Today, as we near the end of the week of prayer for Christian Unity, let us remember that the unity of all Christians is God’s idea, not merely some worthy ecumenical initiative! Perhaps the most sublime expression of this intention can be found in the prayer Jesus prays to his Father, right before his arrest and the final events leading to his crucifixion.
In this prayer, Jesus recognizes that the time for his death has come and he pours out his heart for those he will leave behind. “Holy Father”, he prays, “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11) Over and over again he voices this fervent desire – that his friends and followers, and all those who in generations to come will believe in his name, will be one. So simple and straightforward, and yet something that, so far, remains unaccomplished.
Let us return to our Gospel reading for today, the marriage at Cana, found in John 2:1 – 11. It is such a well-known story and taps into a very human fear of running out of wine in the middle of a party. Somehow Jesus’ mother learns of what’s happened and immediately turns to him and says, “They have no wine.” Mary’s seemingly simple statement of fact is loaded with urgency: she knows Jesus can do something to rescue the situation and she wants him to act now!
Jesus’ response to her is peculiar: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” - not exactly the caring, compassionate reply we might have expected of him! He then goes on to say, “My hour has not yet come.” What a strange, random comment. Either Jesus is going to help out in this potentially embarrassing situation, or not, but what has it got to do with him – and what is this ‘hour’ that he mentions?
We know what happens next: Mary ignores Jesus’ cryptic comment and tells the servants to do whatever he says. Jesus goes on to turn the water in six large stone jars into the finest wine. Crisis averted - disaster avoided and the celebrations can continue! But what is behind this story and why does John feature it right at the beginning of his Gospel?
The clue is in Jesus’ cryptic comment. When he states that his ‘hour’ has not yet come, he is referring to the time when he will fulfill his role as the Christ, the One sent by God to redeem the world, which will be accomplished by his death on the cross. If we go forward again to John chapter 17, we read at the beginning of Jesus’ prayer that he lifts his eyes to heaven and prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
The ‘hour’ that Jesus mentions to his mother at the wedding, is the same hour he speaks of in his final prayer. Now, at last, it is time for him to fulfill what he came to earth to do. In including the story of the wedding at Cana, John hints right at the beginning of his Gospel about the purpose for which Jesus came and who he was. He wasn’t only a miracle worker from Nazareth, but the One who would reveal who God is and who, in fact, was God.