A wedding celebration – part of ordinary everyday life. A woman and man to be joined in marriage, a next step in a life unfolding. We see but a vignette of their life on a day filled with music, the dancing, the celebration, the servants working hard to hide their panic, and wedding guests having no idea that this celebration teeters on the edge of disaster.
“They have no wine.” These are words of scarcity in a story one associates with abundance and a richness of overflowing grace. Words that are familiar to us in our personal lives and voices we hear.“They have no wine,” is echoed in: “They have no money.” “She has no job.” “He has no friends.” “I have no strength.” Words that have more variation and instances that I could count. Words spoken in the ordinary of life even as things around us teeter on the edge of disaster.
This week I had a long conversation with a young woman who works in a hospital ICU. She has spent 2 years working hard to help heal as patients teeter on the edge of disaster. She is tired beyond her years. “I have no strength” The stress is endless, relentless. In the beginning the work was heroic as they tended to the innocents, people who were overtaken by the pandemic virus. Now it is more “one foot after another” as she tends to those who refused vaccination and their life needlessly teeters on the edge of disaster. It’s been two years and she is struggling. She was feeling less and less a nurse. And so she called.
Among combat veterans there is an expression: the thousand mile stare that blank, unfocused gaze of combatants who have become emotionally detached from the horrors around them. As I listened to my friend I heard the thousand mile monotone. And so we talked.
In today’s gospel the scene is a wedding feast, celebrations that lasted for days, and it was the host’s responsibility to provide abundant food and drink for the duration of the festivities. To run out of wine early was a dishonor — a breach of hospitality that the guests would recount for years. It is not hard to imagine the panic among servants – blame rolls downhill and takes no hostages.
We have no idea what Mary’s connection is to the bride and groom; she is one wedding guest among many. Yet in the midst of celebration and distraction, she notices need. She sees what’s amiss. She knows that humiliation is brewing just out of sight. Mary notices and registers concern before Jesus does.
Mary tells the right person. Mary knows who her son is and she trusts that he alone can meet the need she perceives. I love the assurance with which she brings her distress to Jesus. She is as certain of his generosity as she is of the need itself.
Mary persists. I don’t know what to make of Jesus’s reluctance to help when Mary first approaches him. “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus knows that his countdown to crucifixion will begin as soon as he makes his true identity known. Maybe he’s reluctant to start that ominous clock ticking. Maybe he thinks wine-making shouldn’t be his first miracle. Maybe there’s a timeline known only to him and to God. Lots of maybe’s. Whatever the case, Mary doesn’t cave in the face of his reluctance; she continues to press the urgency of the need into Jesus’s presence. As if to say, “OK, but there’s a desperate problem, right here, right now. Change your plans. Hasten the hour. Help them on their wedding day!”
Mary instills trust and invites obedience. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the household servants. She doesn’t wait to hear the specifics of Jesus’s plan. She doesn’t pretend to know the details. She simply communicates her long-standing trust in Jesus’s loving, generous character, and invites the servants to practice the minute-by-minute obedience. The kind of obedience that makes faith possible.
Think about the servants – their task isn’t easy. There’s no running water in the ancient world, and those stone jars are huge. How many trips to the well, how much energy, how deep a resolve the task requires! Mary’s strength, her trust serves as a catalyst for action, for the groundwork of Jesus’s instructions: “Fill the jars.” “Draw some out.” Take it to the chief steward.” She fosters a faith-filled atmosphere that becomes contagious. She instills wonder in those around her, and ushers in a miracle. “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee.”
Would it that we could heal with the power of Jesus. We can’t do what Jesus does, but we can be like Mary in that we notice, speak out, persist, and trust. No matter how profound the scarcity, no matter how impossible the situation, we can elbow our way in, pull Jesus aside, ask earnestly for help, and ready ourselves for action. We can be the sign that ushers in a miracle and reveals the glory of God in the world.
There in the midst of a life teetering at the edge of disaster in a pandemic ICU, there are nurses and doctors who notice, call the right person, persist, and instill trust. I asked my friend about her prayer life. She still routinely turns to prayer, asking Jesus to usher in another miracle, another sign that God was present in the midst of her daily combat. She holds the hands of her patients and prayed.
I told my friend about this weekend’s gospel and offered that she was the sign of God’s presence in the ICU. As the team practiced their medical skills to save the life, she was the one whose simple gesture of holding a hand in prayer was the sign most needed in that moment. As a nurse she noticed more than just the medical needs, she persisted, she instilled trust, and she called on the right person.
I told my friend that she was the Mary of those moments.
It is advice for us all. When and wherever we find ourselves this week we can notice, persist, instill trust, call on the right person – become a sign of God’s presence for another. May we all become Mary for others in the moments that come.