Jesus the revelation of God
Introduction to Mass
The gospel passage today shows Jesus revealing his identity as God and his disciples recognising him and accepting him as such. The other readings show how Jesus' appearance was in a sense the mid-point in God's revelation of himself in history: the Old Covenant of the Jewish faith led up to Christ, and the Church now has the task of continuing his presence in the period after his Resurrection.
As we gather to celebrate the mystery of Christ's love...
The story of the wedding feast at Cana has a lot of symbolism which is perhaps more meaningful to the people who were alive at the time it was written than it is to us now.
The stone jars of water meant for ritual ablutions, one of the religious practices of the Jewish faith, is a symbol of the old religion. That's redundant now, John is saying. It's been surpassed by something better and richer. The difference between the old way to God and the new way - through Christ - is the difference between water and wine, and the best quality wine at that.
This is the idea John wants to plant in the minds of his readers using the symbolism of this miracle: a new and higher revelation of God has replaced the old one.
One of the things we have in common, in principle, with the Jewish faith and with all the higher religions, is the belief that God who created the world, is reflected or echoed in the world he made - in nature, in Creation.
The way we’ve been made, we have a capacity to sense God's presence through nature, to find traces of God in the world around us - and also within ourselves. We can develop an awareness of God's presence in our moral conscience, for example, and in our capacity to give and receive love: it was Saint John again who said that the person who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.
But it would also be true to say that people can remain blind to the traces of God, their sensitivity to his presence can remain undeveloped.
When people see the physical world as something to be exploited for profit and personal gain, when they treat other people as objects rather than as persons and as means of getting what they want for themselves, then they'll never develop the mentality that discerns God's reflection in the Creation and within the depths of the human person.
My own belief is that our society - capitalist society, that is - contains powerful influences that shape people's attitudes in that anti-spiritual direction, in the direction of blindness to God.
We're surrounded by the propaganda of selfish materialism and from an early age people become well-trained in the outlook and habits of acquisition, consumption and exploitation. From their earliest years they're closed to a genuinely religious mentality - one that fosters a sense of identity with nature and with our fellow human-beings and ultimately with the power behind it all who created it all.
But in any case the Christian tradition has always maintained that God can be known through the world and the creatures he made, and that there's something unnatural about not being sensitive to his presence in those forms.
But then the Christian tradition says more than that, of course. There are aspects of God's character that we would never be able to work out by our own reflection, and the Bible is the record of the way God gradually communicated himself, and drew us into relationship with him, through historical events.
The Christian faith makes a lot more sense once people grasp this idea that the knowledge we claim about God comes from the way he acted in history, over the course of centuries, from the call he made to Abraham, the founding father of the Jewish faith, up to his appearance in human form in the person of Jesus.
In the first reading today Isaiah voices his prophetic intuition that, despite various upheavals in the history of Israel, despite various betrayals of God on the part of his people, events are being guided towards a point in the future when there will be a new and fuller revelation of God.
Saint John, like all the gospel writers and all the members of the first Church communities, believed that with Christ, that point had arrived, and that God was now beginning a new covenant with humanity. Again, the old water has been replaced with the new wine.
Then the second reading today adds something more. Saint Paul is writing at a time when the first generation of Christians is still settling into a coherent pattern of church life. Paul appeals for unity of faith amid the variety of individual gifts that are present in the community.
It's a reminder that, in our understanding, God's revelation didn't finish with the work of Christ during his ministry. On one way that was only the start of the new period anticipated by Isaiah.
After Jesus' Resurrection the community of his first disciples quickly developed an understanding of themselves as the continuation of Jesus' saving work, as the Body of Christ present and active in the new period of history. They saw the whole tradition of Christian belief, Christian morality, Christian prayer and liturgy that stared to take shape from the earliest days as also being a source of genuine revelation of God.
That's certainly what we're supposed to believe now. Let me finish, on that point, by quoting from one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
When they addressed the subject of God's revelation of himself in the Christian period the Council fathers declared that "The Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on...As the centuries go by the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her".
We never possess a full knowledge of God in this life but we’re progressing towards it, and the knowledge we have in our own tradition is there to guide us and to lead us to as full and as genuine a relationship with God as is possible.
So my reflections on the readings this Sunday, the start of Ordinary Time again in the Church's year, would be that they show how important it is to understand the Christian faith as an historical religion.
They highlight the way God disclosed more and more of his character in history, culminating in Jesus' appearance and the new Covenant that God initiated with us through Christ.
And they raise our responsibility, as the community of the new Covenant, to value the way God is present to us in our own tradition of faith, and to always look for ways of bringing other people to accept it and share in it.