The Servants Knew

The Servants Knew

Second Sunday of the Year. Fr Euan Marley guides us to see how our lives can become part of Christ’s transforming work.

Some people have a lot of magic in their lives. Tables are magically set, heating just works, clothes are cleaned and ironed, and the most of the things they need just appear. At Christmas the magic works overtime. All sorts of delightful things spring up as if from nowhere. Where does it all come from? How did these delights get here? There is an easy answer to this and it is in the Gospel of today. “The servants knew where the wine came from.” So isn’t there any magic then? Is it just the product of hard work by the people throughout the ages who have to serve.

That isn’t quite what the Gospel today says. The full quote is, “The servants who had drawn the water knew.” There is magic in this story but there is also hard work and hard service. It inverts the normal order of things. Normally it is those who are receiving service to whom it all seems very miraculous. In this story it is those who serve, those who usually understand the process, because they are part of the process. who see that something wonderful has happened. It wasn’t easy to do as it took a lot of work to draw up so much water from a well, which is what the the servants are being asked to do. It wasn’t clear why they were doing this. Why things are done, was not for servants to know, only how things were done, but this time the servants would be the ones who didn’t know how. The steward, the master magician of the feast, would be puzzled by the order the wine came in but not where it came from. The guests would just be happy to receive more wine. The servants alone would know that this wine had seemed to come from nowhere. Not entirely from nowhere, since it had been water and one thing the Christ never does is to cause things to pop into existence. He came to redeem and transform creation and so his miracles are always a restoration or a transformation of something which already existed. In fact to simply create new things would be to cast doubt on the fundamental goodness of God’s creation.

The miracles is called the first of the signs, but commentators have puzzled over how a sign which no-one noticed could be a sign. How did it reveal the glory of Jesus? I think we need to ask who the sign was for? The passage ends by saying that the disciples believed in him, so we could say that the sign was for them. We could say that the sign was for the servants who knew where the wine came from. This is true but it is also true that the servants were part of the sign. The whole miracle of Cana was not that water changed into wine but that servants should be instruments of the changing by Jesus of water into wine. There are many miracles recorded in the Gospels which Jesus carries out on his own but this miracle, like the miracles of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, is a miracle which requires the co-operation of others.

It helps us to understand why the Eucharist is not, as some would have it, a magical rite. The magician seeks to control reality, to be its master. The Eucharist is an act of service. If the Eucharist were magic, the presiding priest would be in control of the elements. Instead, like the servants at Cana, the priest is himself one of the elements of the miracle, along with the bread and wine, placing himself under the power of God. There used to be a rite of ordination, where the ends of the stole were wrapped over one another by the Bishop, who would say, “Receive the yoke of the Lord, for His yoke is sweet and His burden is light.” The Greek word for servant gives us the modern word, ‘deacon’, and no-one becomes a priest who has not first been a deacon. This miracle was the first sign because it teaches us the first lesson. If you want to see miracles, you must serve.


Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5|Corinthians 12:4-11|John 2:1-11

fr. Euan Marley O.P. lives and works at Blackfriars, Cambridge.