Stories Seldom Heard
October, 2016 207th Edition
John 2 1:11
By Sister Patricia Bruno, OP
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to welcome the parishioners of St Peter’s Church and St Martin de Porres Shine, Memphis, Tennessee.
Last Saturday when I was out for my daily walk, I passed a small synagogue on a side street in Berkeley. As I came closer to the large patio in the backyard of the synagogue I could hear subdued voices, but because of the high fence and trellis I couldn’t see the people gathered in the patio. Since it was Saturday I presumed it was a wedding reception. But as I passed the open patio gate I noticed four shopping carts neatly parked inside the gate with clothes and other items in them. Then I noticed a man dressed in a dark blue jacket standing close to the gate. Across the back of his jacket was written “Security.”
I hadn’t quite put the whole scene together until another man came towards me pushing a grocery cart filled with his clothes and other objects. Finally it clicked. It wasn’t a wedding reception. It was the third Saturday of the month: the scheduled day that the synagogue hosted the afternoon meal for the homeless women and men in the area. I am sure their meal was nutritious and tasty, but I’m also sure it was not the quality and quantity of food that we associate with wedding receptions. Just the words “wedding reception” conjures up images of abundance: the best food and wine, lively music, photographs and conversation with members of the family. It’s meant to be a day to remember and celebrate for 25, 50, 75 years or longer.
The wedding feast at Cana was meant to be one of those celebratory events. But there is a clue in the story that can help us understand how different Jewish weddings were from our present day weddings. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they had delicious Middle Eastern food –tabouli, hummus, stuffed grape leaves and organic fruits and vegetables. There was music and laughter, children playing and a leisurely festive atmosphere. Many people came from a distance. So they might have stayed for a day or two. But, in the middle of the celebration the scripture offers us a reality check.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, makes an observation. “They have no wine.” Now that’s a serious statement whether then or now. But it was especially disruptive at this wedding because they didn’t have a corner grocery store in the neighborhood. We might wonder why the wine ran out. Was it poor planning? Did more people arrive than were expected? We’ll never know. But for them and for us it’s a painful reminder of their economic situation.
The Jewish population was very poor. Roman law kept it that way. It was intentional: a way to control the Jewish population. Most Jews had only enough to make ends meet. So to anticipate a family wedding meant that the family would have had to scrimp and save for a very long time.
Some Jewish weddings might have lasted a week or so with wine and food that never ran out, but they were few and far between. So the fact that the wine ran out might not have been that unusual, but the Gospel reminds us that Mary noticed it. She didn’t miss it. How could she? She knew what it meant to be poor. Remember when she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple? They offered two turtledoves because they didn’t have the money to buy a lamb or goat as the more affluent Jewish families might have done.
This story of Cana is a curious story and it holds a special gift for us. We see Jesus at a jubilant celebration with his family and friends. It’s almost as though we too, are invited guests and find ourselves eavesdropping on a family conversation: not unlike the one when the twelve year old Jesus was in the temple. Only this time Jesus is an adult.
Mary says, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds, “How does your concern affect me?” It’s a very human situation, isn’t it? A discussion, perhaps a disagreement, between a parent and an adult child can at times strain family relationships until the situation is worked through. Even today this is true. A friend of mine who is a psychologist works mainly with young adults. He says one of their major issues is how they can develop a healthy relationship between their parents and themselves. They need to become independent, take responsibility for their actions, develop their talents and still stay in a loving relationship with their parents. It can be difficult, but it is a necessary transition.
Sometimes these shifts are identifiable as they are in this gathering at Cana. But for the most part these shifts in family relationships happen slowly over time. Finally one day we find ourselves as parents asking our adult children for advice on major decisions. Perhaps our questions might be about selling the family home, downsizing or moving to a different area. We might ask for advice concerning health or financial issues. Our hope is that our adult children will help us arrive at an appropriate solution.
It sounds like Mary had that same expectation. Mary doesn’t speak much in scripture, but what she says is poignant and powerful. She’s strong and wise. She’s a faith-filled woman who knows her son well. Over the years she has observed his kindness and compassion towards others. So like other good mothers she trusted her instincts. Mary didn’t have a solution, only an observation. “They have no wine.” Besides what would she have asked for? Enough wine to get through the dinner? A few jugs of ordinary house wine the quality of which doesn’t sound too smooth or pleasing? She trusted that her son would have a better solution than her wildest hopes. She was not disappointed.
In discussing this passage with a group of parishioners one of the women said, “As I have gotten older I’ve learn to pray differently. When I was younger I used to give God a lot of instructions. I used to tell God what I wanted and how God was to do it. But now my prayer is more like Mary’s. I just place my needs and the world’s need before God. I ask God to fill in the blanks as to how I might become aware of God’s response to my prayers.
This style of praying might also be true of many of our prayers. Now that we are older our prayers are often for wisdom to know what to do; courage and strength to be able to do what we believe is just. We ask for patience and insight. We ask to be led by the Holy Spirit because we know we don’t have all the answers.
Mary’s cry “They have no wine” can easily be translated into our concerns as we pray for the needs of the world, our country and our families. “They have no homeland. They have no protection. They have no hospitals or food. They have no jobs. They have no shelter. They have no equal education or opportunity. They have no security. They have no self esteem. They have no way out of their circumstances.” Mary’s petition addresses the Body of Christ today. Even though we might feel that we don’t have the solutions that would change the negative situations in our world, Mary’s words give us hope.
Mary reminds us to never underestimate the power of God to make us bold disciples with roots firmly planted in the soil of justice and mercy. When we desire to do what Jesus asks of us God can transform even our weak and insufficient works, like the water at the wedding feast, into excellent wine, bold in flavor and rich in color. In the places that feel empty God can empower even our small works of mercy to become rich sources of hope for others. It won’t be instantaneous. Rather we like the servants will only know in hindsight, that what we have done has been transformed into something more abundant than we could have ever thought possible.
“Do whatever he asks you to do.” We know what Jesus asks of us. We hear it every week in the scriptures. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the imprisoned. In this Year of Mercy Pope Francis has written it large. Reach out to the strangers in our midst. Be in solidarity with those who suffer. In other words, notice those, as Mary did, who have no wine. Look beneath the surface of the injustices that wound our society. Expose the root causes of these injustices. This work of Jesus is a life-long mission.
Mary reminds us to be bold as Jesus was. Ponder the Word of God. Pray for insight and courage. Receive the sacraments and work towards a more merciful and just society. These are signs of our desire and commitment to be Jesus’ faithful disciples.
There’s a prayer/poem written by Julian of Norwich that reminds us that our desire to seek the will of God and to do what Jesus has asked us to do is sufficient. The outcome is truly in God’s hands.
Seeking God is as good as seeing God.
Who but a saint could know so clearly
That the journey is the reality
The steps are sight,
The effort is reward,
The seeing is the searching,
The dream is the reality?
Seeking God is seeing God.
(Julian of Norwich)
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article.
“Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection. If you would like “Stories Seldom Heard” sent to a friend, please send a note to “email@example.com.” Thank you.