Last Sunday (Jan 7th) we had one of my favorite Gospel stories – the Wedding Feast at Cana. It’s a great passage to reflect upon.
And though I’ve never had a guest post, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to introduce to you JP Nunez, a young man with whom I used to work at the St. Paul Center before he left for doctoral work at Catholic University of America.
He’s written a wonderful reflection on Jesus’ first miracle. It’s a bit longer than most of my posts, so grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy!
Back in college, I belonged to a group called Servants of the Savior. We were basically a Catholic fraternity, and unlike secular fraternities, we focused on prayer, service, and brotherhood rather than on partying. When we would read Scripture or hear it at Mass, a lot of us would pay special attention whenever we came across passages that talked about servants. Because we had taken the name “servant” as our own, we always felt like those passages were addressed to us in a special way, like they were our marching orders for life.
But of course we knew that those passages weren’t just for us; we didn’t have a monopoly on the word “servant” or on the Bible’s message. In fact, we’re all servants of the Savior. Those passages about servants are really addressed to each and every one of us; they’re every Catholic’s marching orders. In this post, I’d like to offer some reflections on my favorite “servant” passage, the Wedding at Cana, and on how it teaches us to give God our all, especially when faith is difficult.
We read this story in John 2:1-11, so if you’d like a little refresher on the details, take a look at it before you continue reading my reflections on it.
The story is about a wedding attended by both Mary and Jesus, and before the celebration is over, the wine runs out. This was a huge problem in first century Jewish culture, and it would’ve been very embarrassing for the bride and groom if anybody asked for more wine but there wasn’t any. Mary finds out about this, and she tells the servants who were working the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). The “he” in that verse is Jesus, so Mary is telling the servants that Jesus will fix the problem as long as they do exactly what He tells them to do.
Whenever I read this story, this verse always jumps out at me as the heart of its message. As God’s servants, this is, in a nutshell, what we’re all called to do. We’re called to do whatever God tells us. There are no ifs, ands, or buts here; there are no conditions for our obedience. Mary doesn’t tell the servants to “Do whatever he tells you if…” or “Do whatever he tells you as long as…” We’re not called to “Do whatever he tells you except…” or “Do whatever he tells you unless…” No, we’re supposed to “Do whatever he tells you.” Period.
Whatever God’s will is for our lives, whatever He wants us to do both at this very moment and in the future, is what we’re supposed to do as His servants. We’re not supposed to follow His will only if it seems reasonable to us or if we agree that it’s the best thing for us to do. We’re not supposed to follow His will just as long as we can see that it’ll turn out well for us. We’re not supposed to serve Him on the condition that we’ll get something out of it. No, like the servants in the story of the Wedding at Cana, we’re called to follow God’s will unconditionally; we’re called to serve Him no matter what.
And the servants in the story actually do this; they do exactly what Jesus tells them to do. He instructs them to fill six large stone jars with water and then bring them to the steward of the feast, the head guy who ran the whole thing. Whenever I read this part, I can just imagine how they must have reacted to Jesus’ words. “You want us to do WHAT???!!!!” They must’ve thought He was crazy. Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles yet at this point in His life, so they didn’t know about His miraculous powers. It probably sounded like He was telling them to give water to their boss and just pretend it was wine. It must have seemed ludicrous to them.
But they did it anyway. The Bible doesn’t tell us why they did it, but I’ve always thought they must have been so desperate that they were willing to try anything, no matter how crazy it might have seemed. But even if I’m wrong, the point is that they did what Jesus told them to do even though they couldn’t have had any idea what His plan was. They just trusted Him and obeyed. Even if their motives may not have been as pure and saintly as we might sometimes like to think (simply being at your wits’ end and willing to try anything isn’t exactly what we normally think of as holy), the point is that they did it anyway.
And that’s a great example for us to follow. We don’t always know what God’s doing with our lives or where He’s taking us, but we should trust Him anyway. We may sometimes feel like God has completely lost His mind and He’s leading us on one wild goose chase after another, but we should trust Him anyway. Faith can sometimes become so difficult for us that we feel like we’re just going through the motions because it’s what we’re used to, but we should obey Him anyway. When we’re at our worst, when we feel like our faith is smaller than the smallest mustard seed and all we can do is just go through the motions, God accepts what we can give Him.
He didn’t ask the servants to understand why they were filling stone jars with water or to feel good about what they were doing. He knew that all they could give Him was their obedience, and He accepted that. Likewise, when we just can’t muster enough faith to feel good about where God is leading us or what He’s doing with our lives, He doesn’t ask more of us than we can give Him. If all we can do is just obey without feeling optimistic about the outcome of our actions, God will accept that. The important thing is that we stay the course, not that we always understand it or feel good about it.
And at the end of the story, Jesus rewarded the servants’ obedience by doing something they never imagined would happen: He turned the water into wine. At the end, His plan became clear to them, and they understood why He had told them to do something that seemed so ridiculous just a few moments earlier. Jesus had a plan for them, and even though filling stone jars with water might have seemed silly at the time, it all worked out in the end. And it worked out even better than they could’ve imagined because when their boss tasted the wine, it turned out to be even better than what had been served before (John 2:10).
That’s not to say that everything will always be OK or turn out fine for us here on earth. Unfortunately, that’s just not how things work in a fallen world. There’s a reason why in the “Hail, Holy Queen,” the prayer we say at the end of the rosary, we call this life a “valley of tears.” We’re going to suffer, and things may not always be OK. That’s simply not what God promises us; He never said anything about how our earthly lives will turn out.
But what He does promise us is that in the end, it will all work out. In the end, if we obey God’s will for our lives, our work will bear fruit, even if we’re not able to see it. If we obey God’s will for our lives, we’ll experience the new heaven and the new earth that will come at the end of history, where “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Make no mistake: the Catholic faith isn’t about some prosperity Gospel that tells us everything will be fine and dandy here on earth as long as we follow God. No, things won’t always be fine and dandy in this life. But if we obey God and do what He tells us to do, we can be assured that all the pain, all the suffering, all the tears that we experience here on earth will be worth it. If we remain faithful, everything we go through in this life will lead us to a glorious future with God and all the saints where we’ll no longer cry or feel any pain. That’s the goal, and that’s where God is leading us if we just obey His call. Even if we don’t understand it, even if it seems ridiculous to us, even if we can’t feel anything at all except confusion and sadness, our faith reassures us that as long as we follow God, as long as we give Him whatever we can, as small as it may be, He’ll accept it and bring us to the new heaven and the new earth that He has planned for each and every one of us.
You can read more by JP Nunez on his blog Understanding the Faith Through Scripture.