February 6, 2019
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C) on January 20, 2019, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Isaiah 62:1-5, 6-7; Psalm 96; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; and John 2:1-11.
Our first reading is a grand passage from Isaiah declaring the vindication of Jerusalem, with bold words such as “crown,” “diadem,” and “glory.” The responsorial psalm commands us to proclaim the marvelous deeds of the LORD. In our second reading, Paul celebrates that we have all been given different gifts from the Holy Spirit, including prophesy, healing, and mighty deeds.
Those readings make us think we’re building to a story about Jesus displaying his power in spectral ways. We’re expecting dramatic lighting and earthquakes. Jesus does perform a miracle, but probably most of the people around him didn’t even notice.
How often do we really stop and notice God’s extravagant love and mercy for us? Let’s take a moment to revel in these extraordinary gifts!
It was just an ordinary day in an ordinary town in the Middle East, nearly two thousand years ago. Yes, the wedding feast was a big deal to the families of the bride and groom, but weddings feasts were probably the most common celebrations in the lives of 1st-century Jews. And the guests were ordinary, including the widow of the carpenter from 4 miles away. She was considered so ordinary that her name is not recorded anywhere in the gospel of John. The widow’s son was also among the guests, as were the friends he had recently made: Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. All ordinary people.
And the crisis was ordinary, too. They ran out of wine. I’ve been to several weddings where the wine has run out, and it was not the end of the world. And wine in the first century in the Middle East was probably even more ordinary than we consider wine today. It was the common beverage. People of all ages drank wine with all their meals.
And scripture scholars tell us that the dialogue between the carpenter’s son and his mother is nothing remarkable. It may sound harsh to us, but it would not have seemed that way to those who heard the conversation in the first century. The best explanation I’ve heard for why she asks him to act comes from a theologian who serves as an usher at the 8:45 am Mass here at St. Austin: the guys who had drunk all the wine were the new-found friends of the carpenter’s son, so the carpenter’s widow felt her son was responsible to fix the problem!
A story of an ordinary crisis in an ordinary town at an ordinary event. Retold to us today, at the beginning of Ordinary Time. We still struggle with that word, ordinary. It even bothered someone as saintly as Dorothy Day. She famously said, “The words ‘Ordinary Time’ in our prayer books put me in a state of confusion and irritation. To me, no time is ordinary.”
Jesus had told Nathanael two days earlier that he would soon see great things. So what was so great about Jesus’ first miracle?
Jesus told the servants to fill 6 gigantic stone jars with water. Now, that was rather remarkable. Even today in the Middle East, water is a precious commodity. It is not to be wasted.
Jesus turned the water into wine. And it was A LOT of wine, and it was wine of the highest quality. But what did it accomplish in God’s plan for the salvation and reconciliation of the world? So there wasn’t gossip about a family running out of wine at a wedding. It’s not clear how many people at the wedding feast even realized what had happened. John says that Jesus “revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.” We know that the servants saw what had happened, and we can presume that Jesus’ mother, and Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael figured out what was going on. But did the headwaiter? The bridegroom? The families and the other guests?
How often do we not notice the blessings all around us? Miracles happen every day, at every moment. They are abundant as the 120-180 gallons of wine at the wedding feast, and they are of the highest quality. But the miracles aren’t usually accompanied by earthquakes, dramatic lighting, or reports in the media, so they often go unnoticed.
My “go to” prayer technique is keeping a prayer journal. I’ve learned that when my journal entries devolve into just a log of my daily activities, that’s a sign that I’ve stopped noticing the blessings around me. And it’s at times like that, that I rely on another form of prayer called the Ignatian examen. Now, there are lots of explanations of the examen available, but one of my favorites is Dennis Hamm SJ’s article titled “Rummaging For God.” The main gist of the prayer is to quickly review the activities of the last 24 hours of your life, and then to ask yourself where God was present. When I conduct this prayer, I’m almost always amazed to find the abundant ways God was present in my day – present in abundance and in the highest quality, like the wine at Cana – present in conversations with friends and strangers alike, in the joy of my work, in the scenery, in the foods I’ve eaten, et cetera, et cetera.
And it is then that I discover, once again, that even the most ordinary days can be… extraordinary. As the stories in the Gospel of John tell us: water turns into wine, light appears in darkness, we discover who we are, people recover from illness, and the dead rise. Extraordinary things, happening to ordinary people.
My spiritual director in Washington, DC used to put it another way: “Rich, lightning bolts of grace are falling all around you.” How blessed we are!
That same spiritual director sent me a note when I was ordained. In it he said, “Jesus Christ has already saved the world. Your job is to gather the people and celebrate that.”
And so, we gather once again on this ordinary weekend, as ordinary people, to bless and break ordinary bread and to bless and pour out ordinary wine. But in our blessing, our breaking, and our pouring out, something extraordinary happens. The bread and the wine are transformed. And in our gathering in this space, in our listening to the Word of God, and in our receiving this transformed bread and wine, we ourselves are transformed into the Body of Christ.
How do we go from being ordinary people to extraordinary members of the Body of Christ? It’s nothing we do, per se. We just have to be open to the blessings all around us.