Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the Church’s long tradition, the Gospels proclaimed in the days and weeks following the Solemnity of the Epiphany have been interpreted in the same theological key as the mystery of the Lord’s manifestation to the nations. That is, the Baptism of the Lord and the wedding feast at Cana have been understood as part of the Epiphany. On the day that the wise men from the East encounter Jesus after following the light of the star, the truth of the Incarnation of the Lord is manifested to the nations. From that time on, Jesus is made known to the whole of humanity. In a similar way, when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist, we hear the voice of God the Father speaking, “You are my beloved son.” With those words and with the visible sign of the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in bodily form like a dove, Jesus is manifested to the nations, made known to all who hear and see. Today we come to the wedding feast at Cana, the occasion for our Lord’s first public miracle. By changing water into wine, the divine power of Jesus is made known. We can see in these Epiphany mysteries that Jesus is the one whose coming is foretold, even by the natural world, and that God confirms the identity of the Messiah in both word and miraculous action.
As we continue on this Epiphany journey, the mystery commemorated in today’s Gospel is especially important. The location of the first miracle of Jesus is indicative. Not only is Jesus raising marriage from a natural institution to a grace-filled sacrament, He is also indicating a truth about how God relates to His people. Throughout the Old Testament, the relationship between God and Israel is described in nuptial terms. God is espoused to His people Israel. Again and again, we read about how the people of Israel are unfaithful to the covenant with their God, and how, in spite of that infidelity, God always calls them back into a renewed covenant, a renewed relationship. While the people of Israel suffer the consequences of their infidelity, God never leaves them. Rather, in addition to the nuptial imagery that is used, we see another thematic element emerge: water and wine. The prophets speak of God washing Israel clean. By entering into covenant with God, the people of Israel are promised a land and inheritance, they are invited to drink freely of the good wine of God’s promise. The choice wine God provides is His abundant grace and mercy. In the wedding feast at Cana, we see a couple who have run out of wine. They represent Israel, whose failure to abide the covenant leaves them without wine, and ashamed as a host who runs out of wine is ashamed at being unable to serve his guests. In transforming water into wine, Jesus is summarizing the whole history of Israel in their covenant with the Lord. God acts on behalf of His people, God looks upon His people with mercy, God desires to wash away their shame and disgrace.
How fitting, then, that Jesus is manifested at a wedding feast. Just as God espouses Israel to Himself, so Jesus, as Messiah and Lord, will espouse a people to Himself. The Church is the bride of Christ who is called into a new and eternal covenant. The headwaiter drinks the wine, not knowing where it is from, and declares it good, and not just good, but the best wine that has yet been served. Israel was a nation set apart by God. Through the nuptial covenant with Israel, God was revealing Himself to every nation. In the wedding feast at Cana, the new covenant is foreshadowed. Christ will espouse the Church to Himself and through the Church, as the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, teaches, He will be revealed to all the nations. “All men are called to be part of this catholic unity of the People of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation (LG 13).”
The wedding feast at Cana extends the mystery of the Epiphany for us. This great event should stand as a reminder to us of our own mission. We have been invited to the wedding feast, just as the disciples of Jesus were invited. We are invited to partake of the choice wine of the covenant, which we experience in our fidelity to the commandments, in our life of prayer, and in the freely given gifts of grace that are poured into our hearts through the Sacraments. We are invited by Mary to listen to Jesus and to do whatever He tells us. We are sent forth from the wedding feast to bring the good news of what we have experienced to the world, to introduce people to Him, to share the good, choice wine of God’s grace with everyone we meet.