November 1, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I will be filling in the gaps in the gospel of John beginning today with the good news in 2:1-12, the well known story of the wedding in Cana.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. After this, he and his mother, [his] brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there only a few days.
Barclay says something that strikes home for me, “the very richness of the Fourth Gospel presents those who would study it and him who would expound it with a problem. Always there are two things. There is the simple surface story that anyone can understand and re-tell; but there is also a wealth of deeper meaning for him who has the eagerness to search and the eye to see and the mind to understand.”
This was the beginning. According to Borg in Jesus, “It is the opening scene, the inaugural story, of Jesus’ public activity in the gospel of John. Inaugural stories are important in the gospels. In each, the opening scene of Jesus’ public activity discloses what the story of Jesus, the gospel, is most centrally about…. [T]he story of Jesus is about a wedding. And more: it is a wedding at which the wine never runs out.”
Let’s look at the characters in the story. Jesus obviously is the central figure, but he didn’t think he was ready yet. Though he had been in close communion with God for some time, though he purposefully began his public ministry by calling some men into discipleship with him, though he realized his role in God’s mission as the Son of Man, in his mind he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to be the instrument of God’s power and grace. He wasn’t ready yet to perform signs or miraculous deeds. That explains his rebuke to his mother whom John never refers to as Mary in his gospel and whom doesn’t appear again in his gospel until she stands at the foot of the cross. Do any of us ever really believe that we are ready to be God’s instruments? We often have to be pushed and that’s what Mary did.
Though Jesus reproved her, Mary instinctively knew that he was indeed ready and she was determined to propel him forward on his Father’s mission as the Messiah, the anointed one of God. She is the first to know with certainty his identity; even John the Baptist had some question. Francis Moloney in The Gospel of John writes, “She is the first person in the narrative to show, at the level of the action of the story, that the correct response to the presence of Jesus is trust in his word….She trusts unconditionally, indeed even in the face of apparent rejection and rebuke in the efficacy of the word of Jesus.” I like that phrase,” the correct response to the presence of Jesus.” When I make myself aware that Jesus is present to me always, I am most likely to have the correct response to his teachings and to trust him with my everything. Moloney’s notion of unconditional trust really got my attention. I’m accustomed to think of unconditional love — not that I’m very obedient in that regard. But I haven’t thought about unconditionally trusting Jesus. It seems to me that is something I am more capable of doing and that it’s the only way to overcome my fears. Mary didn’t know what Jesus could do to solve the problem; she didn’t direct him. All she had to do was trust him implicitly. That makes it sound simple, but I know that it’s not for me. I want to be in control, to direct, to tell Jesus what I want done or what I think is the best solution. Instead I need to trust him unconditionally to do the right thing whether that’s what I have in mind or not. It’s an indication that I am still growing in my intimacy with Jesus. As Barclay notes, “it is still true that those who know Jesus intimately instinctively turn to him when things go wrong — and they never find him wanting.” I need to keep that in mind at all times.
The servants are interesting, too, in this story. They simply accept his command and trust that he knows what he’s doing. They do Jesus’ bidding without questions or doubts, without cynicism or snide comment. They participate in what’s happening. They know that water was transformed into wine as if this was unremarkable. But then the point of the story is not the performance of a miracle. When I am a servant simply obeying Jesus’ command, I also am a full participant in the miraculous cognizant at the same time that it is mundane for one who unconditionally trusts and serves the Lord.
By contrast the headwaiter or steward doesn’t know what is going on. He wasn’t even observant enough to know that the wine was running low. He doesn’t know where this additional source of wine that is so good may have come from and apparently isn’t curious to find out. He turns to the wrong person, the bridegroom, as the source. To him there was no miracle; there was no transformation. He represents all those who fail to see God at work in our lives and continually turn to the wrong sources for meeting our needs.
This is the beginning for the disciples — Andrew, Simon, and Philip — who saw all this transpire and began to believe in him. As the gospels tell us, the disciples were at the beginning point of believing again and again. Jesus was patient with them, calming their fears, teaching them the way to the kingdom. So, it is for me. I am at the beginning over and over again. I need to remind myself everyday of this wedding in Cana, the wedding at which the wine never runs out. God’s abundant love and compassion are limitless. I like the way Barclay puts it, “What John did mean to say is that when the grace of Jesus comes to men there is enough and to spare for all….No need on earth can exhaust the grace of Christ; there is a glorious superabundance in it.”
There is enough and to spare of God’s grace and blessings for me and for us all.