If you study the Old Testament, and particularly if you read the commentaries written centuries ago on the Old Testament, you are repeatedly reminded that the writings of Moses and the Prophets not only set the stage for the coming of our Lord as Messias, but in many ways the events of the Old Testament prefigured the events of the New. The technical term is to say that the older events were "types" for the newer events. In some cases these "types" are easy to see: it doesn't take too much imagination to see the sacrifice of the Passover lamb as a "type" of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, in the sacrifice of the Cross; it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see the flood in the time of Noe, washing away the sinful, as prefiguring the Sacrament of Baptism, washing away sins. Of course, sometimes the commentators get carried away with finding "types" and their comparisons seem to be little more than wishful thinking.
In today's Gospel we celebrate the final event of the Epiphany. "Epiphany," you will recall, means "manifestation." On the feast itself, we commemorated the manifestation to the three Kings. Then, on Sunday, there was the manifestation of Jesus as a young man, discussing the Law of Moses with the rabbis in the Temple. Then we celebrated the manifestation of our Lord as He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Today we celebrate His manifestation as He enters into public life and performs His first miracle.
Sometimes people are a little bit surprised to hear that His first miracle was the turning of water into wine. Perhaps, it seems a little too trivial for many folks. The Jewish zealots would have been much happier if it had been some sort of miracle against the Romans; the common poor people would probably have preferred to see something more along the lines of the multiplication of loaves and fishes that would come later; certainly the many sick people would have preferred a mass healing. But instead, our Lord made water into wine, appearing to many as doing nothing more than helping to continue a party that should have ended when the guests succeeded in drinking everything in sight.
But the mind of God is more subtle than the mind of man. Our Lord was doing far more with this first miracle. He was making a "type" of Himself, an illustration of what the higher purposes of His ministry would be like. By taking the humble element of water and transforming its qualities into the higher qualities of wine, He was giving us, for all time, an insight into what it means to be associated with Jesus Christ. He was illustrating that the Christian life is a life of continuous transformation from the lowliness of fallen mankind, to the state of grace, and ultimately to some sort of association with divinity itself.
We have a very beautiful prayer in the Mass, said as the priest adds a few drops of water to the chalice filled with wine:
Where else but in the Mass do we see the scope of this transformation so clearly. In every Mass our Lord takes bread and wine into His hands, and changes them not just into other material elements, but changes their very substance into the substance of His humanity and even His divinity. And, if that were not miracle enough, He then takes that divine substance and offers it to those about the altar, so that they can be transformed by His grace; so that they can be temples of God both physically and spiritually; so that they can be moved yet a step closer to "partaking of His divinity."
This transformation is most obvious in the Mass, but it is also clearly seen in the action of the Sacraments -- each in its own specific way transforming sinful man into something closer to His divinity. Even the sacramentals play a role in our transformation: holy water, the scapular, the rosary, and all of the others, as using them brings the remission of venial sins and directs our minds and our prayers to their specific objects -- objects which are always closer to God than we were before we began to make use of them.
But let us not forget that in all of these cases, while our Lord performs the miracle of transformation prefigured at Cana, it remains for us to avail ourselves of it. An old adage goes that "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Our Lord freely works this miracle of transformation; this miracle, so to speak, of changing water into wine -- but He doesn't make us drink. That remains our role and responsibility. We are fortunate enough to have the graces of daily Mass available to us, and the other Sacraments and sacramentals as we need them; we can always take a few minutes to pray in any of the number of beautiful forms proposed to us by the Church or of our own devising. All of these things are provided to us in abundance, just as our Lord filled six big stone pots with gallons and gallons of fine wine at Cana -- but it is up to us to drink.
In this, and in the miracle of Cana, we can also see a "type" of Mary -- a reminder of the constant intercession with her divine Son, asking (almost demanding) the things that her friends have not even thought to ask for. The bridal couple didn't ask for wine -- Mary saw their need and acted upon it. And so it is with everything else in the spiritual life -- very often we don't even know what we need. We are far better off to be on good terms with Mary, and let her take our needs to her Son as she most wisely sees fit.
Finally, don't forget that there is here an issue of "hospitality." Our Lord is inviting us, so to speak, to His wedding feast. And this is particularly true of Holy Mass. He is here all of the time in the tabernacle, and extends a daily invitation to partake of the Bread of Life, to drink figuratively of the water turned into wine, so that our humanity may be transformed by His divinity. Jesus and Mary invite you to their feast, an invitation which we should all take up as often as possible.