Gospel – John 2:1-11
Our reading for today is the familiar wedding feast at Cana. It takes place on the third day from John 1:43. To understand the imagery involved, we must go back to John 1:1: “In the beginning…” This is Genesis imagery. John 1:29: “the next day”; John 1:35: “the next day”; John 1:43: “the next day”, which makes it the fourth day; then today’s reading “the third day”. The third day, the day of resurrection, occurs on the seventh day of the Genesis imagery; the day of covenant when God’s new creation, Jesus, manifests His glory.
1st Reading – Isaiah 62:1-5
Isaiah, the greatest of the prophets, lived during the period 759-694 B.C. He was of the tribe of Judah and his home was in Jerusalem. The kingdom was divided and Israel, the northern kingdom, was occupied by the Assyrians. Judah, the southern kingdom, although not occupied, is an Assyrian vassal state. In about the year 704, Egyptian ambassadors came to Jerusalem with presents and fine words to persuade the Judean king (Hezekiah) to break with the Assyrian king and to join a coalition against him. The king of Babylon has already been won over, and the Philistines are to be approached. A concentrated attack is to be launched against Assyria. All Jerusalem seems to favor the alliance – all Jerusalem that is, except Isaiah who knew that faith in the power of Yahweh would save the nation and that an appeal to an outside nation was an insult to Yahweh. If the alliance were made, bad things would happen to Judah. Isaiah even went so far as to discard his outer garment and put on that of a prisoner of war – he then walked barefoot through the streets of Jerusalem with a sign that said “So shall the king of the Assyrians lead away the prisoners of Egypt.” The king of Judah (Hezekiah) joined the alliance and the Assyrians marched down the Mediterranean coast, driving Egyptians and Philistines before them and taking city after city. The Assyrian king laid siege to Jerusalem and demanded an unconditional and immediate surrender. Now, the people crowded the courts of the temple, falling all over each other in their eagerness to make peace with God with their offerings. Isaiah, whose trust in God had never wavered, was praying in the Temple when King Hezekiah implored him to intercede with God in behalf of the Holy City. Isaiah assured the king that the Assyrian king would not occupy or otherwise harm Jerusalem. Holy scripture records: “Says the Lord: ‘For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’ Then the angel of the Lord set out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies. Then the king of Assyria left, went home” (Isaiah 37:35-37). The afflictions which had come upon the people of Judah and Jerusalem were of their own making. By their wickedness they had drawn down upon themselves the wrath of Yahweh. Beneath an outward show of prosperity lay rottenness – commercial greed, extortion and graft, oppression of the poor, spendthrift luxury, drunkenness, glaring immorality. Isaiah strikes relentlessly at these vices of his people. He seeks to startle the nation into repentance and reform by predicting the doom that God is preparing for it, if it perseveres in its wickedness. But Isaiah is not merely the prophet of doom; he is also the prophet of hope and consolation. Many words of comfort are spoken to the people in the dark hours of affliction. Recall that the role of a prophet is not that of a soothsayer – he does not predict the future. The prophet’s role it to monitor the status of the covenant with God – to warn of the curses which will come if the covenant is not kept and to point to the blessings which will come through obedience. As Peter Kreeft says “A prophet is like a finger – we are not to look at him, but to where he points.”
Today’s reading points to the glorious future which is in store for the faithful in the new Zion – the new Jerusalem. If it sounds familiar, we heard it last at the Vigil of Christmas.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
In Saint Paul’s time, Corinth was the capital of the province of Achaia and the seat of the Roman proconsul. Julius Caesar built it (44 B.C.) on the ruins of a Greek city of the same name. It had two ports – one in the Aegean Sea and one on the Gulf of Lepanto. Its excellent geographical position soon made it a prominent center of commerce, with a much higher standard of living than its neighbors. It was also a loose living city, rendering religious cult to the goddess Venus, a serious threat to those, Jews or Christians, who worshiped the true God.
Saint Paul established a Christian community at Corinth during his second missionary journey (A.D. 50-52). He preached the Gospel there for 12 years, aided by Silas and Timothy. Due to his remarkable zeal, quite a number of people were converted to the true faith, some of them Jews. Very soon many Jews in the city became openly hostile to the Apostle’s preaching, but since they had little social influence they failed to obstruct his work. This may explain why the proconsul Gallio refused to listen to the charges they brought against him (Acts 18:12ff).
More data are available on the social makeup of the Corinthian church than of any other. There was a solid nucleus of Jews but many pagans. The very top and bottom of the Greco-Roman social scale are absent. The social status of most is shot through with ambiguity – they rate high in some areas but low in others, e.g., rich but female (Phoebe), a city official but an ex-slave (Erastus), a skilled artisan but a Jew with a wife of higher social rank (Aquila). Fueled by frustration, such individuals did not cease to question and explore once they had accepted Christianity, and so generated a greater diversity of problems for Paul than any other church. In particular, they welcomed other visions of Christianity and competed with one another for spiritual prestige.
Saint Paul was in Ephesus when three influential Corinthians brought him a letter in which they and others asked for guidance on matters they found problematic. They probably explained and expanded on the information contained in the letter, asking him to go quickly to Corinth. Saint Paul preferred to postpone going to Corinth in order to give everyone more time for reflection and repentance – this is why he wrote his first letter, shortly before Easter 57. It is not a doctrinal treatise like Romans – it is more like an acknowledgment of their letter and answers about the things which were worrying them.
In our reading today Paul addresses the gifts of the Spirit and answers the Corinthian question of the hierarchy of spiritual gifts. Paul had discerned an egocentric competitiveness that was detrimental to Church unity.