Friday, January 15, 2016

The Extravagance of God

SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
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The wedding feast at Cana is well known as the occasion of Jesus' first public miracle.  The name of the couple who were married has been lost to history, but people are still talking about their party two thousand years later!

The fact that Jesus chose such a celebratory moment to manifest His glory tells us something of the character of God.  This is worth considering when one encounters the phenomenon of the "dour Christian."

I don't mean a Christian who just has a sombre personality.  I mean those who are theologically opposed to having a good time.  There are plenty of examples both in history and today.  The old Calvinist Presbyterians in Scotland for a time banned Christmas (no wonder they were called "the Frozen Chosen").  Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays.  In some counties here in the south it is impossible to buy alcohol due to the political influence of certain Baptists.

When asked what they think of Jesus and His disciples drinking wine, they maintain that it was really unfermented grape juice.  But can anyone imagine the psalmist singing of "grape juice to gladden the heart of man" (Ps 104:15)?  I've had good grape juice in my day, but it's nothing to write poetry about.

We Catholics know how to enjoy ourselves, because we understand that sin lies not in the enjoyment of God's creation, but in the abuse of it.  Drinking is not a sin, but drunkenness is.  Eating is not a sin, but gluttony is.  Sexual union is not a sin, but abuses of it, such as fornication and adultery are.  (As an aside, this helps answer the question: why did God create evil?  God did not create evil.  Everything God creates is good; it is only the abuse or perversion of good which is evil.  St. Augustine once defined evil as "the privation of good.")

Catholic weddings celebrate the great good of a man and woman coming together to become one flesh in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and thus become a living symbol in the world of God's love for the Church.  If you've ever been to a Catholic wedding, you know what a joyous occasion it is.  Most of my family is Protestant, and so when my wife and I were married, they were a bit overwhelmed.  Our nuptial Mass took an hour and a half, and the reception following went on past midnight.  There was feasting, dancing, singing and toasts.  I recall some family members having to excuse themselves half way through dinner, saying, "We told our babysitter we'd be home an hour ago... we didn't expect all of this."

I imagine that a lot of us will say the same thing in heaven -- "I didn't expect all of this!"  God's extravagance knows no limits, and we see this in Jesus' first public miracle.  The hosts of the wedding feast run out of wine to serve their guests.  All they have left to drink is water.

Water is a good thing.  It's refreshing, cleansing, and good for you.  Water is necessary for life.  That's why it is fitting that we use water to baptize.  Baptism is the sacrament through which we are brought to new life in Christ. The waters of baptism wash away our sins.  We all need water.

But God is not content to give us only what we need.  His love goes beyond.  When Jesus transforms the water into wine, it is a sign of the superabundance of His grace.  No one needs wine.  Wine is a luxury.  We toast with wine to celebrate joyful events.  We share it with friends and family over meals.  The wine that Jesus offers is choice -- as the headwaiter says in the gospel, "You have kept the good wine until now" (Jn 2:10).

God gives us what we need in the waters of baptism to cleanse us of our sins, fill us with His grace, and become adopted children of God.  But God is not content to give us only what we need.  He pours a superabundance of grace upon us through the choicest wine -- the wine over which He spoke the sacred words, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many..." (Mt 26:28).

God gives us more than we need, because God is Love.  The gift of love is the gift of self, and this is what God offers us under the species of bread and wine at every Mass -- nothing less than Himself.  The gospel acclamation for this Sunday's Mass says that God has called us "to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (cf. 2 Thes 2:14).  God's glory is in the extravagant superabundance of His gifts.  You have been invited to the wedding feast.  Come, drink deeply of this wine that the heavenly Bridegroom offers.
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him (Jn 2:11).

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