Sunday, January 17, 2016

A First In The Life Of Jesus

Firsts are important. A married couple will typically remember the first time they met, their first date and their first Christmas together. A professional athlete will remember his first touchdown or her first goal. Deacons and priests remember their first Masses. These "firsts" are significant events in our lives. They were learning experiences teaching us much about ourselves and our potential. We made choices that would affect the rest of our lives and that would set the direction for our future. Whether it is in our professional life or our personal life, we look back at those "firsts" as pivotal moments.

And so it is natural that Saint John would record for us a first in the life of Jesus - his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Saint John and the other disciples would experience many of Jesus' miracles during the three years they journeyed with him through the towns of Galilee. However they no doubt would look back at this first miracle as a moment when the true person of Jesus and his power became evident to them.

The miracle at the wedding feast of Cana is unique among the others Jesus would perform throughout his ministry. When Jesus worked a wonder, it was typically to heal a blind man or to raise someone from the dead. At Cana, however, something much different is happening. At the beginning, it looks as though he is simply doing a favor for a family friend at his mother's request. But as we reflect upon the events, a deeper meaning begins to reveal itself to us. As it is his first miracle, it sets the tone for the rest of his ministry and gives us insight into who Jesus is and the mission he was sent by the Father to accomplish. 

The first thing we notice about Jesus' miracle is that it takes place during a wedding. Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets used the image of marriage to describe God's relationship with the people of Israel. Through the covenant, God became Israel's husband, and Israel became God's bride. Unlike other nations who saw their gods as tyrants who needed to be appeased, Israel saw their God as a faithful, loving and caring provider. The first reading we heard today from the prophet Isaiah describes in beautiful terms just how tender and loving this relationship of God with his people is: "As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you;and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you."

The New Testament will pick up this theme, particularly in the book of Revelation, when it calls the Church, "the Bride of Christ", and describes heaven as a marriage feast between Jesus, the groom, and the Church, his bride. Jesus will also use the image of marriage in many of his parables to describe the Kingdom of God. For both Christians and Jews, the relationship of God with his people is seen in terms of a marriage and heaven as a marriage feast.

So, by choosing to perform his first miracle at a wedding, Jesus was telling us that he had come to consummate this marriage of God with his people. The promise as voiced by Isaiah and so many of the other Old Testament prophets that God would unite himself intimately with his people was being fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the bridegroom who has come to claim his bride, the Church.

The second thing we notice is that Jesus performs the miracle at the request of his mother. It is Mary who notices that the wine is running out and who is concerned that her friends not be embarrassed on the most important day of their lives. It is Mary who talks Jesus into performing this miracle on their behalf. And it is Mary who directs the waiters to follow Jesus' instruction. Just as it is no small thing that Jesus worked his first miracle at a wedding, so it is no small thing that he did so at his mother's request. Jesus listens to his mother. She is a powerful intercessor with her Son. There is no doubt that the disciples would have taken note of this at the time. Though the Bible does not record it for us, there must have been many other times during her life when people approached Mary and asked her to have Jesus come by the house to heal someone who was sick. To this day, many people seek Mary's intercession for their needs before the throne of grace. If we listen to her words, "Do whatever he tells you", we can be sure that she will bring our needs to her Son as well and that he will provide us with whatever we need.

The first miracle at Cana teaches us that Jesus came to unite God and his people in an unbreakable bond of love. Just as Jesus in his first miracle changed water into wine, so at this altar he will turn bread and wine into his body and blood. Every Mass is a marriage feast at which we celebrate the love God showed us by giving his Son over to death for our salvation and raising him from the dead to be our living hope. When the disciples saw the miracle Jesus performed at Cana, they believed in him. Will we believe when we witness the miracle of simple bread and wine becoming the body and blood of our Savior? Can we give ourselves over to him as he has given himself over to us? Can we learn from Mary to do whatever he tells us so that his glory can be revealed in our lives?  

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