January 20, 2013
When the New Year arrived this year, there were many couples in the state of Maryland that had an additional reason to celebrate. January 1 marked the day that Maryland’s law legalizing Gay marriage went into effect. James Scales and his partner William Tasker married as soon as Baltimore City Hall opened at 12:30AM. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “New Year’s Day will have a new meaning for the hundreds — if not thousands — of couples who will finally have the right to marry the person they love” (Washington Blade, “Maryland Same-Sex Marriage Law Takes Effect“)
The law, of course, was not greeted with enthusiasm by everyone. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore wrote to Governor Martin O’Malley (who supports the law and is also a Catholic): “As advocates for the truths we are compelled to uphold, we speak with equal intensity and urgency in opposition to your promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of our society” (USA Today, “Many Weddings as Gay Marriage Becomes Legal in Maryland“).
The Archbishop certainly has reason to be concerned about the institution of marriage as we now know it – but not because Gay people are entering into it. Forty percent of all children are currently born out of wedlock and half of all marriages now end in divorce. Straight people do not seem to want to bother entering marriage – even to raise children – and don’t appear to want to stay in it either. The institution as we know it – one man and one woman on top of a frilly, multi-tiered wedding cake – appears to be crumbling from within.
In this week’s Gospel reading, we see a wedding that is likewise about to collapse. Jesus, His mother and His disciples are attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee – but Jesus’ mother informs Him that the wine has run out. For wine to run out in the middle of a wedding was not just an inconvenience or annoyance (they couldn’t exactly make a quick run to the local liquor store at that time). Weddings were signs of honor for the bride and groom’s families. A fine wedding with a generous feast (which could last up to seven days!) was the sign of a good, reputable family, with a patriarch who could be counted on. A cheap wedding, on the other hand, would be the source of gossip and shame for years afterward. Wine was the fuel for the wedding feast. No wine, no feast.
After some prompting by His mother, Jesus instructs the servants to fill up the stone jars used for ritual purification, and tells them to “draw some out, and take it to the chief steward” (vv.8). This instruction would likely have been met with some raised eyebrows on the part of the servants. Serving the purification water to the architriklinos – or governor of the feast – would be akin to offering tap-water from the bathroom to the head of the table for a toast. At best, it would be the source of much joke-telling at the expense of the bride’s and groom’s families for years to come. At worst, it would be seen as a fairly grave insult if the architriklinos were to find out. The purification water was not where you went to go to find a replacement for wine at the feast.
But – in the process of being offered to the chief steward – the water turns to wine. Jesus does not utter any prayers over it or lay hands over it. It just turns. And the wine (all 180 gallons of it!) is so good that the architriklinos comments “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now” (vv.10).
Marriage as we know it has run out of wine. The feast is in crisis. But the heart of the marriage feast is not about who is getting married (so long as the participants are consenting adults). The bride and groom are not even mentioned in the Gospel story! The heart of the marriage is in the fuel for the feast – the wine, the source of joy. Yes, we are currently redefining marriage. As one Internet wag has said “The fact that you can’t sell your daughter for two goats and a cow anymore means that we have already redefined marriage”. We are going to a different source to fuel the feast – one that we never thought of before.
For many years, Gay people have been the invisible supports propping up straight weddings. We have planned the events, done the bride’s hair, baked the cakes and (yes) even officiated the ceremonies. Up until now, going to Gay people as the visible centerpiece of the institution of marriage would have been unthinkable. We were the water jars in the back room that were there to clean up everyone else’s mess.
But it was in the offering of the water to the chief steward that it turned to wine – the best wine there is! In New York state, where marriage equality has been the law for a year, marriage license fees, local celebrations and wedding-related purchases have boosted New York City’s economy by $259 million. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg commented “Marriage equality has made our City more open, inclusive and free — and it has also helped to create jobs and support our economy” (CNN Money, “Gay Marriage Boosts NYC’s Economy …“). The new wine is flowing, and boy is it fabulous! Let us now join the feast and celebrate with joy!