When we last met we were at the Jordan River. At the river, John the Baptist made sure that his disciples knew that he was not ‘the one,’ but that they were to look to Jesus of Nazareth. The prophet they so trusted said Jesus was the Lamb of God. Even if they were not exactly sure what that meant, they began their journey as followers of Jesus filled with joyful excitement, and probably a little trepidation, as they were going off into unknown new lives. It appeared that some of them immediately knew that Jesus was indeed someone special, not just because John said so, but because there was something about Him that was compelling. Either way, those first disciples had received a serious call and they intended to follow. The men who would become Jesus’ closest friends and followers knew in their hearts that they were to go where He led. And where did Jesus lead them as they left the Jordan River? After a personal detour out into the desert alone,* He led them straight to a celebration of the most wonderful kind. And to this event, we travel with them.
It is ironic, then, that as we went forth from the river with Jesus, along with Peter and Andrew, James and John, we did not end up in the home of a sick person or one who was lost and in need of being found. Rather, in Sunday’s gospel, we found ourselves at a week-long party, the wedding of a friend or relative of the family of Jesus. (John 2:1-11) He was there with His mother, and the passage tells us that some of His disciples were present, too. In the midst of the merry-making of the occasion, quite a momentous event occurred: Jesus worked His first miracle which was to turn water into wine. There are many connections with the sacraments (such as Baptism and Eucharist) in that miracle. These things are all important, but I would like to focus on a different aspect of what transpired that day. The miracle that took place was behind the scenes with only a few people knowing exactly what had happened. It seems that He did not want to detract from the rejoicing of the bride and groom through the seriousness of the step He had just taken. We should not forget that prior to the first miracle Jesus was enjoying Himself at this wedding, (that is, He was having fun); and after the miracle I am sure the joy did not end given that there was now anywhere from 120 to 180 gallons of really good wine present! But even with the seriousness of His ministry having begun, and hence movement toward His death, we must keep this in context. Jesus worked His first miracle in the midst of a party. There is nothing trivial about the event or that He was enjoying the celebration.
This passage contains an incredibly important reminder about the nature of our lives with Christ: it is not always about solemnity and seriousness. While there is a time for that, we must not miss the message that we are meant to find joy where it is offered in life because joy is a gift of God. Though we cannot forget that life contains suffering, some of which is heartbreaking and achingly difficult, even in the midst of this there is a type of joy in the support of family, friends, and the presence of grace in the midst of it all. I do not mean to minimize the effects of suffering. But we must remember that through Baptism Jesus joins us to Himself, and also to one another, so nothing we do is really alone. Furthermore, the real gift of joy is often deeper than simply feeling good. Joy is a spiritual gift, a reality, and therefore it is more than an emotion. Of course, we can indeed feel joy in the form of happiness, contentedness, ecstasy, humor, and many other expressions that emanate from the gifts of God. True joy is a spiritual state, however, and flows from the gift of God’s love and mercy for us.
It is important to accept the gift of joy and also to continue to grow in awareness of the places in which it is offered. To experience this gift, and also to savor it, we must foster a sense of gratitude because usually joy is an appropriate response to something God has given us. We respond in joy because we recognize that we have received something which is not about our worthiness, but rather is about sharing the gift of love with others. The table around which our families and friends gather for a seemingly ordinary dinner of no special occasion is one place in which we can find joy. The baptisms, first Communions, and weddings we attend are also times of joy. Whether it is an event or simply a time to be with those whose presence we value, it is important to remember that these shared experiences are gifts of love from God. We must keep in mind, however, that they are also part of the journey, part of the ministry of the followers of Jesus. If we look at the ministry of Jesus in the gospels we will see that He was often eating and drinking with friends, sometimes with strangers, and occasionally in the presence of detractors. Our lives as disciples should also be filled with both the solemn and the mirthful. Being a follower of Jesus means not only going into the dark places to bring light, but also into the places where we share joys in order to find new life there.
Just as Jesus found that the time to reveal His ministry was during the revelry and joy of a wedding, we can find the presence of Christ in joyful moments, too. We do not stop being disciples during the fun moments and then start up again when we get back to seriousness. This is because we are always whole people: we do not compartmentalize who we are depending upon what we are doing. Being a disciple means integrating all of our gifts into all of life. And if we cannot find laughter and joy in the midst of even the most ordinary of times, then when difficult times come we might find them overwhelming. In difficulty we will need to rely upon the joy of knowing that we are not alone and that Jesus is with us deep within our hearts, beyond the realm of feeling. During times such as those, joy becomes a powerful gift. If we bring joy with us as we minister to those who are in need, they will be helped in persevering, or in moving toward healing, because of it. A smile is often returned; it can melt even the hardest heart or the one which is suffering so direly that it needs to find light in the eyes of the one who is with them.
In reflecting upon the ministry of Jesus, I imagine there was joy in His eyes as he healed a leper, the woman with the issue of blood, or the one who He had unbound from sin. As He walked on water there had to be joy in seeing the astonishment of His friends who were beginning to grapple with the understanding that He was the Son of God. Jesus must have experienced joy every time He brought life where there was none. Followers do as the Master does, and so we are called to bring joy where we minister and to accept joy when it comes to us. If Christians were dour and serious all the time, then who would want to follow? Indeed, being a member of the Body of Christ is the most joyful gift we could receive and share. Therefore we must remember that joy is a gift and we do not have to conjure it up ‘out of the ether.’ Rather the source of our joy is in the reality that we are loved by God just as we are. When we gather around the table of celebration or when we encounter friends and strangers in the midst of our daily lives let us smile, let us laugh, and let us share joy. As the Bridegroom rejoices with His bride, so shall we rejoice!**
As we go forth from the river into the journey outward into our ever changing lives, may we remember to bring joy with us and to find Jesus in the midst of every gathering! May we remember that we are as much a witness when we are actively ministering to someone in need as when we are enjoying a gathering and simply having fun! May we bring laughter and joy to those who are most bereft of these gifts! May we do our works of mercy and charity in a spirit of gladness and joy! And may we recognize the gift of God’s love and mercy for us so that it may lead us to gratitude and the desire to share it with others! Let us continue to meet on the journey into the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* In the Gospel of John there is no reference to the temptation in the desert, probably because his gospel was written last and he knew his readers already were aware of that event from the synoptic gospels. John was writing about seven events that he called signs in order to truly reveal who Jesus is as Son of God. Therefore he went straight from the River of Baptism into Jesus’ three year ministry.
** The reference here is to the first reading from this past Sunday. It is the last verse in the passage, Isaiah 62:1-5.
All the photos are mine.
-The first is a view out over the plains in North Dakota.
-The second photo is of the cake at a recent wedding which I attended. It was a beautiful and very joyous event at which much fun was had!
-The third photo is of the Atlantic Ocean from Westhampton Beach in Long Island, NY. In the spirit of fun, I used it here because it could look as if Jesus had just walked on the water since the footprints are coming out of the surf, but there are none going in. However, I have to be honest: those are my footprints and I definitely do not walk on water. It was just a lucky shot.
-The final photo was taken at the Augustiner in Munich. It is a beer hall and restaurant. The food and the beer were really quite good and a good time was had!
At the end of the entry is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Christ the King The Bridegroom. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/christ-the-king-the-bridegroom-066-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Heart Speaks to Heart