My great grandfather came from Ireland in 1832. He was a widower with 8 children. He bought property in a place called Barnesville New Brunswick and in 1835 he built a home there. A first cousin of mine still lives in the home.
As kids, a big treat was that on a Sunday afternoon we would drive 25 miles – and it always took an hour in our 1936 Chevy – out to Barnesville to the farm. Even now, when I go home I always go to Barnesville for a visit.
One of the things I remember from the home was the rain barrel. As you know it was there to catch the rain water off the roof. Rain barrel water was used for washing. The water for drinking came from a well that was a fair distance from the house – it was used sparingly.
The water that Jesus changed into wine was wash-water, something like rain barrel water, the water used to ritually cleanse your self when you entered a house. At the door of every Jewish house there were a series of water-jugs, usually six of them, which were kept filled with water. Upon entering a house, you were obliged to first stop and wash your hands and feet, both because they were usually covered with dust and because you were obliged, ritually, to do this. By washing in this way, you made yourself “clean” so that you could join the household and sit at table with them.
We have just entered into what is called ordinary time in the life of the church. We are finished with the many celebrations associated with Christmas, we’ve packed our Christmas decorations, its time to relax and get back to the ordinary living or our ordinary lives. There are times when ordinary living can be dull, dreary, burdensome in our own lives or in the lives of people we know and we may be challenged or offered an opportunity to make a difference in the dullness, the weightiness of someone’s life.
In the first reading Isaiah will not keep silent, he is compelled to speak words of encouragement, words of hope to the citizens of Jerusalem who are trying to rebuild their destroyed city. Isaiah promises these dejected people things will be better. The city and the people of Israel had been called by dishonoring names by former prophets, but now their names are to be changed. They will no longer be called Forsaken, they will be called God’s delight, God will rejoice over them.
Read at face value we can read the gospel as the occasion when Jesus rescued this newly married young couple from embarrassment and mortification by changing ordinary water, not the best water into best wine so that the celebration of their love could go on.
I think the real lesson of today’s scripture is the transforming power of care and concern that we can show to others. Isaiah took the time, made the effort to speak words of encouragement and hope to a burdened people “I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.” Jesus took the time to care for this young couple, took the time to have the jars filled with water, took the time to speak words of blessing, and took the time to offer them choice wine.
Years ago we had a celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation. One of the students was running around taking pictures of her classmates and friends. Her high point was having her picture taken with Bishop D’Angles. Near the end of the evening she discovered there was no film in the camera. She was devastated. By that time Bishop D’Angeles had taken off his vestments and was packing to go home. I went to him and explained the situation and asked if he would come back and have his picture taken with this student. He started to put the vestments back on and I said, “you don’t have to do that just come as you are.” He insisted he wear the vestments for the picture because that’s what he wore for the first picture, that’s how he was in his photos with her classmates. I told him that that was very thoughtful and he simply replied, “Paul it such a little thing.” For that embarrassed girl it was a great thing, a kindness she would always remember. The transforming power of care and concern.
Think of the number of times you’ve made someone’s day, you’ve lifted someone’s spirit, you’ve eased someone’s burdens because you took the time to call, to write, to visit, because you took the time to ask “how are things, how are you doing, is there anything I can do?” With these simple words and gestures you changed the ordinary water of someone’s life into choice, life giving wine – if only for a day.
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist, living in our ordinary time, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be sensitive to all those times when through a random act of kindness we can make a different in someone’s life.
As an old song sings’ always and ever, now and forever, little things mean a lot.