2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc KaCey97078
Sisters and brothers, I have a vague memory of an incident from my days in primary school that still brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it. We were in class. The teacher was teaching. Suddenly we heard a very loud clattering sound. Which drowned out whatever it was the teacher was saying. Actually, it wasn’t just one sound. But many. And the clattering went on for quite a long time. Can you guess what had happened?
During the recess period earlier, one of our classmates had experienced great success at the playground. It was the season for marbles. And this little guy had won a great many of them. Which he then proceeded to stuff into one of his pockets. Unfortunately, the pocket must have sprung a leak. And all the marbles happily escaped. Bouncing up and down repeatedly, all over the hard concrete floor. Much to the amusement of the rest of the class. The teacher, however, wasn’t so amused. Our poor classmate had all his hard-won treasures confiscated that day. I can only imagine how terribly embarrassed he must have been. To, quite literally, lose his marbles in such a very public way. How helpless he must have felt to witness the scattering of the things he had worked so hard to gather together.
Of course, these days, no one plays with marbles anymore. At least not here in Singapore, I don’t think. And yet, don’t we know the feeling of having things escape from our grasp? Of watching helplessly as important parts of our lives get scattered about before us? Things that we may try very hard to gather up, and to keep together. But which, despite our best efforts, just somehow continue to elude us. Things like important relationships, for example. Within the family. Or in school. Or at the workplace. Or even here in church. And what about our own inner lives? Do you ever feel as though you were losing your grip on yourself? As though the different parts of your life were slowly slipping through your finger tips? What can we do when this happens? How do we gather back together again the things that insist on being scattered?
This, my dear friends, is what I think our readings are all about on this 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Each reading speaks of a marvellous transformation brought about by God. The most obvious is probably the one in the gospel. Here Jesus transforms water into wine. But why? The gospel tells us that this is not just a miracle. A work of power. But a sign. It points to something deeper. What is it? What is the significance for us of the Lord transforming ordinary water into wine?
The first reading helps to guide us towards an answer. Here, God promises to transform not water into wine. But a forsaken and abandoned nation, once again, into the people of God. God promises to gather back to himself the people who have allowed themselves to be scattered. Scattered not only by foreign enemies. But scattered, above all, by their own rebelliousness. Their own refusal to obey God. Their own insistence on worshipping false gods. In the first reading, God promises to do what my primary school classmate could not. Gather together again precious objects scattered all over a hard concrete floor.
Isn’t this the deeper significance of the miracle at Cana? And isn’t this why it is so fitting that it should have taken place at a wedding? For what is a wedding, if not the joining together of those who were once apart? Not just individuals. But also families. And circles of friends. A gathering of what was once scattered. Now joined together. And joined not just to one another. But also, most important of all, joined in, by, and to God. Isn’t this what God promises to do for Israel? To take her as his bride. Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you. This incredible promise that God makes to Israel, and to us, finds its fulfilment in Jesus. This is the deeper meaning of the miracle at Cana. The gathering up of scattered lives, in the incredible love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Which is why the second reading is so appropriate. Even though it isn’t chosen to match the others. For here too, Paul speaks of a similar transformation. The Christian community at Corinth is blessed with many gifts and talents. Unfortunately, these blessings are being turned into a curse. Made to breed conflict and division. Instead of unity and peace. They scatter the people. Instead of gathering them together. Why? For the simple reason that the gifts are being used for self-promotion. And ego-inflation.
To counter this tendency. To gather again all that has been scattered. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the true Source and Goal of what they have received. There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them… for a good purpose. To allow our lives to flow from, to revolve around, and to be directed towards, the same Spirit. The same Lord. The same God. This, my dear friends, is the secret to true unity in diversity. This is how God gathers back together again all that has been scattered.
And it’s important that we remember exactly how God does this. By revealing the great glory of God. In the raising of the only begotten Son of God. High up on the Cross. The curse that results from self-promotion is reversed by self-emptying. As Jesus himself will say in a later chapter of John’s gospel: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (12:32). Gathering back together again, all that has been scattered. Individuals. Families. Communities. Nations. Religions. The whole of creation. We allow our scattered selves to be gathered together again, the more we gaze unflinchingly at the Lord’s sacrifice for us on the Cross.
Which is why it is probably no accident that tomorrow, we will begin The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A time when we Christians pray more intensely for unity among ourselves. That we who profess a common faith in Christ. But who remain so scandalously scattered into so many different pieces. May once again allow ourselves to be gathered back together in the unity of the Spirit.
And this is something that we Christians need not just for ourselves. But also, more importantly, for the rest of the world. A world torn apart and terrorised by violence and conflict. By selfishness and sin. A world of many scattered pieces. Yearning to be gathered together again. A world into which we are sent, as witnesses to the possibility of true unity in diversity. A world into which we are sent, as water that has been transformed into wine. Filled with the Spirit’s power to draw and to keep together all that would otherwise remain apart.
My dear friends, it can be a very distressing experience to lose your marbles. What can we do to allow God to continue gathering all that has been scattered today?