The readings for Sunday, January 17, 2016, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, are
Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11); and John 1:1-11.
An important aspect of the theology of the Gospel of John is a theme of replacement/perfection. Some feature of Old Testament law, or custom, or ritual is replaced or perfected by Jesus or by the laws, customs, and ritual of first century Christianity. This theme begins in the first sentence of John’s gospel. One of the pillars of first century Judaism was the Torah. Torah is a Hebrew noun meaning (the) Teaching. It refers primarily to the first five books of the Scriptures: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, but is sometimes said of all the Hebrew Scriptures. Another English translation for Torah can be simply (the) Word. Some of the great scribes considered the Torah to be eternal. John begins his Gospel with this sentence: “In the beginning was the Word (Torah), and the Word (Torah) was with God, and the Torah was God.”
Jewish scribes would have agreed with the first two clauses of this sentence, but not with the third. By that third clause John strikes an entirely new chord, because in the same section of his Gospel he identifies the Torah of the third clause not with the written Torah which was mediated from God through Moses, but with the Son of God who “was made flesh and pitched his tent among us.” Jesus, in John’s theology, is the ultimate Torah and perfects the Torah or teaching given through Moses. John continues his replacement/perfection theme throughout the first chapter. We see Jesus therefore as the perfection or ultimate revealer, the new Moses and the perfection of Moses, the replacement and perfection of the Passover Lamb, the ultimate King of Israel, the perfect meaning of the term “Son of God,” which had been said of the People of Israel and especially of their kings.
John carries the replacement/perfection theme into his second chapter. The first story in chapter two is the Wedding at Cana, which is the Gospel reading for this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C. Although Cycle C belongs to the Gospel of Luke, on some Sundays the liturgy directs us to a reading from John’s Gospel. And so it is on this Sunday. John writes, “…and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the marriage with his disciples.” Next we are told that they ran out of wine — a disaster for the groom. It is just possible that the shortage of wine was related to the number of disciples tagging along to the wedding with Jesus. Such however is not John’s concern. This is an important teaching story and major replacement/perfection.
An interesting sidebar is the brief dialogue between Jesus and his mother. She does not demand anything, nothing like “Son, do your stuff!” She simply notes that the party had no more wine. Jesus knows what she really wants to say, and replies, “Woman, what is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come!” The “hour” would in fact not come until the Last Supper. In last Sunday’s Gospel, the story of the finding of the twelve-year old Jesus in the temple, the anguish this caused his mother, and his harsh-sounding answer to her complaint, this commentary noted that incident as one of many in the Gospels in which Jesus distances himself from his earthly family or they distance themselves from him. They had to learn that they were #2, insofar as they were of the earth. Jesus’ heavenly Parent and that Parent’s will and plan came first — not only in that episode in Luke’s gospel, but in the Gospel the liturgy gives us today. It was not his mother’s mission to lay out a plan, an “hour” for her Son. That was Someone Else’s job description.
Now to the core of this teaching story. John notes that there were six stone jars standing close by. These contained water for the customary purification rites when pious Jews entered a home or some structure used for the service of God. There was water in the jars already, but they were not full! The not-full jars represent the rituals of the Old Testament, the rituals of Jewish life and custom. Jesus significantly says, “Fill the jars with water! A servant or slave then drew some of the liquid out of a jar. At Jesus’ command he took the “water” to the manager of the wedding festivities. The manager tasted it and observed that it was a superior wine. He reproves the groom for saving the best wine until last. It would have been far better for the reputation of the groom and manager to have put out the best wine first, then let them drink Mogen David at the end.
The main teaching of the story, from the point of view of John’s theology, is so simple that it is usually missed. Jesus has just perfected the rituals of the Old Testament. He has given his people a new and better wine.