Sunday Scripture: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C).




Welcome to this, the twenty-sixth of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I sincerely hope that this reflection will inspire you. You might find that it answers a few questions you may have, but most of all I hope that it will show you how fantastic Sacred Scripture is and perhaps enable you to share some of my love and passion for the Bible as you begin to comprehend how layered and multi-faceted it is, and what a carefully considered part of the Mass the readings are.

If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

I would like to think this regular blog would be a great help to anyone who reads at Mass, to enable them to foster a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to impart to the congregation.

There are several different ways to read this post. I would suggest the first thing to do is to look at the relevant readings. You might then want to look at the specific commentary for a particular reading. I post the same summary of the featured Biblical books each week, but at the end, under the subheading this week, you will usually find some commentary specific to each week. At the end I post a passage which attempts to draw all the readings together and understand the message.

My reflections are not definitive, but based on my study and perhaps authenticated by careful reference to the Biblical Commentaries and books I list at the bottom each week.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

Jesus the Bridegroom of the Church.

The Church at Cana

  • First Reading: Isaiah 62: 1-5.
  • Psalm 96 (95): 1-3, 7-10; Response: v. 3.
  • Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11.
  • Gospel: John 2: 1-11.
First, a short preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them, although I may add a little detail specific to each week's readings.

The Book of Isaiah as we know it today in the Bible is actually a collection of writings which represent a tradition that extended over a span of some three hundred years. The whole text can be sub-divided into three major parts: (i) Isaiah 1-39, for the most part, presenting the teaching of the prophet himself, who laboured in Jerusalem from 740 until sometime after 701 B.C.; (ii) Isaiah 40-55 (generally referred to as Deutero-Isaiah (second -Isaiah)), containing the oracles of another prophet in the tradition of Isaiah, who announced God's word to the exiles in Babylon sometime between 550 and 539 B.C.; and (iii) Isaiah 56-66, Trito-Isaiah (third Isaiah), reflecting the same tradition at a later stage in Jerusalem after the Exile but before the arrival of Ezra and Nehemiah, perhaps around 500 B.C.

Isaiah is often considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets because of the sheer range and vision of his prophecy. As I wrote in my post on the Eucharist, words have great meaning and power for the Hebrews. Thus their names are more than mere labels; they tell the identity, the significance, the sign-value of the person who bears them (hence the significance of the divine name of God for example). The name Isaiah means "God is salvation" and what is most extraordinary perhaps about this book is that it contains prophecies of Jesus, so numerous, so beautiful and so much more famous than any other prophet, that it has been referred to as the "Gospel of Isaiah".

Isaiah has also been called "the Shakespeare of the prophets", for his poetic turn of phrase rivalled only by Job and Psalms for poetic grandeur. At least ten of Isaiah's passages have become unforgettable to all English-speaking peoples, immortalised in Handel's world famous oratorio, The Messiah: 11:1-5; 7:14; 40:9; 60:2-3; 9:2; 9:6; 35:6-6; 40:11; 53:3-6; 53:8.

This prophet and his followers lived long before Christ, yet the detailed prophecies of the life of Christ we find in Isaiah are far more numerous and far more specific than anything else in the Bible. At least seventeen of them were fulfilled in truly remarkable detail.

Take the time to look up the following seventeen passages. These are only part of the more than three hundred different prophecies in the Old Testament that are fulfilled by Christ. Even though the New Testament writers (especially Matthew) deliberately used the style and language of Old Testament prophecies to describe events in the life of Christ—as a modern preacher might use the King James English to describe current events—the statistical odds that one man could fulfil all of these prophecies so completely is not much better than the odds that a monkey could type out Isaiah by randomly throwing marbles at a computer keyboard. Compare:-

1). Isaiah 7:14 with Matthew 1:22-23;
2). Isaiah 9:1-2 with Matthew 4:12-16;
3). Isaiah 9:6 with Luke 2:11 (see also Ephesians 2:14-18);
4). Isaiah 11:1 with Luke 3:23, 32 and Acts 13:22-23;
5). Isaiah 11:2 with Luke 3:22;
6). Isaiah 28:16 with 1 Peter 2:4-6;
7). Isaiah 40:3-5 with Matthew 3:1-3;
8). Isaiah 42:1-4 with Matthew 12:15-21;
9). Isaiah 42:6 with Luke 2:29-32;
10). Isaiah 50:6 with Matthew 26:26, 30, 67;
11). Isaiah 52:14 with Philippians 2:7-11;
12). Isaiah 53:3 with Luke 23:18 and John 1:11; 7:5;
13). Isaiah 53:4 with romans 5:6, 8;
14). Isaiah 53:7 with Matthew 27:12-14, John 1:29 and 1 Peter 1:18-19;
15). Isaiah 53:9 with Matthew 27:57-60;
16). Isaiah 53:12 with Mark 15:28; and
17). Isaiah 61:1-2 with Luke 4:17-21.

