Today’s the feast of the apostle Bartholomew. Tradition says Bartholomew, also identified as Nathaniel, came from Cana in Galilee. Cana was only a few miles from Nazareth and the two towns had a major role in Jesus’ early life and the beginning of his mission. Many, no doubt, looked down on Cana, like Nazareth, and wondered if any good could come for there.
Yet, John’s gospel claims the miracle Jesus performed there, turning water into wine at a wedding, was the first “sign” of the promised kingdom to come. (Jn 2, 1-12) The family, probably farming people working the rich land of the plains of Esdraelon, faced a nightmare at the wedding: the wine was running out and embarrassment was sure to follow.
The miracle has special meaning, John’s gospel says. More than an act of relief for a family’s embarrassment or a firm endorsement of marriage, it was a sign from God to this ordinary town and its ordinary people–and to ordinary places and people everywhere– of God’s great love. God delights in them. Words from the Prophet Isaiah often accompany the account of the Cana miracle in the liturgy. God loves poor Israel with all the ardor of a “young man marrying a virgin,” the prophet says. God’s love is bountiful, restoring, overflowing with delight.
Jesus performed two miracles at Cana, according to John’s gospel, two “signs” of the coming kingdom. Besides changing water into wine at the wedding, Jesus cured the son of a government official from Capernaum. The boy was “at the point of death, and his father came to Cana because he heard that Jesus was there. (John 4.46-54)
Like Nazareth a humble little town, Cana declined further afterwards. In the late 19th century, a visiting English vicar commented on how poor it was:
“ (Kefr Kenna) lies on high ground, but not on a hill…A broad prickly pear led to the group of houses which perhaps represents the New Testament Cana. Loose stones were scattered around the slope. There may be, possibly, 150 inhabitants, but one cannot envy them their huts of mud and stone, with dunghills at every corner. Huge mud ovens, like great beehives, stood at the sides of some of the houses.
“ In one house a worthy Moslem was squatting on the ground with a number of children, all with slates on which verses of the Koran had been written, which they repeated together. It was the village school, perhaps like that at Nazareth eighteen hundred years ago.
“ A small Franciscan church of white stone with a nice railed wall, with a beautiful garden at the side, had over its doorway these startling words in Latin: ‘Here Jesus Christ from water made wine.’ Some large water jars are shown inside as actually those used in the miracle, but such mock relics, however believed in by simple monks, do the faith of other people more harm than good.”
Cana is still a poor town. You wonder why Bartholomew, one of its famous sons, hasn’t done more to bring it up in the world. Maybe it’s waiting for the time when all the poor places of the world are raised up to share in the splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem. Surely, they will because God loves them.
“On the foundation stones of the heavenly Jerusalem the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are written; the Lamb of God is the light of that city.” (Antiphon, Feast of the Apostles)