The Gospel this Sunday paints for us a joyful and familiar scene: Jesus, at the request of His mother Mary, saves a newlywed couple from embarrassment by performing his first miracle, changing water into wine. The lessons it usually brings are also familiar. We learn that Our Lady brings our needs to Christ, and that we can trust in her intercession to win for us whatever in necessary. We learn the love that the Lord has for marriage, as we watch him honor it with this abundant gift of wine. We also see the human joy of Christ, who makes the best of wine and gives the guests an immense quantity of it. The wedding at Cana so often presents itself as a deeply human miracle, a sign of God’s concern for the details of our lives and his desire to come close to us in all things—a fitting episode at the beginning of Ordinary Time.
Yet, John the Evangelist describes the miracle in a fashion that might send our reflections elsewhere. He says that in working this miracle, “Jesus…revealed his glory.” (Jn 2:11) John also recalls that Christ connects this miracle not so much to marriage or daily life, but to his “hour,” implying that working this miracle is a part of the motion towards his death and resurrection, his great act of salvation. Far from directing our focus to the common things of our human existence, this miracle at Cana directs us to the grand action of God the Son, saving us from sin, offering us immortality, and bringing us into the house of the Father. In fact, the ancient Christians saw the miracle of Cana as a foretelling of heaven’s own wedding feast, when in the place of water, representing our humanity, we would receive the wine that represents a share in God’s own life and nature. This miracle looks to the glory of eternity given to us in Christ.
If we find this strange, we should recall that Cana was not originally just a Sunday in Ordinary Time, but was, along with the visit of the Magi, and Jesus’ baptism, a part of the Epiphany, the feast of Christ’s self-revelation as the Son of God and our Savior. Though we now spread these moments out over three weeks, they originally formed one great feast, itself the culmination of Christmas. As the Liturgy of the Hours for the Epiphany says: “Three mysteries mark this holy day. Today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ. Today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast. Today, Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.” Cana is much grander than the name Ordinary Time might lead us to believe.
So what do we learn from all of this? We learn an important lesson about how we should understand Christianity’s purpose. The mission of Christ was not simply to come help us in our daily lives, but to lift us up in the midst of our daily lives to eternal life, not so much to bring heaven down to us, as to bring us up to heaven. This is the meaning of Ordinary Time: that the Lord meets us in the midst of the ordinary so the he can call us into the extraordinary. If we offer the water of our daily lives to him in humble love, we can confidently hope that he will transfigure them into the wine of a life so beautiful that we cannot yet even imagine it.