In my second parish I came across a bunch of very talented and skilled young musicians, very keen to form a band and get involved in the Sunday liturgy. As individual musicians, each and every one of them was brilliant; as a band, they were able to produce a lot of noise but very little music. Everyone was playing everything, and everybody wanted to be the leading instrumentalist or vocalist. Musically, it was an absolute shambles. Fortunately a few friends of mine, mature and experienced musicians, agreed to meet the band and teach them how to play together. In practical terms, each member of the band was taught to play only a relatively small part, but in harmony with the others. As a result, the young musicians became capable of producing genuinely high-quality music, pleasant to the ear and serving the liturgy of Mass brilliantly.
The story of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana tends to be a bit overlooked as just another miracle of Jesus. With the benefit of hindsight, its outcome is obvious to us. But let’s change our perspective a bit and look at the whole situation as it was developing. There’s a strong indication that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was invited to the wedding, while her son was included out of courtesy. It’s at the very beginning of his public ministry, and he’s regarded as yet another itinerant preacher – a relatively common sight at that time. So, as far as people are concerned at that point, he’s not a miracle worker, just one of many wedding guests. The party reaches the moment where disaster is looming: they are running out of wine. Mary seems to be the first person to spot the problem, or at least she is the first to react and sort it out. I don’t think she has any particular solution in mind when she asks Jesus to intervene; she just points out that there’s a problem. His response seems to be rather brusque; she, however, instructs the servants to ‘do whatever he tells you.’ The word whatever is crucial, because Jesus tells them to carry water from the well – somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of it – and to fill up the massive washing vessels. To the servants, his order simply does not make any sense. The wedding guests are running out of wine; the hosts want to offer them a drink, not a bath! It’s a wild guess, but I reckon the servants aren’t feeling particularly respectful towards Jesus in their own minds, although they carry out his orders. We know the final result: but when exactly did the water turn into wine? At what point did the miracle occur? We simply don’t know… and the number of people who are aware of this miracle is tiny; most of the wedding guests don’t realise what has just happened.
Unlike many other miracles described in the gospel, this one is the result of a group of people each playing their minuscule parts. Mary speaks to Jesus; we can call what she said a ‘prayer’. He then asks the servants to act upon his request, which at the time looks completely bonkers, and they do. The final result is presented to the wedding’s steward, who’s rather astonished by the superior quality of the wine.
This parish of ours functions in a pretty similar way. Some people’s involvement is easy to spot directly, including that of the Eucharistic ministers, readers, ushers, singers, organist or priest; the work of some of the others often goes unnoticed and risks being taken for granted, like cleaning, flower arranging, book-keeping, paperwork, maintenance; the list is very long indeed. We notice the contributions only when they are missing. St Paul puts it beautifully in the second reading: ‘there’s a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit. […] The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.’ Let me use this sermon to express my deepest gratitude to each and every one of you for giving your prayers, your time, your skills, goods; offering your physical or mental suffering as a sacrifice for others. That makes this parish such a great community! It is great, not because of having me as the parish priest, but most often in spite of it! Sometimes the only thing we can do is to carry water when wine is needed. But we have to do it, believing that Jesus will make sense of it at the right time.