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Daily Gospel Reading - January 18, 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Mark 2:18-22

The Question about Fasting

18The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to [Jesus] and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. 20But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. 22Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

Joy of the Feast in Place of Fasting

Some scholars opine that if we use socio-cultural insights in reading the Bible, the passage “And the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) should really read “And the Word became a Jew.” This shows that when the Son of God took on our human nature, he became a man of a particular culture which became his second nature. Jesus therefore thought, dressed, ate, prayed, and acted like a Jew. He spoke Aramaic, attended the synagogue service, took a trade, and followed the customs of his people. But in a real sense, Jesus was also a “marginal Jew.” On many religious/cultural issues, he countered his culture: he rejected Mosaic purity on food, opposed the current understanding of the Sabbath, welcomed women to his group, and consorted with the outcasts of society. He ate while others fasted. In today’s Gospel, some people object that his disciples do not fast, which is really a criticism of his ways and teaching on matter of fasting.

Jesus’ ministry somehow continued John the Baptist’s. They both called for repentance to welcome the reign of God. But Jesus proclaims God’s love for his people and their salvation in him. Fasting (Hebrew ta’anit) is an act of humiliation. People humble themselves before God to move God to action in their behalf. But the reign of God already comes with Jesus and in him; there is no need of self-humiliation to persuade God to act.

This conviction about God’s pure grace and unmerited love makes Jesus compare the reign of God to a wedding banquet. He is the bridegroom and his followers are the guests at the wedding feast. In the wedding there is joy and communion, satisfaction of body and spirit. It would be an insult (to God who prepared the banquet) or an indication that they did not approve of the wedding if they refused to attend the wedding (that is, if they fasted).

Daily Gospel Reading - January 17, 2010 PDF Print E-mail

John 2:1-11

The Wedding at Cana

1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4[And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. 9And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.

The Sign at Cana

The miracle that Jesus performs at Cana is the beginning of his “signs.” In the Gospel of John, a sign not only refers to a miracle or prodigious act that points to Jesus’ power but also allows us to see what is implied in Jesus’ coming into the world.

In any culture, a wedding celebration is an occasion for merriment, family togetherness, and bonding of relationships. In the Philippines, politicians practice “politics as addition” by standing as ninong or ninang at weddings. In the Bible, a wedding or marriage symbolizes the joining of life and destiny of God and his people. The prophets constantly use it to exemplify the love of God for his people and of the people for their God. This love is the initiative of God to which the people respond freely. It is not always reciprocated, and so the marriage undergoes serious tension, even rupture. But there is never divorce, for God is faithful; he leads his errant spouse to him, and pardons all her offenses. The prophet Isaiah tells us that because of Israel’s infidelity—her worship of idols and her rejection of God’s commandments—the land had been rendered desolate by her enemies (Is 62:4—First  Reading). But God cannot bear to abandon his people. God will rescue them, and give them a new life and a new destiny. And so, henceforth, they shall be called “My Delight” and “Espoused.”

From this perspective, let us take another look at the Gospel. While the bride and the bridegroom take center stage at their wedding, here they serve as mere backdrop to the person of Jesus. He is the Bridegroom, as John the Baptist will testify shortly (cf Jn 3:28-29).

The groom and the bride may be relatives of Jesus: Mary is there as a guest. They may be pleased by the presence of their “cousin” Jesus whose fame as a prophet is spreading. But John concentrates on presenting the identity of Jesus through his “sign-action.” He is the Messiah whose presence among God’s people brings joy and gladness, as when people gather at a wedding feast.

This joy is symbolized by the abundance of wine, which, in the Bible, stands for God’s most precious gifts. It “gladdens men’s hearts” (Ps 104:15). It is a blessing from heaven (Gn 27:28). Isaiah compares the superabundant joy of the messianic times to a banquet of rich food and “choice wines” which the Lord will prepare on his holy mountain (25:6).

Mary’s comment, “They have no wine,” may suggest the barrenness of Israel. The old covenant is incapable of giving fullness of joy. Even the six stone water jars allude to this incapacity (“six” signifies incompleteness). But the presence of Jesus the Messiah fills up what is lacking in the old dispensation. Furthermore, the head­waiter’s comment that the “good wine” was kept until the later part of the banquet suggests that God has reserved the best for the fullness of time, when he sends his Son (cf Heb 1:1-2).

When pilgrims to the Holy Land visit the town of Cana in Galilee, they go through a simple yet beautiful ceremony of renewal of marriage vows inside the church. The water jars prominently placed below the altar are a vivid reminder of the presence of the Bridegroom. Arab store owners proudly boast that their “Cana wines” are the best in the world. A wine connoisseur may smile at this claim, but pilgrims usually take a bottle in remembrance of that “good wine” that Jesus offered once at a wedding banquet.

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