Back in the 1920s, in the days of Prohibition, it was illegal for most Americans to own, make, or use any form of alcohol. Naturally, many people disobeyed this law, and black-market providers of alcohol—known as bootleggers—were able to make a lot of money helping people quench their thirst. There’s a story that down South one day a police officer caught a bootlegger with a lot of jugs in his truck. The officer asked suspiciously, “What’s in the jugs?” The man answered, “Just water, officer.” The policeman didn’t believe him, so he opened one of the jugs and took a gulp; then he said triumphantly, “Water, eh? This smells like wine, looks like wine, and tastes like wine.” Thinking fast, the bootlegger shouted, “Praise the Lord! He’s done it again!” (Mule Eggs and Topknots, p. 79). Obviously that’s not what happened, and I doubt the officer bought the story, but you have to give the bootlegger credit for trying. Jesus doesn’t always work miracles of the type described in John’s Gospel (2:1-11), but if we trust in Him, He will always provide for our needs.
Not only does God care for His people; He does so in a lavish way. The passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (62:1-5) is set after the end of the exile in Babylon. For seventy years the Jewish people had been forcibly removed from their holy city of Jerusalem, but finally they were liberated and allowed to return home. However, they discovered that their proud city was in ruins; the walls had been pulled down, buildings were in disrepair, and the Temple was desecrated. This was enough to break one’s heart—so a message of encouragement was given. The Lord promised that Jerusalem would not just be vindicated and restored; she would become so glorious that all the kings and nations of the earth would be amazed. No longer would she be called “Desolate” and “Forsaken”; instead, Jerusalem and her children would be called God’s “Delight,” and would actually be spiritually married to the Lord—an honor far beyond anything they could hope for or imagine.
This wedding imagery is also used by St. Paul, who famously referred to the Church as the Bride of Christ. In his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:4-11) he states that, because of Christ’s love, all the members of the Church receive different gifts through the Holy Spirit. These spiritual gifts and abilities, however, are not primarily for the recipient’s personal benefit, but for the building up of the entire Body of Christ. We are each called to a loving relationship with Jesus, and to a life of service in His Name. He Himself demonstrates these principles in the Gospel. Out of love for His Mother, Jesus worked a miracle even though it was not yet time for His public ministry to begin, and in serving those present at the wedding feast, He did so in a supremely generous way.
He miraculously produced almost 150 gallons of wine—far more than needed—and it was of the very highest quality. Our Lord’s efforts are never half-hearted or insincere; as long as we follow the example of Mary by turning to Him in trust, He will respond in a wonderful and loving way.
The Bible contains many favorable references to wine. Drunkenness was certainly not approved of, but the proper use of wine was highly praised. Wine was commonly served with meals, and it was seen as enriching life and giving joy to the heart. These positive characteristics of wine make it a fitting symbol of religious faith, for our relationship with God is also supposed to be part of everyday life; this relationship enriches life and provides us with lasting joy. Therefore, Our Lord’s willingness to produce wine at the wedding feast of Cana symbolizes His ability to help us in every aspect of our lives.
Too often we’re so distracted by our problems and struggles that we don’t see the big picture; we have to remind ourselves that if God is allowing us to go through a difficult time, there’s a good reason for it. Why does God seem to take His time in answering our prayers? Maybe it’s because we’ll actually be better off as a result of having to learn patience and perseverance. Why doesn’t Jesus miraculously heal us of all our illnesses and our aches and pains? Perhaps it’s because coping with these burdens is the best means we have of growing in grace. Why won’t the Lord make us rich and successful so that we won’t have to worry about money? Possibly it’s because if we have everything go our own way, we’ll forget about our need for Him and end up spiritually much worse off than before. Why does God allow life so often to be hard or discouraging or unfair? Maybe because if we had it too easy, we’d stop trying to come closer to Him. Why does the Lord always seem to make us wait until the very last minute before showing us a solution to our problems? Probably so that we’ll learn to trust in Him. Why does God want us to pray for His help when He already knows exactly what we need? Most likely because this will make us more aware of our dependence on Him, and let us relate to Him as a loving Father. Why does Jesus challenge us to take up our cross each day if we want to be His followers? It’s certainly because this will allow Him to reward us beyond all measure in the joy of His kingdom.
Our Lord’s presence at the wedding feast at Cana reversed the regular pattern; as a result of His miraculous intervention, the best wine was served last. This is also the approach He uses with us. Jesus provides for our needs and answers our prayers—not necessarily in the way we want or expect, but in the way that’s truly best, and in a manner that we will one day fully understand and appreciate. If we trust in Him now, we will later on rejoice with Him forever.