Do Whatever He Tells You

ROSARY & ART: The Second Luminous Mystery is the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12)

Paolo Veronese, “The Wedding at Cana,” 1563
Paolo Veronese, “The Wedding at Cana,” 1563 (photo: Public Domain)

John the Evangelist alone mentions the Wedding Feast at Cana. Despite its limited press in the New Testament, however, that mystery is of great significance. John captures it succinctly: “Jesus did this as the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee, and so revealed his glory; and his disciples began to believe in him” (2:11).

John never speaks of “miracles” and does not recount them almost chronologically, as the other Gospel writers do. John is much more selective and theologically detailed about these events, which he calls “signs,” because each one tells us something ever more deeply about whom Jesus is. And John says it all begins in Cana.

It begins at a wedding. Jesus, his Mother, and his disciples are guests. 

A wedding. A moment of love, of joy, of the beginning of new life. Over the next three years of his public ministry, Jesus is going to allude to that wedding many times. He will say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding banquet” (Matthew 22:1-14). Those who imagine a boring, quiet heaven filled with classical harp music have not been reading the New Testament! Whenever we talk about the realities of God, we always have to stretch human language, because “eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). But, that said, human language is a beginning. And God himself is Love (1 John 4:8). He doesn’t “love” as one act among many: He IS Love. And those who hope to share heaven must become like him (1 John 3:2). And the Son of God finds that the place to start in human experience to describe that reality is marriage.

Now marriage, like the Kingdom of Heaven, has certain requirements. Jesus will speak of heaven as a marriage banquet, but he will also demand that the wedding guests come prepared, be dressed properly. The man without the “wedding garment” — sanctifying grace — is cast out (Matthew 22:11-13). The virgins who are invited as part of the bridal party are expected to be wise in how they prepare themselves. Those who are foolish — who have not kept watch and trimmed their lamps — also find the door shut (Matthew 25:1-13, especially 25:10).

Marriage demands certain things and requires certain proprieties. Like the foolish virgins, the young couple in Cana also were not very well prepared.

“The wine ran short.”

Maybe people were having a good time: this is a traditional wedding that probably went on for days, not a modern “five-hours-and-you’re-outta-here” affair. Maybe there were some big drinkers in Cana of Galilee. Maybe the couple was on a budget. We don’t know why. We just know “the wine ran short.”

Maybe the couple didn’t even know. Maybe they knew but were embarrassed: hospitality is critical in Middle Eastern culture. Maybe they had no clue about a way out of their predicament.

Mary noticed. She doesn’t make a big deal. All she does is carry that need to her Son: “They have no wine.”

Jesus seems to demur: “My hour has not yet come.” But, sometimes, mothers have a sense about these things.

Mary leaves it to Jesus, trusting him. She doesn’t know what he will do. But she knows that, whatever he does, he is to be trusted. “His mother said to the servers: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”

Mary’s modus operandi isn’t just appropriate to a long-ago wedding. It’s how she still operates and how she wants us to approach her Son. She notices, she tells her Son, and she trusts.

Mary takes a need to her Son. She still takes our needs to her Son.

And she tells us, as she told the stewards: “’Do whatever he tells you.’”

It’s what she did: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word,” as you say (Luke 1:38).

Jesus points out six large stone jars. They were used for the kinds of ritual washings Jesus and his Apostles would later be accused of neglecting (Mark 7:1-5, 14-15; Matthew 15:2). He tells the stewards to fill them with water and take it to the headwaiter.

When they present the jars to the maître-d’, they discover they have about 150-180 gallons of the “finest” quality wine. The headwaiter knows nothing of its origins “although the servers who had drawn the water knew.” (Jesus will later say something about things being concealed from “the wise” but revealed to the “little ones” — Matthew 11:25).

Jesus turns water into wine. What should we draw from that? Two points:

· God’s generosity will never be outdone, so why do we sometimes doubt it?

· Today God turns water into the finest wine. Tomorrow, he will turn wine into his Blood.

The headwater is impressed. Most bridegrooms, he says, buy a little good wine and then, when the guests’ tastes are dulled, pull out the cheaper vintage. “But you have kept the good wine until now.” 

Maybe that was in fact what the young couple had planned: serving the lesser vintage as the night went on. But, again, God will not be outdone.

Such was Jesus’ “first sign” by which he revealed “his glory,” the glory “that belongs to the only Son of the Father” (John 1:14).

Today’s Mystery has been depicted by many artists, but I chose one of the most famous — Paolo Veronese’s 1563 Nozze di Cana — now at the Louvre in Paris. Why this painting? Both artistic and theological reasons.

“The Wedding at Cana” is Renaissance art on a grand scale (almost 20 by 30 feet large), whose exuberance of guests demonstrates what the joy of a wedding ought to be like. Everybody’s there (and, if you read the commentaries, you’ll know “everybody” included a guest list of who’s who in 16th-century Europe), including man’s faithful friends, some dogs. (“Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their Master’s table” — Matthew 15:26-28).

The guests all sport their best wedding garments. The musical ensemble is front and center, adding to the joy (according to another musician named David) that wine brings to men’s souls (Psalm 104:15). If you look at the service staff on top, behind the railing, you can imagine the mortgage the father of the bride must have taken out for this wedding.

What is more interesting is the theology. First of all, Jesus and his Mother are at the center of things. They are at the center of the painting, Jesus looking at us. Not the bride and groom. They’re on the lower left: see the man reaching for the wine glass the servant is presenting him? While our modern sensibilities might find this strange, a Christian marriage is first and foremost about Christ, because marriage is a sign of Christ’s union to his Church (Ephesians 5). Christian spouses are supposed to image Christ, so images properly are subordinate to what — or in this case, whom — they image.

A detail worth noting: look straight up above Jesus’ head, to the service staff. Directly above Jesus is a man wielding a meat cleaver, slaughtering and chopping up a lamb. That allusion is not an accident.

Look at the guests. They’ve been well fed. See the guests up table from the young couple: they look satiated. See the guest in white on the left, supposedly an Italian poet, sampling with the air of an affected but impressed connoisseur the new wine Jesus has just produced. They’ve been treated to a great wedding, but the best — from God — is yet to come.

Yes, because as good as this wedding was, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast.”

We should not conclude this meditation, however, without also considering the signs of our times and what they tell us today. Sister Lucia, who received the visions of Our Lady at Fatima, has said that “a time will come when the decisive battle between the Kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.” If the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast but weddings have rules and expectations independent of the guests (or even the couple), then should we not be watchful and ready over counterfeits of “wedding feasts” pretending to their heavenly bona fides? Because Jesus is clear: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21, emphasis added).

(For more on this painting, see here).

Pope Francis (R) embraces new Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich after he appointed him during an Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on October 5, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

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