100+ Gallons of Wine

God doesn’t just provide for our basic needs. God blesses us. Abundantly.

The story of the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus’ first miracle in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, has been interpreted many different ways. Most of the interpretations I’ve seen focus on Mary’s action (“Do whatever he tells you”) or the fact that the wine produced by the miracle is superior to that served earlier (“You have kept the good wine until now”).

Rarely have I seen interpretations focus on the six elements of this story fascinate me: the stone water jars.

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. (John 2:6)

The literal translation of this phrase is “holding two or three measures.” According to the volume measurement system of the time, a “measure” would equate to about ten gallons today, which is where the translation of “twenty to thirty gallons” comes from.

Multiply that by six, and you have 120 to 180 gallons of wine. By any measure, that’s a lot of wine, but particularly for a small-town wedding where the guests have already been drinking.

So why not turn one jar of water into wine? Or, on the off chance that one might not have been enough, two or three? Why does Jesus turn so much water into wine, particularly good wine?

To me, it’s just an example of God’s generosity. Other examples are sprinkled throughout the gospels, including the multiplication of the loaves and fish (recounted by all four evangelists) and Peter’s miraculous catch of fish (before and after the Resurrection).

Fast forward to the present, and we can see God’s generosity all around us. First, the basics: the planet we live on, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat have, our very lives all been given to us by a loving God.

But God doesn’t just stop with the bare minimum to ensure our survival.

God provides for us extravagantly, even ridiculously.

Beyond physical blessings, God showers abundant mercy on us. We are all sinners. We’re typically more deserving of punishment than mercy, but God offers forgiveness that we have not earned. God does this through an act that is all but incomprehensible: sending His son to die for our sins.

How do we react to this abundant generosity? First of all, do we even notice? Take a few minutes right now to reflect on the blessings that have been given to you, especially God’s mercy. Build a few minutes of gratitude into daily prayer time.

Then, aware of God’s abundant generosity and our own gratitude, let’s consider our response.

Do we give God – and our neighbor – our leftovers, our surplus, our scraps? Or do we emulate God’s generosity in giving our time, talent, and treasure? Do we freely forgive those who trespass against us, or do we do so grudgingly? Worse yet, do we act like the ungrateful servant, demanding justice for a perceived petty slight while ignoring our own huge sins that have been forgiven by God’s abundant mercy? Rather, we are called to be, like God, extravagant in our mercy, forgiving not just seven, but seventy-seven times.

As we practice fasting, almsgiving, and forgiveness this Lent, let our prayer be to imitate the ridiculous generosity of our God.

The Hostage Who Wouldn’t Be Silenced

The story of St. Raymond Nonnatus is ripped from the headlines

When I recently ran across a one-page biography of one of my patron saints, Raymond Nonnatus, I discovered quite a bit more than I bargained for.

I was born on St. Raymond’s feast day, which was also the date of his death. In writing about this later, my father said that St. Raymond was known for his work with the slaves. For many years, I equated his work with that of St. Martin des Porres, who ministered to African slaves as they were brought to the New World. While there may be some similarities, St. Raymond lived centuries earlier, and his work is more accurately described as ministering to Christian hostages of Muslim invaders. Sounds like a saint for our times.St. Raymond

Raymond was born around 1200 in Spain, a time the Iberian peninsula was occupied by Muslims. His mother died in childbirth, and he was birthed by what we would call Caesarian section (like Macduff, Macbeth’s nemesis in Shakespeare’s tragedy, he was “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb). As a result, Raymond was given the surname Nonnatus, or “not born.”

Raymond felt a call to religious life from a young age and eventually joined the Order of Mercy. The special charism of these Mercedarians was to ransom Christian hostages held by the Muslims.

Wow. I had never heard of this religious order or even knew that such a need existed Europe and Africa. Perhaps it’s time to revisit Mercedarians’ charism for our day.

They were driven primarily by Christ’s call to “proclaim liberty to captives.” A secondary, and arguably more urgent, reason was the condition of the hostages: they often faced the stark choice of forced conversion to Islam or death. The Mercedarians felt that this circumstance put the hostages’ souls at risk, so ransoming as many as possible was a priority.

Apparently, Raymond was skilled at securing the release of hostages as well as converting some of their captors. He was sent on three campaigns to ransom captives in Spain and North Africa. When his funds ran out, Raymond offered himself as a ransom for the hostages, in the spirit of his order and the example of Jesus.

Raymond’s exhortations to his fellow Christians while he was in confinement so moved his captors that several converted to Christianity. This enraged the Muslim authorities, who took an extreme approach to silencing Raymond: they pierced his lips and sealed them shut with a padlock. Talk about extreme piercing!

Eventually ransomed by his fellow Mercedarians, Raymond was later named a cardinal.

So what are we to make of a saint who lived 800 years ago but whose exploits are as current as this week’s headlines?

First, keep praying, keep discerning God’s will for your life, keep proclaiming the love of Christ, regardless of the circumstances. As St. Paul says, “Proclaim the word, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Second, acknowledge the presence of evil in the world, but respond to it on heavenly terms, not on human ones. Evil is not conquered by denial or anger or hatred. The best way to fight evil is with love and goodness. St. Raymond’s captors saw the holiness in him and found it difficult to resist.

Finally, reflect on the captives in your life. Pray for those around the world imprisoned unjustly or held hostage. Closer to home, do your demands and expectations hold captive your family members and close friends? Do you see a captive when you look in the mirror, held prisoner by guilt and doubt? Jesus Christ was the ultimate ransom, and he calls us to ransom captives, just as St. Raymond did.

Do we project the kind of holiness that St. Raymond did, the type of goodness that sets free the people we encounter rather than burdening them? If not, maybe that’s something to work on this Lent.