The Gospel reading for today’s mass is the wedding feast at Cana (John 2). Lest anyone grow complacent in their understanding of this passage, may I bring forth some troublesome aspects to this particular story?
Mary was invited, as was Christ and his disciples. This was the very beginning of his ministry, before he had revealed himself in his own miracles. At this point the only knowledge we have for sure of signs and wonders is John the Baptist’s testimony and the Father’s declaration at the baptism in the Jordan River. Why was Christ invited along with the disciples? One might suppose 4 possibilities, and I don’t have a clue if any of them is right:
1. Christ was invited, and then he specifically asked to bring his disciples.
2. The wedding was for a couple so closely related to Jesus that they knew what he was about and assumed he would want to bring along these new people.
3. The wedding couple (or their parents) were already disciples themselves and so naturally enlarged the scope of their guest list.
4. The custom of “invitation” was much more flexible than ours, and taking along a dozen friends wasn’t so weird.
I don’t think (4) is all that likely, the passage actually says that the disciples were “invited”, and I think that merely “bringing along” friends would be described as “invited”. I doubt that (2) works: not much later on (Luke chapter 4?) Jesus’s friends and relatives were pretty upset at his ministry.
Next puzzlement: When Mary says to Jesus “they have no wine” his answer is positively off the wall. “ Woman, what is that to me and to you? My hour is not yet come.” This is terribly unresponsive. But the real question is, why did Mary comment on the wine to begin with? Did she expect him to do something? So far he hadn’t done any miracles, and she had lived with him for 30 years of no miracles to quell any expectations of special deals from God.
And then what does Jesus’s reply mean, given that he immediately goes and takes care of the problem? One explanation I have heard is that Jesus allowed Mary to make the first move of opening up his miraculous ministry: the Father inspired Mary to initiate the wonder-working, so that Christ’s ministry was not only a gift from Christ but also from Mary. This seems a bit stretched to me, and it doesn’t really _explain_ his seeming to reject any special role, and then accepting that role 5 seconds later.
When Mary tells the servants to “do whatever he tells you”, why do they obey? Mary wasn’t part of the “in charge” set, so closely associated with the hosts as to be effectively speaking for them, was she? And when Jesus tells them to fill the water basins, that looks to be a fairly onerous undertaking, not something done at a moment’s notice from the faucet. They must have spent some time drawing water from the well for that. Did any of them think to explain to the hosts or chief steward why all their time was taken up on such a fruitless task? What would they have said to justify themselves?
Next, when Jesus tells them to take it to the chief steward, at this point was it already wine, (before they took it), or did that happen later, on the way? I suspect it was already wine, because if I were one of them there would be no way in the world I would have brought water from the purifying (washing) jugs to the steward for him to taste. But the construction of the passage doesn’t suggest that. Either these servants were already granting to Jesus near-divine status, or the passage is leaving out something.
Finally, the passage has the steward comment on the excellence of the wine, but says nothing at all about the revelation of the miraculous source of the wine: we don’t get the servants saying “HE did it” or anything of the kind. It passes directly into talking about this first of his miracles manifesting his glory, passing right over the actual denouement.
As story-telling, one would have to say that this is pretty ineffective, a pretty sloppy and careless approach to getting a crowd wrapped up in the story. Which leads one to suspect that what John was doing was writing down the bare bones of an already extremely well-known event, where almost everyone (in his expected readership) knew the majority of the facts, all he was doing was adding a few details.
I cannot close without throwing out a Catholic note: there is no way in the world you can locate a teetotaler Jesus in the Gospel. This story blows any such notion into shreds. Not only does Jesus accept an invitation to attend a party where most people expect to be getting well lubricated, even after they are well along and the wine has run out, he makes additional wine to enable the process to continue, and makes it especially high quality so that nobody will be inclined to pass it up. Even though he could have left them only part of the way toward a highly convivial state, he chose to intervene with a miracle that has essentially no direct theological or spiritual purpose. Jesus is fine with wine.