Wine for a new world: Gospel reflection for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Daniel Duigou in La Croix, Jan 2019

John the Evangelist gave us the story of the Marriage at Cana, written more than 20 centuries ago. Interpreting it in today’s world reveals the tense socio-political climate in which we live.

The world as we know it is undergoing deep transformation. We are at a crossroads, waiting for the next stage, waiting to see a new world. From politics to art (especially in cinema and fiction), the desire for change, for a new future and beginning, is clear as day.

France is no exception. There is an almost religious sense of hope and expectation emerging amid the rising fears which has, sometimes, been expressed through violence, indicating the level of people’s frustration.

While demands being made are highly diverse, and sometimes even contradictory, ultimately, they are to do with how we live together.

They are about social justice, i.e. the recognition of each individual’s personal agency and rights, and democracy, i.e. the right of every citizen to speak out and express their opinions.

Although the socio-political context was different in Jesus’ time, there was a similar desire for change and sense of urgency for some form of rupture with the past.

Tensions were high, Messiah-like figures seemed to appear almost every day, and there was much Zealot activity. The prevailing religious and political powers were extremely concerned and made preparations to suppress potential uprisings and rebellions.

First, notice that John invites us to interpret the marriage as the first “sign,” which inflects the tone of all other subsequent signs in the Gospel. Life should be lived like a festival. Inherent in this is the idea that we can begin from and beyond a sense of absence.

“They have no more wine,” said Jesus’ mother. Jesus doesn’t ask for the vessels normally used to serve wine.

Instead Jesus uses the stone water jars used for ceremonial washing and purification, indicating that what they contain is a substance linked to creation.

Second, this beginning is to do with a union, a new alliance lived through Jesus. From this point onwards, the union between God and humankind is mediated through the alliance that people themselves engage with God.

We should recognize the level of symbolism in Jesus’s words.

When he says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come,” “woman” refers to Israel and the anticipation of salvation; “my time” refers to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection; the water “turned into wine,” is to do with the new relationship between mankind and the sacred, between us and God, a new relationship that is animated by alterity.

There is a movement from the Old Testament to the New.

Third, notice that the passage chosen for this Sunday’s reading specifies that this is the “third day” after Jesus’ arrival in Galilee.

The wedding feast is therefore linked to the death and resurrection of Christ, and the wine to that of the eucharist, accompanied by the true bread of life. It is the wine of God’s kingdom where peace and justice reign.

In our world, amid the great shifts in global balances (immigration being just one manifestation), the Church must be brave enough to share words of hope, which will help to open up new perspectives.

Pope Francis has ceaselessly encouraged and put pressure on leaders and heads of state to take responsibility for accepting and welcoming migrants.

In France, the inadequacy of the country’s leaders to rise to this challenge has shaken people’s confidence, and nothing is possible without confidence.

The need for dialogue and solidarity is urgent but our structures of symbolism have been jeopardized to the extent that words often seem empty. A few months ago, bishops set alarm bells ringing when they called for a return to politics.

One of the most serious problems in our secularized society is the separation of religion and politics.

If faith alone, which Raymond Aron saw as the root of politics, can change water into wine, then surely with the Spirit animating our hearts, it can instil new hope in humanity.

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