In the years I worked as a missionary among the hill tribes of Northern Thailand, the three of us priests ministered to about 70 villages scattered inside the forest or on impervious hills that were completely cut off from us for the duration of the monsoon season. Life in those villages was more than primitive. Even nowadays, some of them do not even have access to a water stream and the women have to walk several miles through the forest to draw some poor quality water for their family’s needs. Life conditions were so harsh that we missionaries tried everything humanly possible to make it more bearable by introducing as many humanitarian initiatives as we could. And, once a year, usually after Christmas, we would buy a pig for each village and some rice liquor and allow the whole village to have a good time. We did it to help them forget their troubles, if only for a few hours, and celebrate the birth of the Savior.
Now, some of you might question the wisdom of this course of action that, by the time I got there, had become an established tradition. I soon found it quite sound and very much in line with the theme of today’s celebration. The message that I would like to share with you, today, stresses an unusual aspect of our faith. It stresses the fact that love is blind; that our God finds us delightful, that our God rejoices in us.
Let us dwell on this for a moment. What our spouse, parents, children, friends, coworkers say about us and our idiosyncrasies and defects not withstanding, do we truly think that we are so delightful? Do we honestly hold that people would rather be with us than with anybody else, or be doing anything else? Come on!
Are we delightful even as we take the first steps away from our bed in the morning, with bad breath, messy hair and all other residues of the night? Are we delightful even when we are cranky and irritable? Are we delightful even before we make ourselves “presentable?”
Well, we are told, today, that our God finds us delightful and attractive all the time. Actually He decrees to make us His spouse, the object of His love. And this is not a decision hastily made, in the spur of the moment. This objective has been planned for millennia. Way back in the Old Testament (Isaiah 62:1-5), Yahweh espoused the land of Israel. Today’s gospel (John 2:1-11), too, picks up on the idea of the way God enters into our messy and troubled life to bring joy and delight to our “wedding.”
We ought to remember that people who are in love do crazy things. For an anniversary or birthday they would not buy something sensible like a vacuum cleaner or a food processor for their loved one, but a diamond, flowers, a fur coat, something of little, if any, practical use, yet extravagant; the more extravagant, the better; the more extravagant the clearer the message of the recipient’s preciousness.
This is, certainly, the point that the readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time try to get through our density and our fears: our God is so much in love with us that, after giving us His only Son on the cross, He splurges on us with unmatched generosity.
Notice how Jesus doesn’t perform this outstanding miracle of turning a lot of water into a lot of choice wine to save someone’s life because of starvation, of drought, of dire need or of any impending disaster. No, he provides something unnecessary, superfluous. He provides choice wine for people who are already nearly tipsy to the point of having run out of the quantity of wine which had been deemed sufficient by the newlyweds’ family.
Scholars are quick to point out that wine was drunk only by the rich. Seldom would the poor drink a little wine, and even then, it would be diluted with water to stretch it quite a bit. The poor would drink real wine only at the Passover meal and at weddings.
The point made by Jesus is that, since the hour of his supreme gift on the cross had been fixed and would run its course, the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, could anticipate the splurging that was inevitable on account of His love for us.
And, one might ask, “Why is Mary playing such a crucial role to attain something superfluous for people whom she loves?” It is because Mary is the first and most appreciative recipient of God’s extravagance. The angel had greeted her as favored by the Lord. Since she is the first and most appreciative recipient of God’s generous love and dotage, she intercedes for us even for things that are not a matter of life and death. And it is good to know how both the Father and her Son Jesus cannot deny any of her requests! This is how we are always guaranteed God’s largesse.
A few days before Jesus’ hour had come he had just been anointed with a perfume so expensive that its cost was equivalent to the yearly wages of a worker. Judas Iscariot displayed his indignation saying that the money could have been spent in a much more sensible way to truly help the poor. But Jesus made the same point I make with you today: occasionally, it is o.k. for love to be extravagant, the way he was with the newlyweds at Cana, the way God is with us, the way we were at our mission of Lampang, Northern Thailand.
Any objection, let alone condemnation of such attitude would unmask a heart unable to appreciate love: love from God and/or from whomever else finds us lovable. That is why the Church, who rejoices in the splurging of her groom, gave us the second reading (1 Cor 12:4-11) to reflect on, too.
It is only people whose minds feel blown away by the largesse of their God, especially in Holy Communion, on the cross, in the sacrament of reconciliation, who are able to show the same type of extravagant giving to others. St. Paul is referring to our call, in the Spirit, to give the very best of our time, resources and initiatives, in a word, the very best of ourselves to others whenever we realize we have been splurged upon by our doting heavenly Father.
Our heart should be wide open to the destitute hill tribe people in Northern Thailand, to refugees, to those in straits of all kinds, as well as to needy people close to us, in our very county. Anyone in need should be the beneficiary of our largesse, of our Spirit-elicited gifts. All of them should be given not our second best, not what we discard but top-choice of what we have to offer. All of them should be given ample opportunities to be doted on by us for the very reason why we are mindful that our God is madly in love with us and finds us delightful and lovable all the time.