Cana in Galilee–November 7th
Cana and Nazareth, only a few miles apart in Galilee, figure intimately in Jesus’ early life and the beginning of his mission. People then probably looked down on Cana, like Nazareth, and wondered if anything good could come for there. We will visit these two places.
At that time, people from Cana worked the rich farmland of the plains of Esdraelon on the edge of their town. The couple whose wedding Jesus and his disciples attended likely came from the town’s farm families; they were probably related to Jesus and his mother, or at least friends. That day they were just two young people from the little town getting married. That’s all.
Yet, John’s gospel calls the miracle Jesus performed there, turning water into wine, the first “sign” of the promised kingdom to come. (Jn 2, 1-12) The family faced a nightmare that people dread on occasions like this: a celebration heading for failure. The wine was running out and embarrassment was sure to follow.
The miracle has special meaning, the gospel says. It’s more than an act of relief for a family’s embarrassment or a firm endorsement of marriage. It’s God’s sign to this ordinary town and its ordinary people–and to ordinary places and people everywhere– of God’s great love. God delights in them. The Prophet Isaiah, whose words are read on the 2nd Sunday of the year (C) along with the account of the Cana miracle, says that God loves down-trodden Israel with all the ardor of a “young man marrying a virgin.” God’s love is bountiful, restoring, overflowing with delight.
So, Cana stands for this world’s overlooked, forsaken places and people, whom God does not overlook or forsake. God will not be silent about them or let them down. Listen to the prophet’s words:t
“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
for her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.
Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all kings your glory.
You shall be called by a new name,
pronounced by the mouth of the Lord,
You shall be a royal crown in the hand of the Lord,
A royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall men call you ‘Forsaken’
or your land ‘desolate’.
But you shall be called ‘ My delight’
and your land ‘espoused’
for the Lord delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your builder shall marry you,
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.” (Is 62, 1-6)
We shouldn’t forget that Jesus performed two miracles in Cana, according to the gospel of John, 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. (Jn 4.46-54)
That miracle points to the ultimate gift of God to us: the gift of life to those who face death.
Cana in the late 19th Century
Cana, a humble little town in Jesus’ day, declined even further in the centuries afterwards. It’s revived somewhat since the late 19th century when an English vicar visiting the Holy Land commented on its poverty and the neglected land that surrounded it.
“ (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.” 535
The town of Nazareth up the hill from Cana suffered a similar fate after the time of Jesus. Both were places people didn’t think much of. In fact, many wonder today if the Cana we are visiting is really the Cana of the gospels. A tradition dating back to the 8th century says it is, and also locates here the birthplace of Nathaniel, or Bartholomew, a disciple of Jesus mentioned in John’s gospel. (Jn 21,2) But the sweep of time in this part of the world can erase a place like Cana, and perhaps that carries a lesson for us. God’s work endures even if human works do not.