JANUARY 17, 2010: SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
In the early Christian community, Jesus’ epiphany comprised three events, not just one. It commemorated the astrologers’ visit to Mary and Joseph’s home in Bethlehem, but it also included Jesus’ baptism and his turning water into wine at Cana in Galilee. The first Christians regarded each of these three as an epiphany - a sort of “coming out” - for Jesus. In each instance, people began to realize there was much more to this particular individual than might first meet the eye.
In our Cana passage, it’s not only necessary to remember that Jesus changes water into wine, it’s essential to note in what type of jugs the transformation takes place. Casual listeners to the narrative usually think the servers simply filled six empty wine jugs with water. But that’s not what the text says: “Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings...”
Once these purification containers have wine in them, they no longer can be used for “ceremonial washings.” This prompted the great Johannine scholar C. H. Dodd to clarify the sign value of this miracle:
“Jesus turned the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity.” In John’s theology, the faith of Jesus replaces the faith of Judaism. It’s this transformation which the evangelist expects his readers to recognize.
Our sacred authors tell us that people of faith must often look at reality more than once to see the significance God has embedded in it - to appreciate its epiphany.
Third-Isaiah presumes this process when, five centuries before Jesus’ birth, he proclaims the importance of Jerusalem. “You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of Yahweh, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.” Beautiful words. But they’re being proclaimed over a city and land which had been utterly destroyed by the Babylonians almost 90 years before! The prophet obviously sees something most viewers never notice.
Paul encounters a parallel situation with the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the Corinthian community. Many of his readers regard the combination of gifts which the Spirit bestows on Jesus’ followers as a curse, not a blessing. Some of these charisms, practiced without love, are tearing the community apart. That’s why the Apostle begins by stating his belief: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Always stressing the unity of the church, Paul reminds his Corinthians, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; different forms of service but the same Lord.”
Most of us don’t know that the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit” we memorized for Confirmation are in Isaiah 11, I Corinthians 12! There’s a huge difference between the two lists. Isaiah expects Yahweh’s spirit to infuse the ideal Jewish king with “wisdom, understanding, council, fortitude, knowledge, and fear of Yahweh.” (The church later added “piety” to the list.) All these gifts are to be bestowed on one person.
On the other hand, when Paul speaks of “wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophesy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues,” he presumes each of these nine gifts are given to different individuals in the same community.
I suspect one reason we ignore Paul’s gifts and zero in on Isaiah’s is that it’s much easier to recognize all God’s gifts in one individual than to deal with the problems which arise from “different gifts for different folks.” Perhaps we need to create a special feast of the Epiphany of Christ’s Risen Body. Not everyone today sees what Paul and the early church originally saw in the gifted Christian community.