Jan 20, 2019: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

1st Reading – Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.

Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,”
or your land “Desolate,”
but you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
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.

Today’s first reading is an oracle of salvation.  It points to the glorious future which is in store for the faithful in the new Zion – the new Jerusalem. (If it sounds familiar, it’s also the first reading at the Christmas Vigil.)

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,

The poetic structure of this verse indicates that names Zion and Jerusalem are interchangeable. The imagery that follows will show that the city really represents the entire nation.

Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.

God will not rest until all peoples witness the vindication of the nation.  We are not told what crisis has created the need for this exoneration.

The image of salvation as a welcoming light — seen here as a burning torch — echoes what Isaiah developed in 58:8 and 60:1-3.

Nations shall behold your vindication, and all kings your glory; You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.

Note the shift in perspective: the message is now spoken directly to the nation, and God is referred to in the third person.

Name changes in Scripture indicate a change in destiny; here, the promise of a new name is promise of re-creation.  The fact that this name will be spoken directly by God implies a new, elevated status: Israel will have a renewed relationship with God and enjoy enhanced privilege.

You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD, a royal diadem held by your God.

This is clearly royalty imagery. Note that God does not wear the crown of Jerusalem on his head, a human custom of conveying glory and power; since God is all-powerful, such a gesture would be unnecessary.  Rather, he holds his crown, Israel, in his hand, indicating possession and protection.

No more shall men call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,”

The reading shifts to marriage imagery.  “Forsaken” can mean abandoned by one’s husband; “desolate” can mean barren (see Isaiah 54:1).

But you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.”

The people who were once forsaken are now God’s delight; the land that was once barren is newly espoused.

For the LORD delights in you, and makes your land his spouse. 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 metaphor of marriage is perhaps one of the best ways of portraying the passionate love that God has for us and the depth of intimacy with us that he desires.

Here, the bliss of reconciliation of God with his estranged spouse Israel is described.  He seems willing to do almost anything to reestablish the covenant bond the human partner has broken, and he will not rest until reconciliation is accomplished.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Brothers and sisters:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another, the expression of knowledge according to the
same Spirit;
to another, faith by the same Spirit;
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit;
to another, mighty deeds;
to another, prophecy;
to another, discernment of spirits;
to another, varieties of tongues;
to another, interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

Each year in the span of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent, the Church embarks on a study of 1st Corinthians.  Today we begin in Chapter 12, roughly where we left off last year, in Cycle B.  The study of 1st Corinthians will conclude on the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time, just before Lent begins.

In Paul’s time, Corinth was the capital of the province of Achaia and the seat of the Roman proconsul. Julius Caesar built it (44 B.C.) on the ruins of a Greek city of the same name. It had two ports, one on the Aegean Sea and one on the Gulf of Lepanto. Its excellent geographical position soon made it a prominent center of commerce, with a much higher standard of living than its neighbors. Like many prosperous port cities, it was also a place of moral degradation.

Saint Paul established a Christian community at Corinth during his second missionary journey (A.D. 50-52). He preached the Gospel there for twelve years, aided by Silas and Timothy.

Saint Paul was in Ephesus when influential Corinthians brought him a letter in which they and others asked for guidance on matters they found problematic. The messengers likely explained and expanded on the information contained in the letter, asking him to go quickly to Corinth. Saint Paul delayed going to Corinth, in order to give everyone more time for reflection and repentance; this is why he wrote his first letter shortly before Easter 57. Unlike his letter to the Romans, it is not a doctrinal treatise, but an acknowledgment of their letter and answers to the various concerns they presented.

In dealing with the various moral and practical issues, Saint Paul imparts invaluable teaching about Christ as the Wisdom of God, the Church as the body of Christ, and the gifts of the Spirit in the Christian community.

Our reading today is Paul’s discourse on the varieties of functions within the Christian community, an answer to the Corinthian question of the hierarchy of spiritual gifts.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

In sketching the diversity within the Christian community, Paul uses two triads: gifts/ministries/works and Spirit/Lord/God.  Although the latter triad suggests an association between each set of functions and one of the divine persons, it is clear from the next verse that all the activities are manifestations of the Spirit.

Paul undermines any spiritual elitism by emphasizing that all gifts have the same origin and therefore the same value, and reminding them that they had all made the same baptismal confession (Romans 10:9).

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

These gifts are not for us to hold, but to share. If they are not shared, the common good suffers.

“Since no one has the capacity to receive all spiritual gifts, but the grace of the Spirit is given proportionately to the faith of each, when one is living in community with others, the grace privately bestowed on each individual becomes the common possession of the others. … One who receives any of these gifts does not possess it for his own sake but rather for the sake of others.” [Saint Basil the Great (ca. A.D. 370), Rules Treated At Length 7]

To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues.

Paul’s list of gifts is not exhaustive (see also 1 Corinthians 12:27-30; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11). Precise definitions are impossible and many of the meanings which have been assumed are arbitrary.

The most significant aspect of this list is its diversity: there are many manifestations of the Spirit, all of them given for the common good.

But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

These blessings do not merely come from the Spirit, they are produced by the Spirit and are manifestations of the Spirit.  Paul is calling for the community to humbly acknowledge the gifts of the Spirit wherever and to whomever they are given.

In short, these gifts are to be the cause of enrichment, not dissension.

Gospel – John 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told the them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
So they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them,
“Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.”
So they took it.
And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine,
without knowing where it came from
— although the servers who had drawn the water knew —,
the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

Our reading for today is the familiar account of the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle.

There was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, 

Cana is about nine miles away from Nazareth, where Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb.

