Homily: Empty Vessels

January 16, 2022 – Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

I am not preaching this weekend, but if interested, here is the text of a homily I delivered back in 2016 on this same gospel reading:

While studying scripture during my deacon formation, three important things were emphasized. First, scripture is the divinely inspired word of God. The scribes and evangelists were inspired to write down the message that God wanted us to hear.

Second, the messages found in scripture are timeless. Despite the fact that the words were written 1500 to 2000 years ago, the message still resonates today. That message may be buried in stories that are foreign to us – the sacrificing of animals, wandering in the desert, or fighting against the Philistines – but it is there nonetheless, and pertinent to our lives.

Finally, scripture is personal. When I read a scripture passage, I might get one message. Someone else may read the same scripture passage and get a completely different message. That does not mean one of us is right and one of us is wrong. We simply received the message we needed to hear on that day.

How many times have you listened to the readings at Mass and said, “That is just what I needed to hear today.” That’s the Holy Spirit at work.

God speaks to us through scripture. That is why John begins his gospel by telling us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

There have been times when I have needed to prepare a homily for readings I have already preached about in the past. I spend time with the readings, and before I start writing, I read over my earlier homily.

I am surprised that the message I got back then, and the one I am getting now, are different. It makes sense, since I am different. We change over time – the pace of our lives, our hopes and dreams, our wants and needs. Our faith can ebb and flow.

Scripture is still rich and powerful, but its message evolves as I evolve. What God has to say to us evolves.

That is a long explanation, but the personal nature of scripture is fascinating to me, and important for all of us to keep in mind.

Today’s Gospel is a good example. When I preached about the wedding feast at Cana in the past, my sole focus was on Jesus. I spoke about this day being the “coming out party” for Jesus. It was the site of His first miracle and so, “revealed his glory.” It propelled His public ministry.

However, as I read and re-read the Gospel this time, two messages came through loud and clear, and neither was focused on the miracle itself or the public ministry of Jesus.

First, I found it interesting that John’s account began with the words, “There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.”

This alerts us to the fact that Mary would play a critical role in the story. Without Mary, there would have been no miracle that day. Without Mary, the ministry of Jesus would have been delayed. Her role was to prompt Jesus to begin His work, despite His objections, “My hour has not yet come.”

Even more powerful is the recognition that in pushing Jesus forward in His public ministry, she was at the same time letting Him go. Letting Him go despite knowing what that would mean for her son. She demonstrated incredible courage and selflessness.

Second, and this is what I will concentrate on this morning, John’s telling of the story of the wedding feast at Cana offers us a beautiful template for how we should approach prayer and our relationship with Christ.

John tells us that Jesus was invited to the wedding. The first step in building a relationship with Christ is a willingness to receive Him into our lives, into our hearts. While He is ever present and willing to come to us, He will not force Himself on us. We must invite Him in. This takes courage. It takes trust.

If we can establish that trust, or even if we can allow Him into our lives while staying guarded and doubtful, we open the door to His graces.

The Gospel then tells us that a problem arose – they were out of wine. What are you “out of”? Are you an empty vessel? What causes that feeling of emptiness, and where do you turn?

We must acknowledge our need and turn to Jesus. We saw that take place at Cana. We also saw the power of intercession. The bridegroom was out of wine, so Mary interceded with Jesus on his behalf.

Catholics are often questioned about our fascination with Mary. People want to know why we ask her to intercede for us. Today you have your answer: “Because at the wedding feast in Cana there was no wine. Mary talked to Jesus…and suddenly, there was wine. Problem solved. We pray to Mary because Mary gets results.”

So we bring our needs to Jesus, directly or perhaps asking for the intercession of Mary or the saints. We pray.

However, prayer is not a monologue. We must allow time to listen. We get that message from today’s Gospel. Mary directed the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We can’t do whatever Jesus tells us if we don’t take the time to listen.

Jesus will respond. He will respond to our needs. No longer empty, but filled to the brim. Filled not with water, but with wine. Filled not with the ordinary, but with the extraordinary.

John ends by telling us that in performing the miracle of turning water into wine, Jesus “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”

As Jesus answers our prayers, our faith deepens. Like the disciples, our reliance upon Him and trust in Him grow.

The cycle of prayer is shared in the story of the wedding feast at Cana:

  • We invite Jesus into our hearts
  • We share with Him our struggles and our needs
  • We ask Him for help
  • We listen and do as He guides our hearts to do
  • Jesus responds, and in so doing, our relationship with Him is strengthened

The wedding feast at Cana is not about running out of wine, and it is more than a simple re-telling of a miracle story.

It is a guide to prayer and to building a relationship with Jesus.

It is a reminder that the empty vessels would never have been filled if Jesus had not been invited to the party.

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