Spirituality of the Readings
A new season of the Church year is upon us. “Ordinary Time” has replaced the “Christmas season.”
Last Sunday climaxed the stories of Jesus’ birth, early life, and of course, his baptism. Now it is time to hear about his active work as God’s Word. That work is the content of “Ordinary Time,” in spite of the season’s mundane name.*
How long will Ordinary Time last? It will include every Sunday that is not in the Advent/Christmas season, the Lent/Easter season, or any other special celebration of the Lord. There are three different years worth of Ordinary Time readings, each year with a clever name such as A, B, or
C (!) In each of these years one particular “synoptic” Gospel writer is featured, Mark, Matthew or Luke.
We are in year C, and we will begin hearing the Gospel according to Luke. The following words will be proclaimed before the Gospel reading each Sunday: “A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke.” [note: this should never be read as
“A reading. (full stop)
From the Gospel according to Luke.”
So many readers now edit it that way.]
To make things more complicated, however, this particular week, the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, does not have a reading from Luke’s Gospel after all. The Church has used instead a reading from the Gospel of John, one about an event which took place before Jesus’ public life had begun, as he says explicitly (“My hour has not yet come”).
One way to look at this anomaly is to say that the present Sunday is a brief transition, meant to console us and raise our expectations concerning the Messiah and the Good News.**
Isaiah says in the First Reading that God is going to give his people a new name. They will be called “My delight.” Their land will be known by the name, “Espoused.” The Lord will marry them and bring forth abundance from their lands.
So, in this familiar Gospel, we are at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee and the wine has run out. Jesus is able to transform water into the very best wine, just as the Father can change a forsaken people into ones that are his delight.
Water turned to wine is a wonderful image of people who are fresh out of hope and need to drink of the promise and its satisfaction. Only God in Jesus can supply the real thing. Thus the Gospel story has even more symbolic depth than the simple story of an amazing miracle at first indicates.
Mary says modestly to Jesus, “They have no wine.” In other words, the human race has no real life left in it.
Jesus replies strangely: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” He is saying that his public life has not yet begun. In that public life he will have to preach, heal, suffer, die and rise again, as we will see in the coming weeks.
But Mary knows him too well. She does not take seriously all the reasons why God’s promise cannot be fulfilled at this time. She knows that the people need the full, rich wine of life, which is love, and she trusts her son.
She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
So, after all, on this Sunday we begin to watch Jesus make us into “his delight.”
*Some scholars have thought that the account of the Canaan wedding feast had “drifted over” to John’s Gospel but was originally part of Luke. Could this theory have been a reason for it being included in the Lucan year C, maybe to help Christmas season give over to Ordinary Time? The answer is, we do not know.
However that be decided, never is there celebrated an actual First Sunday in Ordinary Time. The weekdays of the First Week come right after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, just as if it were in fact the First Sunday. It would be at least reasonable to call the Baptism of the Lord the beginning of Ordinary Time, would it not? But the Church counts the Baptism as important in its own right and therefore has it replace, not impersonate, the First Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Thus, here is the lineup we currently use: the Solemnity of the Epiphany (always on a Sunday in the United States), followed on the next Sunday by the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (after which the weekdays of the first week of Ordinary Time begin), followed by the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time and its weekdays.
**This makes sense narratively since the Baptism of Jesus could be considered a type of beginning of his public life. But, not so. Neither it nor the time in the desert qualify as public time. They are preparation for it, his going back to Nazareth in the “power of the Holy Spirit,” and beginning to actively preach the Kingdom of God.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University