Monday, January 18, 2010

Ordinary Time

In my liturgical tradition, now that Christmastide is over, we're back in Ordinary Time. At least until Lent begins next month, that is.

As I've often said, the only "ordinary" thing about Ordinary Time is God's extraordinary love for us.

In this year's Lectionary cycle, yesterday's Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time was one of my favorites.

It's the story from John's Gospel of the first miracle Jesus is recorded to have performed. Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast in the town of Cana, after the wine runs out.

I'm always amused and delighted when I read this passage. (I wonder if my being sober for over thirty years has anything to do with this....)

For one thing, I find it a bit odd that the passage starts off by noting that Jesus' mom had been invited. It next says that Jesus and his disciples were also there -- as if their invitation might have been after Mary's.

I'm also reminded by this passage that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is criticized by his detractors as being a "winebibber" (Luke 7:34; King James Version) -- someone who drank too much wine. Of course, many commentators are quick to point out that this must just be a scurrilous attack.

But I'm not so sure.

It could explain the story of the wedding feast at Cana, in my opinion.

Let's say Mary had been invited to this wedding, but because Jesus and his buddies were known for liking a good party, they weren't. Being a good "mom" in the ancient Near East, Mary would have worked to get her -- unmarried -- son invited to the feast. Wedding celebrations in that time and place lasted over several days, and were the occasion for families to work out details such that other wedding celebrations would take place.

So Mary got Jesus and his pals invited.

Then what happens? The wine runs out.

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:3-5)

It always seemed strange to me that Mary would come tell Jesus this news, unless "they have no wine" is seen to be an accusation, rather than a statement.

If it's an accusation, then Jesus' rather snippy response (remember, he had a bratty response to Mary after he's "found" in the temple after the Passover celebration one year [Luke 2:41-51]), makes more sense, too. "Woman, what does this have to do with me?" -- they *both* know it has *everything* to do with him: he and his buddies drank it all!

Mary's not in the least off-put by how Jesus talks back to her, but instead says to the staff (the people who really run things), "Do whatever he tells you," good "mom" that she is. This puts Jesus on the spot, so he tells the servants to fill six water jars with water, and then to draw some out and take it to the head steward.

Can't you just hear the resignation (perhaps with a twist of exasperation or sheepishness) in his voice as he's being watched by his mother's eagle eyes?

She's mortified, and he knows it.

According to the text, the six jars together hold between 120 and 180 *gallons* of water, which then become wine -- really, really good wine! Let's say it's just 150 gallons. That's still a lot of wine.

It turns out that one of the Soldiers here in Kosovo is a big-wig with one of the most famous wineries in the world, so I asked him at Mass just how many bottles of wine those 150 gallons might represent. (It was not very nice of me to ask him this, during the homily, out of the blue, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.)

"At least 256," said he. Then a moment later he said, "No, it's not 256. It's more like 500."

Five HUNDRED bottles of wine. That's a LOT of wine, wouldn't you say?

Now, I've had some people try to tell me that the water-made-wine was "new wine" and therefore had no alcohol in it. But that just wouldn't make any sense, in terms of what the text says. The head steward, not knowing where the wine in the stone jars came from, goes to the bridegroom and says, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now." (John 2:10)

Why would "good wine" be served first? So that people wouldn't notice the inferior quality of the wine served later, of course. This would only be true if the people had gotten a bit buzzed off the "good wine." That would not be possible if there were no alcohol in it.

It hardly seems likely, then, that the head steward would call the water-made-wine "good wine" if it contained no alcohol....

Let's face it, I can drink lots and lots of milk, and still know if someone then serves bad milk; or I can drink pitchers of soft drink and know instantaneously if someone tries to pawn off soda that's gone flat on me; or I can swill down eleventy-seven cups of really good coffee and immediately turn on the one who's attempting to foist a cup of instant decaf -- quantity of those beverages is no bar against recognizing quality!

But long ago, when I was drinking, there were surely times when I didn't know -- and didn't much care -- what I was drinking at that point, precisely because of what I'd been drinking beforehand. That's exactly the situation in this Gospel story.


Now there's a lot more that can be gleaned from this story of Jesus' first public miracle, but I won't go into that here.

Suffice it for now to say that Jesus was concerned that the wedding guests have a good party, and that he did what he could to make that possible. By extension, I believe Jesus wants us to be able to celebrate enthusiastically and well, too. Some of us can even do that *without* alcohol!

Jesus' interest in our joy is just one of the things that's "ordinary" about Ordinary Time.

I rather like that in a Savior.

Don't you?

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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