FROM A READING FOR JAN. 17, SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch...' -- Isaiah 62:1

Every three years, we return to the early Christian practice of having a three-feast celebration of Jesus' Epiphany: the coming of the magi, Jesus' baptism and the wedding feast of Cana.

In each, Jesus is revealed to those around Him as being someone exceptional: a person who has qualities beyond those which normal human beings possess. There's a "coming out" -- an epiphany -- of Jesus.

Only in this year's "C cycle" is the Gospel of the Second Sunday of the Year from John 2: the Cana narrative (John 2:1-11). Jesus is certainly revealed here as being exceptional; yet, according to experts on John's Gospel, the evangelist originally had more in mind than just pointing out that aspect of Jesus of Nazareth.

One of John's well-known themes is that Christianity is superior to Judaism. No doubt the evangelist would have loved the song from the 1940s musical "Annie Get Your Gun," "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better." In explaining this particular passage, the late Johannine scholar C. H. Dodd frequently reminded his students, "John's Jesus replaces the water of Judaism with the wine of Christianity."

Superior people
Because Dodd understood that, once Jewish purification jugs were desecrated with wine, they could no longer be employed for religious purification rituals, this was a case of the inferior being successfully replaced by the superior.

Ironically, as we hear in Sunday's Third-Isaiah passage (Isaiah 62:1-5), Jews also believed they were superior to other people.

"You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of Yahweh," the prophet announces, "a royal diadem held by your God." Can't get much more superior than that.

Yet, both John and Paul would say, "Yes, you can! Your faith in Jesus raises you above any other faith, even Judaism." For Paul, that especially means receiving the Spirit's unique gifts. Though different, each is a manifestation of that Spirit in our daily lives.

The realization that followers of the risen Jesus share in His Spirit was one of the pivotal insights of the early Christian community. Just as the historical Jesus was gifted by the Spirit, now His disciples are gifted by that same Spirit.

Gifts of Spirit
Thinking only of the seven gifts of the Spirit we had to memorize for confirmation, many of us have never reflected on Paul's nine spiritual gifts listed in I Corinthians. (Six of the traditional seven "confirmation gifts" are found in Isaiah 11; they're the gifts an ideal Jewish king is expected to possess.)

I suspect we've traditionally replaced Paul's gifts with Isaiah's for the same reason the Apostle referred to them in our second reading (I Corinthians 12:4-11): They can create as many tensions in the Christian community today as they did for Paul's original readers.

In this particular case, some Corinthian Christians mistakenly believed all authentic followers of Jesus should be gifted with tongues, while others had had it with Corinthian tongue-talkers interrupting community gatherings with "holy gibberish."

Tension or no tension, Paul not only names the nine gifts, he also mentions that the Spirit has given them to specific individuals "for some benefit." He expects us to work through the tensions for the common good.

Following John's theology, if we're superior to Judaism, we should expect to have more tensions in our faith life than Judaism. It's no accident that, when Luke described the Spirit's Pentecost arrival in Acts, he hooked it up with wind, fire and noise -- all stressful symbols.