Friday, January 14, 2011

More than a contract

Three Miracles! For centuries the Fathers of the Church have spoken of the tribus miraculis of this time of the year. The star leading the Magi to the Manger; the descent of the dove at the Baptism in the River Jordan; the water being changed into wine at the Wedding at Cana. Each, in it’s own way, proclaiming the Divinity of Christ. But it’s this last miracle which has a few extra secrets- other aspects, that we shouldn’t forget.

The miracle of the changing of the water to wine is perhaps the most fleshly of Christ’s miracles. It is the spiritual teaching that the physical can be good, that celebration itself is not necessarily a thing to be avoided- that a bit of a ‘knees up’ doesn’t hurt- that Puritanism is not a Catholic virtue. Of course if we give in to the temptation of Jansenism, in all it’s forms ancient and modern, we could walk a somewhat safer path in this life- but that does not seem to be the Lord’s plan. We are left with decisions to make in life- of learning to know where to draw the line.

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof there’s an exchange between Perchik, a rather idealistic young liberal jew, and Hodel, the daughter of a decidedly orthodox family. It runs something like this;

Perchik: There's a question... A certain question I want to discuss with you.
Hodel: Yes?
Perchik: It's a political question.
Hodel: What is it?
Perchik: The question of... marriage.
Hodel: Is this a political question?
Perchik: Well, yes. Yes, everything's political. Like everything else, the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base. Marriage must be founded on mutual beliefs. A common attitude and philosophy towards society...
Hodel: - And affection?
Perchik: Well, yes, of course. That is also necessary. Such a relationship can have positive social values. When two people face the world with unity and solidarity...
Hodel: And affection?
Perchik: Yes, that is an important element! At any rate, I... I personally am in favour of such a socioeconomic relationship.
Hodel: I think... you are asking me to marry you.
Perchik: Well... in a theoretical sense... yes. I am.
Hodel: I was hoping you were.
You see for traditional Judaism marriage was little more than a political alliance, a civil contract between two families. With our Lord’s blessing on the Wedding at Cana marriage itself was lifted from being merely the contractual meeting of two families, a political alliance of expedience, to becoming the sacramental union of two beings under God. This is an earth changing difference. We, of course, know nothing of this bride and groom themselves on their wedding day. We know that it was at Cana, we know there was a chief steward and waiters, we know that the Blessed Virgin Mary and disciples were present so we can presume that it was some sort of village affair. Beyond that we know nothing. As the story is told by S. John, the wedding itself really falls to the background, perhaps deliberately, stripped of any unnecessary detail, as the miracle itself is brought to the foreground.
There’s something very ‘un-pc’ about this miracle. There’s little doubt that the aiding and abetting others in the consumption of alcohol would not be received well in some quarters today indeed we can be surprised that this portion of the Gospel didn’t get cut out by the Protestant Revolutionaries as they slashed their way through Holy Writ in the 16th century. What’s more it would seem to have been good quality wine. It would require multiple health and safety checks these days indeed it would require an extensive risk assessment from a qualified insurance company before any diocesan committee would dare to authorize such a miracle.

There’s something wonderful about the Lord’s first public miracle being to assist people to rejoice in the celebration of a sacrament. Here is the miracle almost hidden in the story- What had been a civil contract became the revelation of the Sacrament of Matrimony. No longer purely an agreement between clans, no longer just some civil arrangement for mutual benefit of the couple or the stability of society. Not just the blessing of some transient attraction but the perpetual union, in this world, of a couple. Let us give thanks to the Lord for his great things he has done for our souls. (Ps. 65).


  1. An interesting parallel.

    Water is to civil contract as wine is to sacramental marriage.

  2. I love that Jesus chose this time for His first miracle...makes marriage not that bad, no?

  3. I loved the hint that, based on the narrative as it comes down to us, he wasn't going to do it - then his mum nagged him gently into it.....A glimpse into His humanity and his relationship with his Mother.

  4. Yes Dilly, there is something very reassuring and heart-warming about this miracle. The events of Our Lord’s life that we read in the Gospels all tend to be serious stuff. Granted, eternal salvation is not a light matter, but this is the one place in the narrative where we actually see Our Lord relaxing with the Apostles. As St. John reminds us “not everything that the Lord said and did was written down…”, so there were probably some ‘lighter’ moments throughout His public ministry and this is one.

    I always thought Our Lord’s reply to Philip about the Father, was probably said with a sort of amused indulgence. Or His ‘surprise’ when the Samaritan woman mentioned that bit about the dogs eating the crumbs under the table - a sort of “You got me there, lady”…

    So there is something touching about Our Lady’s intervention. It is almost an “Aw…Mom!” moment, or “Your mother knows best” - familiar to all parents and children. We believe Our Lord was ‘True God and true Man…” – and in the fullness of His humanity no doubt He also had a sense of humor.


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