
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