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January 20, 2019
[St. Stephen Diocesan Center Chapel (First Ordination Anniversary of Deacons)]
Sassy! One of the first things that raises people’s eyebrows about this gospel passage are the words of Jesus to his dear mother Mary, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” I think part of the problem here is that we tend to sanitize the gospels and to think that because these two people were sinless – one because he was God and the other by a sheer gift of grace – that their interactions with others were always sweet and soft. Yet we know that they were very real people. Here is how I imagine the scene unfolding.
Mary approaches Jesus with her observation that the wine is running out at the wedding feast. He says his famous, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” She is as startled as we might expect her to be and says, “Oh! So that’s the way it’s going to be!” She storms off, gathers all the waiters and stands them right in front of Jesus, then says, “Now, do whatever he tells you!” And walks away. And there is Jesus with the waiting waiters, who have no idea what this is about, but expect that they will soon be receiving some orders. And then, of course, the rest of the story unfolds.
I think this is important, because whenever we encounter Mary in the Scriptures, in a real way we are encountering the Church. She is a symbol of the entire people of God, which is saved by the gift of grace. And so, Jesus teaches us that he will perform miracles, but he expects us to be involved as well. He can see that someone is sick, yet he only heals those who demonstrate some faith that he can heal. He can see that someone is in sin, but he only forgives if they have made at least some sincere gesture of repentance. And he may even test our faith by rebuffing us, by letting us know that he will do what needs to be done in his own time, at his chosen hour, and not simply when we snap our fingers at him to do our bidding. He wants us to grow in our desire for what we seek, because that desire will draw us into the drama, so that we take risks to set up the expectation of miracles, just as Mary did by calling together the waiters and setting them in front of Jesus.
Of course, as St. Paul reminds us, there are different gifts in the Church to satisfy different needs, but they all work together by the same Spirit. Some of you may be called to go to the homeless who think that their wine is running out because they feel hopeless or afraid. Your outreach to them may be just what they need to change the water of their weariness into the wine of justice. We know that this does not happen at the snap of a finger, but only in the Lord’s good time, after trust has been built through a relationship. Others may have a particular affinity to the sick, and through your persistence in prayer and your dedication to loving care, you can change the water of worry into the wine of total trust in the Lord, who if he does not heal the body can heal the heart. Some of you are more prone to find yourself with prisoners who have done terrible things and who think in the depths of their hearts that all goodness has run dry for them. You, by your constant care, can change the water of their despair into the wine of liberation, even if they remain behind bars. Some of you have an affinity to youth who have fallen into such boredom with life that they find it burdensome, and your insistent and loving challenges to them can change the water of boredom into the wine of joy.
As you deacons now have dedicated one year of your lives in public witness to the varied gifts of the Spirit, I am sure there have been times when you felt the wine was running out. Yet your prayer, your focusing on the Lord, your study, and your support of one another can strengthen you to be more persistent, even more dedicated to the task that has been given you so that you can facilitate the miracles that Jesus wishes to work in the lives of all those in need by the kind of commitment and mettle that Mary showed. You can encourage through your sacramental presence the others in the Church who have been called to be waiters and servants, so that in their own ways, according to the gifts of the Spirit granted to them, they can move the Lord to change water into wine and to bring great joy to the lives of many. We thank God that you have faithfully fulfilled this call for this past year, and we pray that your witness to Jesus as his servants will continue for many years to come.