A Far Side cartoon shows a group of cattle grazing in a field. Most of them have their heads down, munching away. However, one cow has her head lifted up, eyes wide open in a startled expression. Her mouth is full, with blades of grass sticking out of both sides. Horrified, she announces to the others, “We’re eating grass!”*
About eight hundred years ago, a young man startled his contemporaries by making a similar announcement. He had been seeking all the things most young (and not so young) men desire: money in the pocket, being part of a winning team, admiration of young women and sway over others. An unexpected setback and a strange dream made the youth realize that, while the things he sought were good in themselves, that in comparison with true worth, they were like eating grass. In a dramatic gesture he gave up his wealth, his inheritance and his family. But he gained what Jesus promises: peace, purpose, a hundred brothers and sisters – and life. It happened in a small Italian town called Assisi. They young man’s name was Francis.
St. Francis spoke not only to people of the thirteenth century; he speaks to us today. The reason is because he discovered the key to the Gospel. We see it in the account of Jesus’ first public miracle. It is not a healing - as wonderful as that would be - but rather a miracle in which many can participate. He transforms water into wine. The Gospel emphasizes the quality and abundance. A hundred and fifty gallons is an enormous amount, even for a Mediterranean crowd at a wedding reception! By this first miracle, Jesus is telling us, “Do not be afraid. Stop going after the things which will never satisfy. I have all you require – and more.”
Pope John Paul gave us a beautiful gift when he inaugurated the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary. The second mystery is what we hear about in today’s Gospel – the Wedding Feast at Cana where Jesus changed water into wine. This was the point when “his disciples began to believe in him.” Like them we need to put aside inferior things and open ourselves to what he wishes to give us.
*For this illustration, credit goes to Mark Shea. I was lamenting to him that a local theology program, instead of teaching the Bible and the Living Tradition, was giving the students nineteenth century German philosophy. Mark described the cartoon and then expressed the hope that soon the students would stand up and say, “We’re eating grass!” Mark wrote a parody on this approach to Scripture which, instead of explaining it, explains it away.
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