Lenten Reflections on Scripture: A Wedding in Galilee

WaterwineAs the story of the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) is one of the Luminous mysteries, many of us have contemplated the account of Jesus’ first miracle many times. The narrative is simple and easy to understand: Jesus begins to show his “signs” in order to prove who he is. Homilies I’ve heard on this text will often focus on Mary’s role here as the initiator of Christ’s first miracle and expound on that role in the life and ministry of her Son.

However, I’ve always been perplexed by the exchange between Jesus and Mary. She comes to Jesus and reports that the wine had run out. He answers, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary does not respond to Him, but addresses the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s the objectionable language of Jesus, and Mary’s non-response that I have trouble understanding.

One thing I will often do to help me fully grasp a gospel narrative is to use my imagination to picture the scene as if I was part of it. I enjoy theater and did a lot of acting in college which helps. I once heard a lecture by actor Michael York on performing Shakespeare. He noted that Shakespeare did not provide stage directions and never really cared how a play or a character was interpreted; the director or actor could do whatever they wanted. This is perhaps why his plays work in many different settings. Gospel narratives can be similar in that the text can be lacking in detail, as well as the fact that the Greek manuscripts had no punctuation, leaving it to the interpreter to picture the scene and punctuate the text.

Jesus is sitting at a table with four of His disciples, enjoying the wedding feast. He’d probably been there a while if they had run out of wine. The disciples had not seen Him perform a miracle nor had been following Him very long. When they heard Mary tell Jesus that the wine had run out their reaction would probably have been the same as Jesus’ initial response, “Why would that be of concern to us?” But Jesus’ second statement would have confused them, “My hour has not yet come” (in the Greek text this could also be phrased as a question, “Has not my hour yet come?”). They might have looked at each other, curious about what He meant by that. Then Mary’s does not respond to Jesus but addresses the waiters instead, followed by Jesus’ instructions to them. This would have had the disciples sitting on the edge of their seats thinking, “Are we going to see a miracle?!” When the head waiter made the announcement about the best wine being saved for last, they may have fallen to the ground before Christ.

The focus of this text is squarely on the disciples. It’s interesting that the head waiter was not told where the wine came from — it was not intended to be a public miracle but a semi-private one. Also, of course Jesus knew that he was going to perform that miracle beforehand, He had a divine nature. It seems clear that Mary knew also, He may have discussed it with her ahead of time or, as was typical of many saints, she was granted the foreknowledge. It explains her non-response to Him, His objection to her was not directed at her but at the disciples, preparing them for what was about to take place. Jesus and Mary were doing a little acting themselves.

wedding in galWedding in Galilee is a Palestinian movie from the late 1980s about a wedding in a town that was under occupation by the Israeli military. The director is a Palestinian from Nazareth. The movie has been criticized for being too harsh toward the Israelis. But I disagree, I lived in Israel briefly at that time and the tensions between the occupier and the occupied were pretty high. A man has planned a great wedding feast for his son but the Israeli governor had slapped a curfew on the town after some militant activity there. The man begs the governor to lift it for the wedding day but he refuses. Then the governor came up with a very bad idea: that the curfew would be lifted if he and the occupying force was invited to the wedding.

It’s long and subtitled, but very much worth watching, particularly for the Galilean scenery and the many rituals that take place that doubtless go back centuries. It also was probably set in a village not far from the Biblical Cana, as it was only a stones throw from Nazareth. The Galilee of Jesus’ day was also occupied territory.

…rjt

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