Monday, March 23, 2009

The Second Sign

Often when I read the Bible, I note something that obviously has some significance beyond what is apparent to me. I might do some initial exploration, checking sources close at hand, but if I don't find the answer that I'm looking for, I make note of the text and ponder it.

Such is the case with the gospel for today's mass, John 4:43-54. The reading concerns the return of Jesus to Galilee and the healing of an official's son. The parts that had me scratching my head and thumbing around through the rest of John's gospel were in verses 46 ("he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine") and 54 ("this was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee").

John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, thought that it was important to tie this sign, performed in Cana, to the changing of the water into wine, also at Cana. John 2:11 notes on that occasion, "This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him." Now Jesus performs his second sign, also in Cana. What happened in between the first and second signs?

According to John, Jesus went down to Jerusalem for the Passover and drove the money changers from the Temple. "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" the Jews asked (John 2:18). Is it significant that this is asked between the first and second signs? But then in John 23 we learn "when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did." So much for the idea that turning the water to wine and healing the official's son are first and second in a chronological sense, for it is apparent that there were other signs in between.

After his discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus goes out to Judea and spends some time baptizing (not Jesus himself, but his disciples) with John the Baptist. Once the Pharisees learn of it, Jesus heads back to Galilee by way of Samaria, where he encounters the woman at the well. And that brings us to taday's gospel and the second sign.

The Ignatius Study Bible for the Gospel of John notes, "The Fourth Gospel draws attention to seven signs: (1) the miracle at Cana (2:1-11), (2) the healing of the official's son (4:46-54), (3) the healing of the paralytic (5:1-9), (4) the multiplication of the loaves (6:1-14), (5) the restoration of the blind man (9:1-41), (6) the raising of Lazarus (11:17-44), and, most important of all, (7) the Resurrection of Jesus, which is the second sign mentioned in the Gospel (2:18-22) but the final and climactic sign to be accomplished (10:1-10)." The seven-fold signs in John's Gospel increase in importance and significance while recalling the seven days of creation and the new Covenant instituted through Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Only the first and second are identified by number in the text, though. And the first two are specifically linked together by the text. Why? The closest explanation I can find near at hand is from St. Augustine, who explains that of all that saw the sign of the wine in Cana, only his disciples came to believe. Now, back in Cana, the official comes to him, but does not believe. Thus Jesus says to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." The official does not believe until he is met by his servants on the way home. Thus, the connection between the first two signs and Cana.

Now why are only these two numbered?

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