Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Third Day, There Was a Marriage

The Luminous Mysteries were not initially big favorites of mine. For starters, there was the name. Luminous? Seriously? With all due respect, Blessed John Paul, did it have to be something that reminds us of light sabers at best and glow-stick-wearing hippies at worst? Couldn't you have found some other English word into which to translate the Latin or Italian or Polish original? Name aside, I wasn't too keen on adding five new decades to the rosary—nothing wrong with the additions themselves; I just don't like change, even when it comes from an authority I can believe in. In fact, I might have been tempted to ignore the whole development, had it not been for one of the mysteries being awesome enough to make slogging through the others worthwhile: The Manifestation at Cana.

You cannot not appreciate Jesus' first bona fide miracle. (No pun intended. No, really!) Not only is it his first miracle, but it takes place at a wedding (delighting girls everywhere) and involves changing water used for personal hygiene into an alcoholic beverage (delighting humans everywhere). Yet another proof, to borrow Franklin's description of beer, that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

It's worth noting what made the miracle necessary. "And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and his disciples, to the marriage. And the wine failing ..."

I had listened to dozens of homilies on those words before I heard one priest make the most natural and amusing inference from them. Jesus and his disciples were invited. The wine failed. To insist that there is a connection here would be to commit a logical fallacy, but to suggest that there is a connection seems only reasonable. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being "a glutton and a wine drinker" (some translations say bluntly "a drunkard"), so it doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to conclude that he and his disciples were ... drinking the wine.

Reading between the lines, then, this is the situation. Mary is at a wedding, presumably helping the happy couple with the technical side of their big day. Somebody points out that she has this son Jesus, a carpenter (remember, he has only recently been baptized by John, and only recently selected his first apostles), and that it would be polite to invite Jesus too. An invitation is sent out to Jesus, including near the RSVP line some 1st century variant of "Bring a friend." Jesus shows up with ... "his disciples." Who knew the carpenter had so many buddies? Or that they would enjoy the party so much? These fisherman, these waterfront characters ... Someone realizes the awful truth: the bride and groom are about to run out of drinks. Someone else points out that "This would never have happened if you hadn't insisted on inviting that carpenter! Wait—isn't that Mary's son? Can't SHE do something about this?"

"And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine."

Ah yes—the language of mothers and wives everywhere. Not, "Honey, fix this for me," not, "Would you please help me?" not even, "I'd love it if you would give me a hand," but: "Look! what a mess."

Of course, Jesus doesn't say, in the language of men everywhere, "Do you want me to do something about it?" That would be silly. (Sorry, men.) Obviously she wants him to do something about it. (Does it really take omniscience to figure that out?) No, Jesus knows his mother wants him to do something about it; but he doesn't offer to help right away.

"Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come."

Or, to put it into the language understood by the church, "Eva, do you know what this means to us? The hour for me to suffer and die is not here, but this is the beginning of that time."

He calls her "eva" in Aramaic, "mulier" in Latin, or "woman" in English. In Aramaic, the language he actually spoke, the word had implications that are lost in translation. "Eva" has two meanings: the generic meaning, "woman"—and the personal meaning, the name "Eve." In fact, in the ancient understanding of the Book of Genesis, the name "Eve" came first, and became later by extension a word for all women—including, now, Mary. Jesus, "the last Adam," in whom "all shall be made alive," is reminding his mother of something which she already understands: that she is the last Eve, the new "mother of all the living," and that it is only through her cooperation that the human race can be reborn. It is only through her obedience that the effects of the disobedience of Eve can be erased. That is what Jesus is reminding his mother when he says, "Woman, what is that to me and to thee?"

She doesn't answer him directly. Instead:

"His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye."

In other words—and not, I hope, to be too irreverent—"Let's roll!"

Not, "Oh, hm, well, Suffering Servant—maybe we can postpone that one for a while?" Not, "Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee." Only, "Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye." They are the last recorded words of Our Lady, her last advice to us; and what do they recommend? Obedience.

It was disobedience that condemned Eve and then Adam—disobedience arising from pride in the one case and uxoriousness in the other, so the Fathers tell us. It was the disobedience of the Original Sin that brought on the punishment of Original Sin; it was disobedience to God that brought about the disobedience of our bodies, and created in humans a strange condition, wherein we "do not that good which [we] will; but the evil which [we] hate." From this condition, from the moment of her conception, Mary alone of all the human race was free. As her body and mind, her imagination and memory and every part of her were obedient to her will, so her will was obedient to the God who had made her so perfect, who had given her so much, who had created her "full of grace."

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.


  1. Neat post. I really like the point about the last recorded words of Mary--I hadn't considered that.

  2. Yep. Not my thought--can't remember who pointed it out, but I DO remember thinking (whenever I heard or read it) that it was fascinating ...