Father Donald Senior, CP

How should the Gospel begin?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Is 62:1-5; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1- 11

Fans of the cartoon “Peanuts” will remember a strip that would appear from time to time about Snoopy trying to write his grand novel. Snoopy would sit on the top of his doghouse, fingers poised over his typewriter, pondering how to begin. But he never seemed to get past the first line: “It was a dark and stormy night …”!

Have you ever thought of the fact that each of the evangelists begins his portrayal of Jesus’ public ministry with a different scene? Matthew begins with the Sermon on the Mount, Mark with a dramatic healing of a man possessed with a demon in the synagogue of Capernaum, and Luke, as we shall see in next Sunday’s Gospel, with Jesus preaching in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth.

John’s Gospel — always unique — begins his account of Jesus’ mission at a wedding feast in the Galilean town of Cana. Who would have thought? Jesus, his disciples and his mother are all there celebrating. John doesn’t give us any details about the fortunate couple or Jesus’ relationship with them. What we do know is that they are about to be very embarrassed — they have run out of wine! Not a good thing at a wedding — something guaranteed to alarm any couple and their parents, then and now.

We all know how the story goes. Mary intervenes and Jesus ultimately turns water into choice wine (nearly 180 gallons, by the way!). The couple is saved and Jesus’ disciples are dazzled by the “glory” of their master. Everyone returns to their home base in Capernaum happy.

But John’s Gospel is never content with the surface meaning of a story, however enticing it might be. There are some deeper notes here. For one thing, Jesus at first seems to rebuff his mother’s thoughtful request: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Right from the outset of the Gospel John shifts our attention from the joy of the wedding to the suffering of the cross. In John’s terms the “hour” refers to Jesus’ laying down his life for those he loved— the very heart and soul of Jesus’ mission. There at the foot of the cross Jesus would entrust his Beloved Disciple to his mother, the chosen vessel who had enabled God’s Word to become flesh, and, in turn, entrust his disciple to Mary as his mother — confirming that true discipleship meant being part of the “family” of Jesus.

Mary seems to understand this, even at Cana. She tells the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” — for John’s Gospel, the perfect response is for a disciple to “do whatever Jesus — the Word of God made flesh — tells us.” Paradoxically, the mother of Jesus is also his faithful disciple. Her response to Jesus leads to incredible abundance — more wine and the very best of it!

At the outset of a new year, the Gospel begins with a scene of joy we can all understand. As Pope Francis constantly reminds us, the Gospel should make us joyful people. But this opening scene of John’s Gospel also invites us to sink deeper into the wellsprings of our faith and to remember that the true and abiding source of joy is our ability to give life to others, to follow, in fact, the pattern of Jesus own mission.


  • scripture