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JANUARY 20, 2013: SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Isaiah 62:1-5
I Corinthians 12:4-1
John 2:1-11

A mark of an old-time Catholic is that even after the age of 50 he or she can still recite by heart the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit they learned before Confirmation: understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, wisdom, piety and fear of the Lord.

Ever wonder where you find these specific seven in the Christian Scriptures? You don't! Six of the seven are in chapter 11 of Isaiah. (Piety was added to round off the perfect biblical seven.) In their original context they're characteristics not of the perfect follower of Jesus, but of the perfect Jewish king!

Compare these seven with Paul's nine gifts of the Spirit comprising today's I Corinthians pericope: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. Quite a different list.

Eventually Paul's nine were squeezed out by Isaiah's seven. Why? The latter are relatively harmless; the former can create huge problems for any community. Most of Isaiah's gifts are directed to the individuals who have them; for their personal spiritual development. Paul's gifts, on the other hand, are geared to building up a vibrant community of believers. One can be an admirable individualist by cultivating Isaiah's seven. But one can't be a participating member of the body of Christ without zeroing in on Paul's nine. It's evident the switch in gifts came about because of a change in "ecclesiology" - the way one looks at the church. As Avery Dulles pointed out in his classic book Models of the Church, how we conceive of the church determines what we do in the church. Historians constantly remind us that first century ecclesiology was regretfully replaced with fourth century ecclesiology. Christianity went from being a horizontal, equalitarian community of God's people to a lateral, hierarchical institution, structured from the top down, similar to the Roman Empire.

We have no idea what Jesus' first miracle was. Each evangelist uses Jesus' initial miracle as a device to set the theme of his gospel. Changing water into wine at Cana in Galilee is John's first "sign" because, throughout his gospel, John attempts to demonstrate how Christianity replaces Judaism as God's way of living our lives.

Notice Jesus tells the waiters to fill not the empty wine jugs, but the purification jugs with water. According to Jewish law, once those specific containers are contaminated with wine, they can no longer be used for Jewish ritual washings. The noted Johannine scholar C. H. Dodd described the scene perfectly: "John's Jesus replaces the water of Judaism with the wine of Christianity." The evangelist was convinced that anything Judaism could do, Christianity could do better. His gospel is filled with such "replacement" theology.

I presume Jesus' first followers were convinced they somehow were involved in Third-Isaiah's vision of a rebuilt Jerusalem, and a rebuilt faith. But because of their added commitment to Jesus' vision of God's kingdom, they also realized they'd have to replace the prophet's idea of Yahweh alone bringing future glory to the Chosen People with a determination to become the body of the risen Christ. Instead of just applauding as God works, they'd have to do much of the work themselves - with the help of the Holy Spirit.

But, as I mentioned above, there's a problem: the same gifts which create that body can also be the forces which tear that body apart, as was happening in Corinth. Over the next two Sundays, Paul will both reinforce the necessity of being the body of Christ and show how those gifts can be employed to build and not tear down.

Of course, if we don't first buy into Paul's idea of church as the body of Christ, it won't make a lot of sense even to listen to those readings.