This week: God breaks the silence of many years (42:14) in this song of splendid impatience. The prophet was speaking in the name of the community in 61:10; here he emphasises his determination to continue to proclaim a message of consolation. Zion's vindication breaks forth with the suddenness of the desert dawn. Never did this hope seem closer than at the Feast of Tabernacles, when lights were being lit at "the place of the water drawing" so bright that "there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not illumined by the light of the place" (NJBC 21:59-62). Espoused as a name for Israel means that Hos 2:18 is forgotten and the association with fertility cults is no problem. The theme of YHWH as spouse is not just repeated (49:14; 50:1), but adulterous Israel is restored to that joyful, innocent age of long ago when she was the virgin spouse of God.


Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

1 Corinthians is a letter motivated by reports made to him from the house of Chloe (1:11) concerning factions in the community (1:12), quarrels between brethren (6:1), the scandolous acts of some (5:1; 6:12-20). Members of the community had sent a letter to Paul containing questions about various matters (7:1): the use of meat sacrificed to idols (8-10), the hierarchy of charisms (12-14). Moreover, the Apostle was most probably informed by those who had carried the letter to him, i.e. Stephanus, Fortunatus and Achaicus (16:17) of certain abuses which had crept in to the assemblies of the members of the community and even into the celebrations of the Eucharist (10-11), and of certain difficulties raised by the doctrine of the general resurrection (15). Paul's motives for writing show that one does not acquire a profoundly Christians sense overnight; that after the original commitment to Christ one must avoid dangers and acquire further instruction.

This week: Paul explains about charisms (Spiritual gifts), their diversity and unity. The Greek is charismata which is linked both theologically and linguistically with the term grace. Charismatic gifts are thus graces given to build up the Church (CCC 799-801, 951). The inventory in 1 Cor 12: 8-10 lists extraordinary charisms of instruction and healing, there is a similar list in Rom 12: 6-8 which also includes more ordinary gifts: generosity and works of mercy, for example. Paul explains that these personal gifts are given to unite us in the Spirit's mission to build up all members of the Church and bring them to salvation (1 Pet 4: 10-11). Catholic teaching distinguishes between sanctifying grace, which imparts the gift of divine sonship, and charismatic or ministerial grace, which equips the saints for service to others (CCC 2003).

The Gospel According to St. John: I have written a detailed exposition on the Gospel of St. John here.

This week: Many of the themes and ideas in John’s Gospel are recurring, and hold a double significance. The Gospel does not merely record an exact account of what took place, but take us on a journey through the witnesses’ recollection, so that on our journey of faith with him, we might reach “understanding-through-remembering”.(Ratzinger, op. Cit., p. 235.). 

A good example of this “double significance” is the first miracle recounted in John’s Gospel—the transformation of the water set aside for the ritual purifications (c.f. Numbers 19:11-22). In some ways this sēmeion seems anomalous; Jesus produces about one hundred and twenty gallons of fine wine for a private party. We don’t have to meditate to long to begin to see the deeper meaning—the double significance here however.

Firstly, if we consider the chronological implications of this event, we note that the marriage occurs on the third day after Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel (1:43-52), but theologically this is the seventh day of Jesus’ opening week of ministry. The evangelist delineates the successive days in 1:29, 35,43 & 2:1 pointing towards this fact. This implies that creation (cf. Genesis 1:1-2,3) is being transformed and renewed through Jesus (2 Cor 5:17; Rev 21:1-5). The double significance is that the third day is also the time of theophany in the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 19:16-18). John points at Cana as a revelation of God, continuing the events of the Old Testament whilst also pointing forward to history’s decisive theophany; Jesus rising from the tomb on the third day:

“…when God’s former encounters with man become His definitive irruption on earth, when the earth is torn open once and for all and drawn into God’s own life.” ~Ratzinger, op. Cit., p. 250.

