You should write a book. Someone once claimed we all have a book in us just waiting for us to write it. Everyone has a story to tell and others are waiting to hear it. Maybe you’re a good storyteller whose life has been exciting, filled with interesting adventures and unique experiences that others would enjoy hearing. Perhaps someone has encouraged you to write a book because you know a great deal about a field of study. All of us love stories, which is why movies and novels are so popular. We all love stories, especially our own stories. Everyone enjoys sharing their experiences with those who will listen.
But we don’t write our own stories. We don’t completely control them. God develops the outline of our life story, and we get to fill in the details. Think of it. God was the one who determined when and where you would be born. God chose your parents, birth order, and the circumstances of your coming into the world. God gave you all your gifts and characteristics. The events of our life aren’t only ours to script. Our parents, family members, and even strangers get to form the early years of our life. As we mature, we get more control over our life’s storyline, and even then, it is only partial control. Others can exert control editing the story of our lives.
It is essential to know our life stories, and we need to put aside time to reflect on them and learn from them. Last week I told I was a hospital chaplain earlier in my priesthood. During those years, I took several training courses. Part of the coursework was writing my autobiography and discussing it with the other class participants. I wrote my autobiography four times, and it was a little different each time. I found that exercise very helpful to me. In many ways reviewing my life story with others helped reorientate me and gave me a fresh start.
God is always ready to help us write our life story and, if necessary, reorientate it to help us be more faithful. That is what God is about to do in today’s first reading from Isaiah. God is about to reorientate the Chosen People’s history so they can write a more faithful chapter in the future.
Isaiah wrote today’s reading as the Israelites return to the Promised Land after generations in exile in Babylon. Several generations before, God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer the Israelites and take them as captives to Babylon. God permitted this because the people of Israel had not obeyed God, and they had become corrupt. There was injustice and unfaithfulness in the land. Rather than have faith God would protect the Israelites and keep them safe, they had placed trust in foreign alliances. The Israelites doubted God loved them and would be faithful to them.
Now God is calling them back to their homeland and restoring a relationship with the Chosen People. Isaiah wrote:
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.
Isaiah tells the people God wants to be with them to help the people write a new chapter in their story, one that will go in a new direction with a more faithful ending.
The Wedding Feast at Cana is another story going in the wrong direction. In John’s gospel, it is the story of Jesus’ first miracle. It is the first time he interceded for someone going in the wrong direction and helped them get a new start. In the ancient Mediterranean world, weddings were significant celebrations, and they involved everyone in the extended family and all the community. Hospitality was a great responsibility in the ancient world, and weddings were an opportunity to share it with family and neighbors. To have something go wrong, such as running out of wine, would have been a great embarrassment and would not have reflected well on the couple or their families. They would be stigmatized and ridiculed by the community.
Even though Jesus has never performed a miracle, Mary brings him the problem. She knows Jesus and Jesus’ story and is confident he can help the situation. Jesus’ first response is,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?”
To our ears, Jesus’ response sounds rude and disrespectful to Mary, but Bible scholars and linguists tell us no. In Jesus’ culture, to call Mary “woman” was similar to calling her, Ma’am. “How does your concern affect me?” is similar to “how can I help?” Jesus wants to help, but he tells Mary the time has not yet come for him to perform a miracle. Jesus knows everything will change for him once he performs a miraculous work. His story will begin to go off in a new direction. His ministry will begin, and the result will be his giving his life on the cross.
Since Mary knows Jesus’ life story so well, she gives him a nudge. We often believe Mary to be meek and lowly, but she is tough and decisive in this situation. She is the one to push him out into a new direction in his life. She tells the waiters to “do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus instructs the waiters to fill the water jars used for Jewish ceremonial washing with fresh water. Before the Jews ate a meal, especially an important one like a wedding feast, they would carefully wash their hands. This handwashing was meant to help them come closer to God, but Jesus is going to have the jars serve another purpose. A purpose that will be more effective in bringing the people close to God. Now the jars will hold the new wine. Wine was considered the blood of the grape. The plentiful, delicious wine Jesus will provide symbolizes his blood. His blood he will generously shed on the cross to bring about our salvation. Now the faithful won’t be brought closer to God by a ritual hand washing but through Jesus’ blood.
The miracle of the wedding at Cana didn’t only turn the story of the celebration around for the couple; it turned the story of the salvation of the world around and set it on a new trajectory. Jesus will begin his ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and mercy. He will start his journey to Jerusalem to give his life on the cross. There he will endure the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. Jesus will reorientate the story of humanity in a new direction of faithfulness to God.
You may have noticed that I’m wearing the green vestments worn during Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is the church’s season when we take the opportunity to look at the story of our lives and turn them in a new direction so we can experience a freshness in our relationship with God.
The Gospel readings over the next few weeks will tell us how Jesus began his public ministry. We will hear how Jesus helped every class of people learn to see God more clearly. We will listen to Jesus call us to newness of relationship with God. Today God gives us the gift of grace in the Eucharist we celebrate at this Mass to take the brokenness of our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and allow Jesus to mend it and set it off in a new direction of faithfulness.