The site of Christ’s first miracle is an obscure corner of the country, remote from Jerusalem, which was the public scene of action.  He did not seek honor from men (John 5:41), but chose time and again, through his ministry, to put honor upon the lowly.  As the gospels show, his doctrine and miracles were more readily accepted by the plain and honest Galileans and much more difficult for the proud and prejudiced rabbis and politicians in Jerusalem.

and the mother of Jesus was there.

The personal name of Jesus’ mother never appears in John’s gospel.  “The mother of Jesus” is used instead as an honorable title.

Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

Marriage feasts were family affairs. The fact that Mary and Jesus and his disciples had been invited suggests that they were related to the bride and/or the groom.

Marriages were usually celebrated with festivals that lasted for up to seven days.  Celebrations such as these were an important part of the cultural fabric of society at that time and were one of the few forms of entertainment available.

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

Mary’s observation is not precisely a request for a miracle, although she is obviously counting on the resourcefulness of her son. Her concern suggests again that the feast is for a close relative who will be greatly embarrassed by a shortage of wine.

Note that she does not prescribe or request a specific remedy.  Her first instinct is to turn to Jesus.  This is a model for us in prayer: to humbly present our circumstances to the Lord, and then defer to him to do what he will.

And Jesus said to her, “Woman,

To address someone as “woman” was not disrespectful; it would be like calling her “madam” in a formal setting. Note that Jesus never addresses Mary as “mother” in any of the gospel accounts.

Some commentators also point out that “Woman” is the name given to Eve before the fall, when she was still sinless and pure in God’s eyes. Mary is the New Eve, who was conceived sinless and remained so throughout her life.  This perspective fits without the wider context of John’s gospel, which begins the story of Jesus against the backdrop of the story of creation, and is woven throughout with Genesis imagery.

how does your concern affect me?

Ti emoi kai soi, literally, “What to me and you?” This is a Hebrew idiom rather than normal Greek, meaning something to the effect of “Why are you bothering me with this?”

My hour has not yet come.”

This second part of Jesus’ reply gives insight to the first.

Jesus’ “hour” is the time of his glorification (see John 5:28), the culmination of which will occur when he is lifted up on the cross.  Throughout his ministry there will be times when various aspects of his identity are manifested, such as the Transfiguration and the miracles he performs.  These events are not merely exhibitions of supernatural power — they are revelations of the inbreaking of the reign of God.  The timing of when this inbreaking should begin was determined by God, not by Jesus, and certainly not by his mother.

In other words, Jesus is telling Mary: We cannot preempt God’s time.

His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

In response, Mary tells the attendants to follow Jesus’ instructions. Mary does not know how Jesus plans to handle the situation, but she has complete confidence in Jesus’ ability to resolve the problem.  Perhaps he would perform a miracle, or perhaps he would address the partygoers with a sermon or explanation of the shortage while the hosts sent for more wine.

Saint Pope John Paul II commented on how Mary’s command continues to have meaning in our lives today: “It is an exhortation to trust without hesitation, especially when one does not understand the meaning or benefit of what Christ asks.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,

The water was originally intended for ritual cleansing.  According to Jewish custom, the water was available for ritual handwashing or cleansing of utensils during the feast (see Mark 7:3-4).

Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.”

Each stone jar held twenty to thirty gallons, for a total of at least 120 gallons; a lot of water.

Jesus’ directions to the servants indicate that he had some special relationship with the host family – one does not go around giving orders to other people’s servants.

So they filled them to the brim.

The fact that they were filled “to the brim” emphasizes 1) the superabundance of God’s generosity, and 2) the full and precise obedience of the servants.

Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.

Can you imagine what was going through the minds of the servers? They knew it was basically dirty dishwater, and now they are taking it to their boss to have him drink it.

And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Note that Jesus performed no rite and made no invocation over the water: they filled the jars and immediately withdrew wine.  He simply willed it to happen, and it was so.  Jesus does use words and signs for other miracles, but the lack of need for them here indicates that those outward gestures were for the benefit of onlookers and not necessary for the miracle itself.

This event signifies the transformation of the old order (symbolized by the stone water jars used for ceremonial washing) into the new (the wine of the eternal banquet of salvation in God’s kingdom, see Isaiah 25:6-9) through Jesus Christ.

Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory,

John ends the account by referring to it as a “sign” (sēmeíon), an event that signifies Christ for what he really is.

and his disciples began to believe in him.

At this point in time, Jesus has only called five apostles to follow him (John 1:35-51).  They left behind their lives to unite with him, despite the fact that he had yet to perform any miracles.  Here, where Jesus has transformed a Jewish ceremonial celebration into an eschatological celebration, they begin their journey toward full understanding.

Connections and Themes

Newness.  One of the major themes for today’s readings is newness.  God calls us to something new, gives us a new name, launches us into new ministries.  As with the first creation in Genesis, God creates a new people out of one that was forsaken; he creates a new land out of desolation; he creates a new spirit-filled community.

Even Jesus experienced a call to newness.  Through Mary, God called him out into ministry, a ministry that would bring the fruits of the eschatological age of fulfillment to the whole world.  This transformation of the world will be the ultimate new creation of God.  During Ordinary Time, we see how this newness can transform the world.

Manifestations of the Spirit.  During Advent we saw that Mary was overshadowed by the Spirit.  At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove.  In today’s second reading, we see that the new Christian community manifests the presence of the Spirit through various ministerial gifts.  The Spirit of God is active wherever God is present, to create something new.

Variety of gifts.  God always creates in extravagant generosity and variety.  We see it in nature, in the world’s people, and today, we see it in the gifts that are given to those people.  All come as a gift from God, but not all come in the same way.  All must be given back to God in service, but not all will be given back in the same way.

In the old order, diversity could be (and often was) divisive, a source of jealousy or envy.  In the new age, diversity should be unifying: one performs a service that is complementary to the service of another.  It is in this way that the real glory of Jesus will be manifested.

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