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The Marriage Feast

An Address by Fr John Slater

19 January 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

Last week, I suggested that a key New Testament text is St Mark’s very succinct way of describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus

came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of

the kingdom of God, and saying, The time

is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at

hand: repent and believe the gospel.

Some scholars have argued that Mark’s Gospel is written in a way that the identity of Jesus as the Messiah is kept secret. He silences the demons who cry out that he is the Son of David and the Son of God, and when he performs miraculous healings he urges people to tell no one about it. Mark’s Gospel turns around that moment when Jesus asks his disciples who they believe him to be and Peter replies, You are the Christ. From this point onwards, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples along the way that it is his destiny to die.

John’s Gospel is very different. While Mark says nothing at all about the miraculous birth of Jesus, John begins his Gospel with his profound theological refelction on Jesus as the Word made flesh. There is no secrecy in John’s Gospel about Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah. And the story of the wedding at Cana, again from the beginning of the Gospel, ends with these significant words:

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana

of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory,

and his disciples believed on him.

Of course, the marriage feast is a recurring image in the New Testament. Jesus uses it as an illustration of heavenly celebration; and in the Revelation to John it becomes the ultimate symbol of the kingdom where it is very specifically the marriage of Jesus the Lamb to the Church. And it’s a powerful symbol because it combines the love of those united in marriage with the inclusion in that love of all invited to share the celebration. There are still many societies in the world today where a wedding is attended by all members of the local village or community. In such situations, running out of wine is probably not unusual.

When Jesus acts to make sure there is wine for everyone, it is surely to demonstrate the inclusivenss of the celebration. If marriage is a symbol of God’s kingdom, the feast of love and union, then none can be excluded. And yet throughout Christian history the Church has been tempted to draw strict boundaries defining who can be a member and who cannot. This contrasts rather sadly with the way Jesus scandalised the authorities by welcoming sinners to dine with him. If the Church forgets its mission to the outcasts and maginalised in our society then it has lost its faithfulness to the Gospel.

In John’s Gospel, those who have faith in Jesus respond with worship and find themselves united to him, destined to share with him in the marriage feast of heaven. You can’t miss the eucharistic dimension of the miracle at Cana. The one who turned water into wine gives even more to us who are nourished by his sacramental body and blood. As we celebrate this holy eucharist we offer our worship to him who is the Word made flesh, and also know ourselves united to him both now and in eternity.
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