In fact, throughout John 1-4, Jesus is presented as the new tabernacle and the new Temple, as the one who replaces the waters of Jewish purification and the locus of Jesus worship. Indeed, Raymond Brown goes further and suggests that these institutions are not so much fulfilled as replaced by Jesus (see: Brown, R., An Introduction to New Testament Christology, (Paulist Press, New Jersey, 1994), p. 199). 

However, I think that it is Joseph Ratzinger who seems to capture the full sense of what John is saying in His Gospel. John, after all, acknowledges the significance if past institutions (cf. Jn 4:22; 1:16-17). Ratzinger explains that Jesus brings the inner expectation of the Law to fulfilment (Ratzinger, op. Cit., p. 253), the theme that pervades his book Jesus of Nazareth. Ratzinger explains how the ritual purification is a gesture of hope, mere ritual and is thus ultimately insufficient of making man really pure for God. When Jesus intervenes at Cana, changing the water into wine, he infuses man’s efforts with the gift of God. This wine is in no way ordinary, as we learn from the steward of the feast (2:10). Once again we find rich symbolism. An abundance of wine is a sign of the Messianic age (Is 25:6; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). At Cana, Jesus creates about one hundred and twenty gallons of fine wine, overflowing generosity, and a recurrent theme throughout the Gospel, which finds its climax on the cross, when Christ pours Himself out in abundance for us (Ratzinger, Ibid, p. 252). The transubstantiation of water into wine anticipates the transubstantiation of wine into blood, when Jesus gives Himself to the world in the Eucharistic liturgy (6:53; 1 Cor 10:16). It seems very correct that there is some Eucharistic significance in the Cana miracle. I think this is the link which ties together all the theological threads.

Drawing them all together...
There is much to be said about Cana, and much has been said. I hope the remarks above have served to shed some new like on the Gospel for you. It is a Gospel which marks the embarkation point for Jesus' public ministry. Last week, this ministry was initiated by His Baptism which constituted an epiphany, or public revealing. It is interesting that Jesus' ministry begins at a wedding where He is seen in relationship with His mother, and, at her intercession, agrees to reveal His power working in the world. He calls her 'woman' alluding to the archetypal drama of Eden in the process of reversal. The Proto-evangelium points to the total fulfilment of God's plan in the New Adam and the New Eve. Jesus takes the medium and the essential requirements of the Old Covenant, the cleansing rituals of the Law, and transforms the content into something new and wonderful.. He has come to fulfil the Law and fully establish it. By listening to Him, and doing what He says, we become open to the wonder of His work. He let His glory be seen and His disciples believed in Him. In the realised eschatology of this event, the making present and real promised future glory, the whole Gospel is present in miniature. From our Baptism, we are living in the light of His glory which will be fulfilled in heaven.
We see these promises being made in the first reading, where God comes to His people with saving power, like a passionate bridegroom, to make His bride, part of His body, the Church. We become "my delight" and "married", and this is a source of great rejoicing, like a wedding party. The power of His Spirit will change the bread and wine into His body and blood, our true food. The Spirit gives a variety of gifts which we are to use in order to build the Kingdom: we need to proclaim His Kingdom so that others may believe in Him and come to know Him through our kindness, compassion and love.

Bibliography:

Baker, K., SJ, Inside the Bible, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998.
Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, New York: Paulist Press, 1984.
Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament, New York, Doubleday, 1997.
Brown, R. et al (Ed) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (London: Chapman, 2000).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
De la Potterie, I., The Hour of Jesus, (Alba House, New York, 1997).Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991.
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, London: Nelson, 1969.
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001.
Kreeft, P., You Can Understand The Bible, San Francisco, Ignatius, 2005.
Letellier, R., Sunday & Feastday Sermons Cycles A, B, and C, New York: St. Pauls, 2011.
Magnificat Monthly Vol. 3, No. 2/ December 2012.
McKenzie, J.L., Dictionary of the Bible, New York, Touchstone, 1995.
Ratzinger, J., Jesus of Nazareth, (Bloomsbury, London, 2007).
Marriage Blessing by Fr. Graham Smith at Cana

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