God's miracles are too often misunderstood

By  Fr. Scott Lewis S.J.
  • January 5, 2007
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) — Jan. 14 (Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-12)

Physical injuries can be easier to overcome than shame and disgrace, for the latter can cut deeply into the heart and soul. The people of Israel considered themselves disgraced before the nations: they had been abandoned or punished by their God and reduced to slavery.

But that is not God's view, and God does not want to be seen in that fashion. God speaks words of healing and vindication, and makes it clear that Israel is beautiful and a source of delight to God. The problem is not God, but the reluctance or inability of people to hear and believe those healing words of God. Feelings of shame and humiliation feed so many of today's conflicts. Revenge, retribution or self-hatred, however, seldom restores one to peace. A hopeful future is for those who are willing to think of themselves and God in new ways.

Spiritual gifts are sometimes viewed with suspicion, in part due to their capacity for abuse. They can be used to bolster egos and bank accounts, whether on the part of television evangelists or some within our own church. But spiritual gifts are not about power plays, competition or controlling others. Paul insists on their impersonal and non-possessive nature, for they all flow from the same source — God — and all return to God. But they must first accomplish their mission: to build up the community and contribute to the well being of others. Of prime importance is the principle that no one is more important than another in God's grand plan. Those who have particular gifts are merely fulfilling their role in that plan. In our own struggle with changing images of church and ministry, we should ponder these and similar passages. Power — real or imagined — is not to be grasped at or hoarded jealously. We possess nothing, for all belongs to God. The proclamation of the Gospel and the care of souls should be our only consideration.

The wedding feast at Cana is a strange miracle. It is not reported in the other Gospels, and what is more, it seems a bit strained and even trivial. But the ordinary and inconspicuous can be the vehicle for the profound and miraculous. Jesus was clearly not prepared for the events that unfolded, and even seems a little irritated to be pushed or put on the spot. We are uncomfortable with the apparent brusqueness or rudeness of Jesus towards His mother. It is clear that Jesus operates not according to familial or cultural expectations, but His mission from God. The mother of Jesus is unfazed by the response and her words are directed at all believers: do whatever He tells you. But this miracle is not about wine. First of all, He salvaged the honour — no small thing in that culture — of the bride's family.

Disgrace and humiliation are not inconsequential things in a traditional culture. It was compassion for others in an unpleasant situation that impelled Jesus to bend His own rules and schedule. The day is saved; water has been successfully transformed into wine. And not just ordinary wine, for the head steward remarks on its quality. He also makes a puzzling observation: contrary to common practice, the host has saved the best until last. But that is merely the surface meaning, for the evangelist uses the story to make some important theological statements about Jesus.

The Old Testament and some of the extra-biblical literature such as the book of Enoch speak of the rich wine of the last days. The fact that the best wine was saved until the moment of the miracle illustrates that Jesus Himself represents the new age or time of fulfilment, and the wine that He offers far surpasses any of the others. The best that God has to offer is available in the present rather than a distant past. This is the first of the "signs" that Jesus performs in John's Gospel and it is the beginning of faith for those who were His followers. God's power and compassion operate in all areas of human activity — nothing is too insignificant or unimportant.

Even as they are at work in our presence, the miracles of God are often unnoticed and misunderstood. 

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