Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "C") January, 20, 2013
AFFIRMING THE BLESSINGS OF MARRIAGE IN OUR DAY
[Texts: Isaiah 62.1-5 [Psalm 96]; 1 Corinthians 12.4-11; John 2.1-12]
A dozen years ago, religious leaders from four American church bodies pledged themselves to affirm God's first institution—marriage (cf. Origins 30:24, November 23, 2000, p. 388). Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical and National Council of Churches representatives declared God established the married state as ‘a holy union of one man and one woman in which they commit, with God's help, to build a loving, life-giving, faithful relationship that will last for a lifetime’.
‘Marriage’, they said, ‘is God's gift, a living image of the union between Christ and his church’. As such, marriage—when lived according to God's plan—‘brings spiritual, physical, emotional, economic and social benefits not only to a couple and family but also to the church and the wider culture. Couples, churches and the whole of society have a stake in the well-being on marriages’.
The church spokesmen see threats to the good of society in factors militating against successful marriages: ‘a high divorce rate, a rise in cohabitation, a decline in the marriage rate and a diminishing interest in and readiness for marrying, especially among young people’. They could not have imagined then the additional challenge coming from the pressure from same-sex unions, let alone from countries or states that permit same-sex ‘marriages’!
Since three-quarters of marriages are performed by clergy, they called on churches to do everything possible to foster sound marriages: ‘prayer and spiritual support for stronger marriages; encouragement for people to marry; education for young people about the meaning and responsibility of marriage; preparation for those engaged to be married; pastoral care—including qualified mentor couples—for couples at all stages of their relationship; help for couples experiencing marital difficulty and disruption; influence within society and culture to uphold the institution of marriage’.
In the Catholic understanding of marriage, spouses freely entering a marriage make an indissoluble commitment of fidelity to each other until death. Unless dispensed for good reason (as when a Catholic marries someone from another Christian tradition or another faith), Catholics marry before two witnesses in a church ceremony celebrated by a priest or deacon.
In both Latin and Eastern church traditions the liturgies invoke God's grace and blessing for couples entering upon a life-long project. In the epiclesis (a solemn invocation) in the rites of matrimony, ‘the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and his Church’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1624).
Understanding the solemn and sacramental nature of marriage, the Church rejoices that, on the threshold of His public ministry, Jesus performed His first ‘sign’, at his mother's request, during a wedding feast.
With overtones of joy and abundance, this wedding miracle inaugurated Jesus' ministry, a function Jesus' ‘inaugural sermon’ at Nazareth fulfils in Luke's gospel (next week's gospel).
The Fourth Evangelist gives only scant details of the miracle of water changed into wine: the when: “the third day”; who: the “mother of Jesus”, never called Mary in John's gospel, Jesus, the disciples, servants; where: “Cana in Galilee” (otherwise unknown in gospel tradition but the locale of another miracle [cf. John 4.46-54]).
An embarrassing situation is the occasion for Jesus' intervention: the wine ran out, a fact communicated to Jesus by his mother. Mary presumed her Son would attend to the situation.
Though Jesus' address to his mother (“Woman”) seems harsh or rude, it is neither. Jesus used the same term to address his mother under the cross (John 19.26) and to greet Mary Magdalene at Easter (20.15). This formulaic address and Jesus' other words to his mother (“what concern is that to you and to me?”) established distance and played down family ties in order to highlight, instead, dimensions of faith.
The abundance of “the good wine” brought joy and honour to a couple on the verge of shame and disgrace. More appropriately, however, this first of Jesus' signs evoked faith among his first followers (“his disciples believed in him”).
The Third Isaiah used a joyous wedding feast to announce removal of Israel's shame experienced by exile from the land of Israel. God's love for his people was expressed in nuptial imagery, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you”.
God's ongoing delight in the Church appears in the spiritual gifts abundantly at work within the Church—whether those who exercise them are married, celibate or single—“there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone”.