Vol. 6, No. 19
Daughters of Mary Instruction
17 January 2017
Lynn D. Clapper
When our son, Benjamin, was 19 years old, and preparing to leave for his freshman year in college, he announced to his father and me that he was planning to spend the next year discerning a call to the priesthood. While not a complete surprise, his intention to actively consider a priestly vocation threw me into a bit of a tailspin. What about a wedding? Grandchildren? Would this mean he would leave home, and not be a part of our family life? My mind was filled with questions, and rather than being proud of his desire to give himself to the Lord, I was consumed with my own worries of ‘losing’ my son.
Somewhat ashamed of my reaction to Benjamin’s news, I did not share my feelings with anyone, not even the ladies in my Bible Study group as we began a year-long study of the Gospel according to John. But through our study of John’s account of the wedding at Cana, the story of Jesus’ first miracle, I gained an insight not only into my son’s determination to serve God through his vocation, but I gained a new understanding of my role as his mother.
The miracle at the wedding at Cana is the third manifestation, or revelation, of Jesus as God that comprised the celebration of Epiphany in the early Church tradition. Today, we celebrate Epiphany primarily as the first manifestation of Jesus as God, the Magi’s search for the newborn king of Israel. But, the proclamation by God the Father that Jesus is his beloved son at Jesus’ baptism, and the miracle of changing water into wine at Cana, are also part of that revelation. All four of the gospel writers tell the story of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, but only Matthew describes the story of the Magi’s journey for a Jewish audience who must understand that their Messiah is God of all, and it is John who brings us the singular account of the miracle in Cana as one of the seven signs he cites as proof of Jesus’ divinity. These three gospel stories are a powerful trifecta that describe the promised Savior who came to walk among us as a man.
But, when my son was 19 and announced to us that he was discerning a call to priestly life, I was unaware of the importance of the story of the miracle at Cana to the Church’s understanding of the manifestation of Jesus as Son of God. I only knew that this beautiful miracle was the story of a relationship between Mary and Jesus, a mother and her son.
The story takes place at a time all parents understand well…that moment when a child leaves his family home to live a life on his own. As we learned in last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus had left the home he shared with Mary in Nazareth to travel to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. After his baptism, Jesus had spent 40 days in the desert, but, as Matthew tells us in this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus had made his way back to Galilee when he learned of John’s arrest. As he neared the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called the first of his own disciples who then accompanied him to the wedding in Cana.
We can only imagine Mary’s joy at seeing Jesus again, and Jesus likely attended the wedding in hopes of finding her there. A time of great joy and festivity, a wedding in Jesus’ day was a lavish event that lasted several days, and the food and drink offered to the wedding guests were testimony to the social standing of the host family. To run out of the wedding wine was a situation that could bring embarrassment and disgrace to the bride’s parents.
Yet, at Cana, John tells us that this is exactly what happened. Understanding the plight of her friends, Mary told Jesus the wine had run out. Questioning how this news concerned him, and reminding his mother that his ‘hour’ had not yet come, Jesus seemed unmoved by his mother’s regard for the distress of their hosts, and nothing in his reaction indicated that Jesus planned to take any action at all to remedy the situation. But, it was Mary’s next words to the servers at the wedding that John would have us remember most, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). As Jesus told the stewards to fill with water the huge jars reserved for ceremonial washings of hands and feet, and then, as he told them to draw some out and take it to the headwaiter, Jesus knew he was setting in motion the events that would fulfill his calling to the vocation that was his alone, Savior for all the world. His hour had, indeed, come. Understanding the prophetic revelation that had been made known to her since the angel first told Mary she would become the mother of the Son of God, aware that her life would be full of joy and heartache, Mary’s words to the stewards were the sign to her son that the time had come to reveal himself as the Son of God. In a place as surprising as it was ordinary, the wedding celebration of friends where the wine had run out, Mary understood her son in a way that only she could know, and she stood aside as he stepped into the life he was called to live.
That year of my son’s discernment was not full of the quiet drama between a mother and her son that we find in the story of Mary and Jesus at Cana. I did not question him about his discernment, nor did I offer any of the subtle, but firm, direction that Mary offered Jesus as she encouraged him to begin his own walk as God among us. As the months went by, the mention of a girl friend who was also discerning a vocation began to grace Benjamin’s conversations with us, and before long, Kristen was my son’s constant companion. Now married nine years, they are parents to four beautiful daughters and their entire lives are entwined with the work of the Church. My fears were unfounded.
Why do I tell you this? On the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Matthew tells us about the day that Jesus encountered Andrew and Simon Peter, James and John, tending their nets at the Sea of Galilee. He called out to them to follow him, and as Pam’s beautiful reflection will remind us, they answered his call without hesitation. They followed him to the wedding at Cana, where Jesus revealed to these new companions that while he was Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, he was, also, Son of God. I tell you this because during that year when my son did not hesitate to discern how best to follow the Lord, my concern was only for my fear. Yet, at a wedding in Cana, I watched a mother whose son was destined to be the rise and fall for many, a mother who had been told that her own heart would be pierced, quietly, but confidently, put those fears aside, and assure her son that his time had come.
In Ordinary Time, as we leave the celebration of Epiphany and enter into the unfolding story of a God who came to dwell among us, we cannot help but marvel at the young girl of immaculate character who accepted God’s impossible call to her with the words “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Despite the pain and sorrow she was sure to know, Mary understood her own calling as Jesus’ mother in terms of Jesus’ calling as Savior. In that year when I wanted to stand in the way of my son’s calling to serve the Lord, Mary’s gentle witness at Cana reminded me that I could not. Jesus of Nazareth is son of Mary, Son of God. Let us do whatever he tells us.