Watch the words and see
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11 ESV)
In the Sundays after the Epiphany – which isn’t a season so much as an ‘aha’ moment – a point of clarity – a source of inspiration and at times, I’m sure, determination – the church points again and again to the revealed truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the manifestation of God living out his other Christmas name ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. So during this time of the year we hear of Wise Men coming to toddler Jesus; of a voice from heaven and a dove descending on Jesus at his baptism when he is declared to be God’s Son (not ‘made’ God’s Son). Because Lent comes early this year we only get a few more glimpses so to speak – Jesus rejected in his home town (but how did he escape the lynch mob?), Jesus healing and having power over the demonic who know exactly who Jesus is, and then finally three disciples get a blindingly bright glimpse at Jesus in the transfiguration. Like tolling a bell, the church wants people to see clearly who is this person God has sent.
And so we come to today’s Gospel account – the wedding at Cana – John’s account of Jesus’ first sign that points out who he is.
The account is well known from Sunday School onwards. Mary, Jesus, and his disciples attend a wedding. The wine runs out. Mary seems to try and get Jesus involved. He doesn’t seem to be jumping for joy and eager to help. Mary leaves it with him. Jesus’ instructions are that large water jars be filled to the brim – there’s no hint of diluting something found ‘out the back’. Then take a sample to the Master of Ceremonies who is suitably impressed at the quality – better than before – a bit unusual as everyone serves the best first and when people are a bit ‘sloshed’ then the ‘garden variety’ stuff. No one really knows what’s going on – we imagine the wedding celebrations continuing and most people not even knowing there was a ‘problem’. There’s no thanks – maybe the servants are scratching their heads – but the disciples spot this – observe – watch and learn – and they ‘believed in him’ (though we’re not sure exactly what). Is that the same wedding at Cana account you’ve heard? I think so.
I accept that miracles happen. Don’t usually see them. Like to see more. And I know the world either calls them coincidences or rejects them outright. But it had never occurred to me that the changingwater into wine account could be interpreted by the world, as it rejected the miracle, as irony! It goes like this.
Mary finds out about the lack of wine. Tells Jesus. Jesus in fact says, ‘Drink water’. The servants hear this and fill the jars and take some to the MC (Master of Ceremonies) who sarcastically says back at Jesus, ‘Wow – what great wine it is!’. Voila! There’s your miracle.
Now this interpretation is rubbish of course. It is a selective reading of part of the text and we’ve got to deal with all of the text and not cherry pick what suits our views. John records clearly that the water is turned to good quality wine. But I mention this interpretation to highlight that how we approach the Bible genuinely and seriously affects how and what we hear. If a person’s world is simply that of ‘miracles are not possible’ then this account has to be explained away. It can’t mean what it appears to mean.
On a secondary level is the relationship with the speaker. If you don’t like the speaker then you have a barrier already up to hearing the words and if you do like the speaker, then you mightn’t have enough critical faculties turned on when listening. When it comes to Scripture what is critical are the words – the text – the speakers come and go – but the words remain – more importantly, the Word remains – and the Holy Spirit is the One who uses the Word to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify hearers in the Faith – linked and in a relationship with Jesus.
This is what happened to the disciples. They saw something happening – out of the ordinary, divine, giving them associations related to God himself. That is what the Holy Spirit was doing – quietly behind the scenes – before he was publically sent at Pentecost.
So the disciples saw Jesus help. It was needed. Jewish wedding celebrations were much more elaborate than ours – in that they occupied many days while ours tend to be one big evening event. You need to cater for such an event. In fact the culture of the time of reciprocity – I give a big party and you enjoy and now it’s your turn but if I don’t enjoy – if you skimp or whatever – there could even be legal ramifications – on top of all the social embarrassment. So there is a crisis. Jesus steps in.
He didn’t volunteer but was volun-told. By his Mum. We’ve no way of knowing what she was expecting – miracle or what – but she expected something. Jesus isn’t a puppet however and while many have thought his reply harsh – in using the term ‘Woman’ – that would be unfair since Jesus, when on the cross, uses the same term to Mary when he cares for her by placing her in John’s care – and she doesn’t appear to be offended for she directs the servants to listen to Jesus and obey him (good advice of course!). What we have however is Jesus reminding her – and us – that he works to a different plan rather than ours – his hour had not yet come. It would when he is in the temple precincts just before he heads to the Upper Room and then the Garden and to his arrest and execution – this is when he helps us most – that was when God’s glory would be most clearly revealed.
It’s not now – and yet Jesus does help – quietly, unobtrusively – fixing the situation. And note how John describes this – as a sign – not a miracle, miraculous as it was – but a sign revealing God’s glory – his presence with his people – his blessings of his people – and wine and celebratory life are a good combination – and then note the disciples’ response – ‘his disciples believed in him’. This belief is a growing thing. John doesn’t say specifically what they believed – they’ll have their confusion and clarity moments – but I think the link they make is between Jesus and glory – specifically God’s glory.
They knew that the glory of God was evident in the tabernacle and the first temple – remembering it was being rebuilt at the time – really, extended – having been rebuilt after its destruction – and that God dwelt with his people where God’s glory was evident. Jesus then and throughout his ministry and even now forces people to make the same link – Jesus and God linked together. How? There are many ways possible. In history some would say ‘angel’. Wrong. Some would say ‘Being a son means he’s a created being – so not really God’. Wrong. Others might say Jesus is an aspect of God. Wrong. The only conclusion that makes sense of all the evidence – all the words – is that Jesus and God are so linked that to see Jesus is to see God. In fact he is the glory of God!
But he doesn’t glow! No – ta-dah! poof! presto, here’s a miracle! He works quietly – doesn’t appear glorious at all. Ordinary really. God doesn’t act as we expect. That’s always been his way. Jesus makes water out of wine unobtrusively. He sits on a throne made of a cross and wears a crown … of thorns to free you from the prison and tyranny of sin. And he still uses words from sinners – all preachers are that! – Law and Gospel – and water and bread and wine – to give us life – and this is the truth – it is a good and celebratory life.
Like the disciples, the world needs to look at this Jesus – and when they see him for who he is – let the words speak – and not what they think he should be – then they, too, will see God’s glory … and, we pray, believe. We, as his disciples, commit ourselves to growing in this faith – seeing God’s glory in the face of Jesus – and then going from here to live with faith and joy – to God’s glory.
- John 2:1 - 11