January 17 2016 (C) Second Sunday of Year

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Wedding vision with reality

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

Introduction to the Readings. We are now at the beginning of the readings for the Sundays in Ordinary Time, after the special periods of Advent and Christmas. The Gospel readings will be from Luke throughout the year (with the exception of today, and this for a special reason). The second reading will be from letters of Paul: the continuation of 1 Corinthians for Sundays 2 to 8; then Galatians Sundays 9 to 14; Colossians Sundays 15 to 18, the latter part of Hebrews (chapters 11-12) Sundays 19 to 22; Philemon Sunday 23; 1 and 2 Timothy Sundays 24 to 30; then 2 Thessalonians Sundays 31 to 33.

            One can perceive a certain unity of theme in today’s readings. The first is an expression of God’s love for his beloved people, symbolized by Zion (the city of Jerusalem), leading up to a marriage union between God and Zion his bride. The Gospel reading, too, is about the wedding feast at Cana with the changing of the water into wine, symbolizing the new age to be introduced by Jesus. These are visions of the future. The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is about the fulfilment that has taken place, and the witness that will be borne to Christ before the world by a believing community guided in its diversity by the Spirit of God.

First Reading (Isaiah 62:1-5). The bridegroom rejoices in his bride. Zion is a poetic name for Jerusalem, a name of tenderness, which really stands for God’s beloved people. Its destruction by the Babylonians and others spelt the humiliation of the whole people. This reading is about the reversal of fortunes. Because of her sins, the prophet Hosea declared that God would call Israel “Not pitied” and “Not my people” (Hosea 1:6, 9), but after punishment and conversion she would be called by God “My people” and “She has obtained pity” (Hosea 2:1). Likewise, this reading today predicts a glorious future of Zion, the holy city, and for God’s people. She would be a light for the nations through her integrity. She would be called by a new name by her God: Zion itself “My delight” and her land “The Wedded”. The relation of God to his beloved people is presented as that of bridegroom and bride.

            This reading is a vision and an encouraging promise, giving confidence in its time and during later periods of tribulation. But how God’s promises become reality is part of the revelation of the divine mystery, which takes faith and human response into account. The contents of the reading are applied to the Church, the new Zion, Bride of the Lamb, called to be witness; through her fidelity and uprightness to show forth Christ as the light to all nations.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 95[96]:1-3,7-10). Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). One and the same who distributes gifts to different people just as he chooses. This reading is about the divine gifts freely distributed to the Christian community, all presented as coming from the same Spirit, the same Lord (Jesus), the same God (the Father) – all gifts of the One God, who will later be defined in these words as the Blessed Trinity. In the early Church there were ecstatic experiences, in some Christian communities more than in others. In this reading Paul is giving pastoral advice, stressing that it is not the individual experience itself that counts but its origin and its place in building up the Christian community in faith and love. There was a temptation to value one gift above others, with the consequent result for social standing. The showy gift of tongues was highly valued in Corinth. Here Paul lists it as the last. In the verses immediately preceding this present reading Paul reminds the Corinthian converts from paganism that before their conversion they would have experienced, known, or known of, highly emotional orgiastic practices at pagan cult shrines, which on some occasions might have included blasphemy against Jesus. His point is, that it is not the religious experience as such that has value, but its true origin and its service in building up the faith. There is a variety of these divine gifts. Paul lists a number of those with which the Corinthian church would have been familiar. As in other of his letters (Romans 15:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 3:5) he mentions miracles, but does not indicate what form such miracles took. He mentions prophecy, by which he may mean inspired preaching; preaching with wisdom may be the gift of preaching or teaching the deepest Christian truths; preaching instruction may be the gift of preaching or teaching elementary truths. Such gifts, we may note, will have changed down through the ages. But always the central truth remains the same: unity and humility in diversity.

Gospel (John 2:1-11). This was the first of the signs given by Jesus; it was given at Cana in Galilee. Although this year C is the year of Luke, a passage of John’s Gospel is read today. This particular passage, before the more recent lectionary, was always read on this Sunday, the first Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord. In liturgical tradition the three celebrations, the Epiphany, the Baptism and this Sunday were taken as aspects of the revelation of the mystery of Jesus– to the Magi, by the Father at the Baptism, and this particular Sunday at Cana. This reading is, in a sense, the Fourth Gospel’s presentation of the commencement of Jesus’ public life. Matthew (in Galilee) and Luke (at Nazareth) had each done this in their own way. Two key words of John’s Gospel, used in this reading, should be noted: sign and Jesus’ hour. Miracles are called signs because they indicate some deeper truth. The “hour of Jesus” in John’s Gospel is the hour of glorification, his crucifixion and ascension to the Father’s right hand. This reading is full of symbolism. In the biblical text the beginning of this reading says that the wedding at Cana was on “the third day”. Scholars debate as to the reason of the indication of the exact date. Was it after two earlier days? But in a Jewish tradition the “third day” in the Bible always had salvific connotations, even to the resurrection (as in the interpretation of Hosea 6:2). The miracle of Cana foreshadowed this hour of Jesus. The changing of water (of Jewish ritual ablutions) into wine may symbolize the transformation of Judaism to be performed by Jesus. Jesus’ mother is addressed as “Woman”, as at the foot of the cross (John 19:26), when Jesus’ hour had come. It was a title of respect.

B. Reflection & Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Wedding vision with reality

Combining vision with reality is no easy matter, be it in religious, political or other areas. Vision sustains us. It gives direction and courage to work for personal ambitions and the social structures one believes in. Israel’s prophets, in particular after the disaster of the Babylonian exile, were rich in their vision and their hope for the nation’s future, for beloved Zion. We have a good example of this in today’s first reading. The biblical narrative also tells us that the course of Israel’s history did not conform to this vision. A prophetic vision gives God’s plan. How this works in reality will depend on the human response. From Israel and Zion this prophetic vision was transferred to the Church. The Gospel reading on the wedding feast at Cana also contains a vision of Christ’s work. This began with the first sign at Cana and was completed at the hour of his glorification at the crucifixion and ascension. It symbolized the transformation of Jewish ritual and festivals. But this transformation, this divine mystery, had to be lived out in each Christian community, with all the attendant weaknesses and pettiness. We have an example of it in the Church at Corinth. Paul had to alert the followers of Christ to the dangers arising from the loss of concentration on the central truths of Christianity.

            The problem of wedding vision with reality in a constant one Church life. As a current example we may take the Second Vatican Council. It gave a new formulation of the Christian message, intended to have the Gospel message address the men and women of our own day. Sometimes today there is strong criticism of the Church for not having implemented the teaching, the vision, of Vatican II. In general by “the Church” in such a context, what is meant is what is often referred to as the institutional Church. In this regard two points may be made. First of all, the Church first and foremost is the entire people of God, and one must thus ask how much have they implemented the Council’s teaching. Secondly, when there is a call to return to the “spirit” of the Vatican Council, in this and in other matters one must not forget the changes that taken place in Church matters since the Council: the growing movement of secularism and atheism, the clerical sex scandals and others besides. By all means let us keep our vision alive, but let us wed it with reality.

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