Scarcity or Abundance – The Transforming Presence of God
Exile, triumphant return, wine run out, empty water jars filled, water changed into wine, brides and bridegrooms, a variety of gifts – many images are presented in the readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time.
The readings begin as the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon is drawing to a close. People are beginning to return to Jerusalem and Isaiah speaks the Lord’s words of joyful triumph: “I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, her vindication shines forth like the dawn…” (Is 62:1-5) Jerusalem, the remnant of those exiled to Babylon, will shine again before all the nations. The Lord will bless her with a new name – My Delight. She will be a beautiful crown held by her God. The Lord is as delighted with her as a bridegroom is with his bride. This is all fantastic news to a people who have felt abandoned by God in bitter defeat and exile from their homes and homeland. From the depths of loss to the triumph of the abundant love of God, their return home is filled with reasons for rejoicing. God is again present with the people of Israel and they are home.
We see another case of scarcity transformed to abundance in the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, not too far from Nazareth (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus and his friends have been invited to a wedding feast. His mother is there too. It’s a wonderful party and all are having a great time. All, that is, except the hosts. The wine is running out. Someone miscalculated how much people would drink or how many people would be there, or something. It really didn’t matter. Running out of food or drink at a wedding feast is a terrible issue, a shameful thing, even today.
Jesus’ mother notices the problem. She’s probably been involved in planning many weddings and other parties with family and friends through the years. The families of the couple are friends or relatives. What can anyone do to help in such a situation?
In St. John’s telling of the incident, there is something important that she can do. She can tell her son and in so doing, she nudges him to begin his public life. Jesus essentially asks her, “What am I supposed to do about that?” Yet in John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as one who is in control of what is happening in his life. He is God become human and very much actively in charge of events. He adds, “My hour has not yet come.” It’s not the point in his teaching and ministry to begin doing extraordinary things and showing forth the glory of God, at least he doesn’t think so. But Mary is not deterred. These people need help and they need it right now. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servers.
And so, what to do? Jesus looks around and there are six water jugs in the room. These jugs were used for ritual washing ceremonies when people gathered. Jesus, using what was available, directs that the jars be refilled with water. When this has been accomplished, he instructs the servers to take some to the headwaiter. It was now wine. Not just any everyday, watered down wine, but really good wine. Better than what had been served earlier. The headwaiter even sort of scolds the bridegroom for not serving the best wine first. Folks who have been drinking for a while won’t fully appreciate how good this stuff is!
John ends this story with the comment that in this first of the signs of his coming (as the Messiah), Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples and they “began to believe in him.” He became more than someone John the Baptist thought was important. Maybe he really was someone different and important. Maybe the Promised One had come.
Scarcity had been replaced with an abundance of wine, an abundance of life. God’s presence is revealed.
St. Paul presents another image of abundance (1 Cor 12:4-11). He’s dealing with a community in Corinth that was very diverse and whose members didn’t think of themselves as all being equals. There were many divisions in their society and those divisions didn’t go away when they gathered as a community.
Paul reminds them firmly that there are many kinds of gifts, many kinds of service. All come from God. There is only one Lord. There is no need to argue over which gift or which service is more important. None is more important or more valuable than any other. All are important and all are distributed by God. The Spirit’s presence is seen in each person’s gifts as that person uses the gift for the benefit of all.
A list of different gifts is found here. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All of these are important, but only if they are used on behalf of the community. No one gets a gift because it is earned or deserved. Gifts are only given as they are needed and they are given to the person who will best be able to use them in service. Yet, there is an abundance of gifts within the community when they are all shared.
The key to each of these stories of scarcity and later abundance is the presence of God. We each have known times that are hard. Times when it seems like nothing will ever get easier. Little or no hope is visible, even on the horizon. Yet when we let the Lord into our hearts in those times, hope begins to blossom like a small flame. As we move forward in trust, serving the Lord and our fellow people with the gifts we’ve been given, however small they may seem, that scarcity falls behind us. We begin to see the abundance of love that fills the world, even when it is masked by “ordinariness” in our days.
Today let’s ask ourselves where the Lord is present, transforming the difficulties and challenges of our ordinary human lives into the beauty of new life, of diadems in the hands of God, of new love between bride and bridegroom, of joyful celebrations of love and new beginnings, and of the growth in wisdom, age, and grace to which we are all called in life.
The Lord has come. Where will we meet him today?