The Seventh Jar

Anyone who has done the chore of carrying milk gallons from the store to the car, and from the car into the house, knows they are not feather light. “Now there were six stone water jars (at Cana) for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding 20 to 30 gallons.” Perhaps the servants did not have to lug those stone jars around, but they had to move the water from the local well or cistern to where the party was held. Have you ever considered how much those 120 to 180 gallons of water weighed? One gallon of water weights a little more than eight pounds. So six stone jars holding 20 to 30 gallons each is a weight of water somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds.

Mary said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus told them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’
So they filled them to the brim.”

It wasn’t easy work. At the time it did not seem that important or glorious. But those servants obediently and generously served Christ at that marriage, filling the jars to the very brim, and what they did will be remembered and celebrated forever.

In various times and places, different numbers can carry symbolic meanings. For example, if I asked you for a lucky number, you would probably say “seven.” And if I asked you for an unlucky number, you would probably quote me “thirteen.” The Jewish culture of the Bible has its own symbolic associations with numbers. For instance, for Jews the number six meant imperfection. (This is partly why, in the Book of Revelation, the number of the Beast is “666,” because great evil is profoundly imperfect.) And for Jews the number seven meant completeness. (In the beginning, when God had finished Creation, he rested on the seventh day because his work was complete.)

“Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings.” These six jars of water which Jesus turns into wine point to how his New Covenant fulfills and improves upon the imperfect Old Covenant. The water for the purification rites was good, but the wine for the wedding is best. Along with those six stone jars, John’s Gospel goes on to notice one more jar:

“[On the Cross,] aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’ There was a jar filled with sour wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, ‘It is finished (fulfilled / complete / consummated)’ And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.”

All four gospels mention this sour wine Jesus received on the Cross, fulfilling the Psalm which said, “for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Vinegar is made from wine which grows old and sour. This jar of sour vinegar wine at the Cross is the seventh jar which completes the six jars from Cana. The public ministry of Our Lord began with the joy of a wedding. And public ministry led him to sacrificing himself for his spouse, the Church. Every marriage should have its share of joy and sacrifice.

Marriages are often said to go through a “honeymoon” period. When the relationship is fresh and new, life feels like water changed into wine and joy flows easily. But as the relationship continues and grows older, the wine sometimes turns into vinegar. And then people ask themselves, “Did I make a mistake? Did I marry the wrong person? Did I choose the wrong vocation?” And many people give up too hastily. But these challenging times are a call to purifying love.

When someone says, “I love coffee” or “I love pizza,” they’re really saying “I love how these foods make me feel. I love what they do for me.” But this is not how we are called to love God and one another. We are to love others for their own sake. And in this the Cross of Christ is unavoidable. If mere personal happiness were the meaning of life, then suffering would be meaningless. That’s not what we believe. The Cross grows us into Christ. God does not want us to be endlessly miserable, but if we think the journey of our lives will always be on mountain tops, and never in dark valleys, then we will not journey well through the highs and lows and plains of life.

What if I’m saying to myself, “I have no wine.” What should I do? As Jesus’ Mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” This means obedience to Jesus Christ. What if I think I lack the strength to do what Christ asks, or despair that things can really change? The Virgin Mary may not have known it at the time, but in saying “Do whatever he tells you” she was echoing this passage from Genesis:

“When the seven years of abundance enjoyed by the land of Egypt came to an end, the seven years of famine set in, just as Joseph had foretold. Although there was famine in all the other countries, food was available throughout the land of Egypt. When all the land of Egypt became hungry and the people cried to Pharaoh for food, Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians: ‘Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.’”

Joseph had been storing up surplus grain for seven years before and he proceeded to provide sufficient food for the entire Kingdom of Egypt and all the world who came to him and asked. When there is no wine where there ought to be (in your marriage, in your household, in your life) do your small part like the servants did at Cana, and invite, ask, and rely on Jesus to provide the rest.

The Christian life has highs and lows, but most of our days are lived in between, on the flat plains. Our lives matter greatly to God, so he has told us so and shown us so through Jesus Christ, but for the most part our lives feel ordinary. As our second reading from 1st Corinthians says, the Church of Christ has many members, with various gifts and roles for the Kingdom of God. Yet nobody feels they are particularly extraordinary because our lives are full of the ordinary.

Say you’re raising children, forming saints for Heaven, who produce piles of laundry and dirty dishes. So say you’re working outside of home, doing a regular job, which provides a service so beneficial and valuable that people pay you money to do it, money you then use to help others. Say you’re praying daily (as we’re called to do,) blessing others, near and far, the living and deceased, by your worship and intercessions before Almighty God, and repeatedly checking your watch. Even if you’re ordained priest, you can be celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass… fourteen times a week. So much of our lives filled with the ordinary that these ordinary things must matter much more than we might think.

Nothing is recorded in the gospels about most of the years of Jesus’ life. We hear about his early years and his later, few-year ministry, but not what happened in between. The span of time from the finding of twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple to the start of his public ministry at about thirty years of age is called his “hidden years.” Jesus may not have worked any miracles in those years, but in Heaven we will see how he lived and worked and loved then in ordinary and yet far from insignificant ways.

A full Christian life is not easy work. At times what we do may not feel that important or glorious. But if we serve Jesus Christ, obediently and generously, then what we do here will be remembered and celebrated, by us and by all, with joy forever.

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