John 2: 1-11
There are several unusual features about this story in today’s gospel. First of all, it is not customary for Jesus to perform a miracle merely to help friends avoid embarrassment. Secondly, this is the only time in John’s gospel that we see the mother of Jesus intervene to ask a favor of her Son. Finally, Jesus addresses his mother as “woman,” which is not the way one addresses one’s mother, then or now.
All of these features warn us to be alert for symbolic meaning in this story. This should not surprise us, for symbolism has always been the language of religion. It gives wings, as it were, to earth-bound words so that they can rise to the level of divine meaning. Thus, contrary to what many suppose, symbolic interpretation is not opposed to what is “real” or “historical;” it is opposed to what is spiritually meaningless!
And so, when Jesus calls his mother “woman,” he is recognizing in her the role of new Eve, “mother of all the living” (Gen 3:20), because she is his mother and he represents a new creation. When Jesus resists her request because his “hour has not yet come,” we are reminded of the only other place in John’s gospel where Jesus addresses his mother as “woman,” and that is when his “hour” has in fact arrived (19:26-27). At that time, Mary, suffering now with her son on Calvary, becomes mother of all who are inspired by the new life of faith and who accept the wisdom of Jesus about unselfish living.
We can accept as historical fact that Mary gave birth to Jesus. However, she bore him again on the spiritual level when she stood by his cross and became the spiritual mother of the whole Church, whose members are united with him in faith and in the Eucharist, sacrament of love. Thus, although Jesus is willing to respond to the family crisis at that wedding feast, John needs also to remind us that Jesus did not really come to make wine out of water but to save us by the kind of love that includes suffering and death. And his mother will be forever our model as she stands by her Son’s cross and embraces his wisdom.
This new life is symbolized by zestful wine and is therefore so much better than the colorless and “watery” life that we experience before conversion. Faith enables us to begin already to experience this new life as we embrace the wisdom of Jesus and Mary. This will mean embracing the cross also because unselfish love is always a little dying, just as it is also learning to live in a “divine” way.
When the gospel tells us “his disciples began to believe in him,” it means that they began to see that Jesus alone could offer them the new life that is symbolized by the “good wine” that is saved till the end of the feast. In fact, Jesus has come in these latter days to save us all from the embarrassment of a meaningless existence as he offers us the secret of a truly festive life of gentle sacrifice and generous trust.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.