9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
More Wine, That’s the Ticket
Weddings are accidents waiting to happen.
Ask any minister. We have all had a moment, after several meetings with a couple for pre-marriage counseling in which both the bride and the groom presented themselves as normal, sane, and deeply thoughtful people, when, suddenly, we begin to doubt our initial judgment. It is the moment when an extremely creative bride and/or groom begin to describe the service they have in mind.
“And then, after I have handed my bouquet to the maid of honor, the groomsmen will untether the hot air balloon and the three of us will ascend to the heavens as we repeat our vows to one another. . .”
“The three of us.”
A wise minister, the late David Steele, once wrote this axiom: “The key to ministry: knowing what not to do, and not doing it.”
I will tell you, as someone who has been behind the scenes at many many weddings, there are plenty of things that can and do go wrong, even if the congregation never notices; and, in my experience, when things begin to go wrong, whether it’s a rogue photographer or a bride or groom with cold feet, the most helpful thing is usually not an abundance of wine.
But, it seems that an abundance of wine was exactly what was needed to avert the impending disaster at the wedding at Cana. It is so puzzling for us stick-in-the-mud preachers who want everybody sober at a wedding; the dour Calvinist in me might say, if the wine ran out, “God works in mysterious ways. Perhaps this is God’s way of saying everyone has had enough.”
But, let’s be careful not to impose our own culture’s way of doing a wedding onto this text. In the first century Palestine, a wedding was not a brief religious service followed by a reception. In that time and place, there was no line of distinction between religious service and the party. It was seven days of celebration that culminated in the arrival of the groom who would then take his bride off for the consummation of the marriage.
So, “on the third day,” as John says, whether he inserts that phrase just to alert us to be on the look-out for signs of resurrection, or whether he means it only literally, that it was the third day of the seven-day wedding celebration, it was way too early to run out of wine.
The week-long wedding was not quite half-way through the week.
So, running out of wine was a social disaster for the hosts.
But, is a social disaster really the time that the Gospel of John wants us to see as the ideal time for Jesus to reveal his power? Healing someone in need, or quieting a storm that threatened the lives of the disciples, casting out demons and preaching a sermon so wonderful that the congregation wants to kill him. Now, those are signs that tell us who Jesus is.
But water into wine? Really?
Yes, John says. Really.
It appears that the we, the dour Calvinist preachers of our tradition, may have gotten some things wrong.
Hanging on the wall of my seventh-grade history teacher’s classroom was a sign: “There is a proper time and a proper place for every proper thing.” Mr. R– enforced this saying as if it had been given to him on a stone tablet from a mountain top. And while he did not have the long beard and hair of Moses in the Ten Commandments, he did seem impossibly old. We knew he had been widowed; and, we knew, his oldest daughter was in her first year teaching seventh-grade English down the hall. In retrospect, I can calculate that he must have been about fifty.
While there is a lot of wisdom in that modern proverb, I cannot help but wonder, after reading this passage, if we might take it too far; if we might have let this modern proverb override the Gospel.
In our scientific age, we have a tendency to separate God from the rest of life.
I’m not talking about some ridiculous notion that God could actually be kept out of any place–a school, a family, or a nation. Rather, I’m talking about our tendency to think about God purely in religious terms. The idea that if there is not a time of prayer led by a teacher or administrator of a school that somehow God has been removed points to this tendency to reduce God to something small, something or someone who is subject to our beckoning; someone who will come when we call, but not when we don’t.
The God in human flesh who attended the wedding at Cana came not to organize everyone into small groups for intercessory prayer for the couple; he came instead to renew the supply of wine; he came to bring joy; he came to bring a sign of abundance in the midst of scarcity.
Here’s the part I can really relate to: not everyone recognized the source. According to John, only the servants knew.
Only the servants knew. That gives us some guidance if we want to witness the work of God in the world around us, we can hear this: taking the role of a servant will give us a front-row seat.
While swinging a hammer for a Habitat house; making a casserole for someone in need of a bit of cheer; or working retail and treating every customer and co-worker like a child of God or reaching out in kindness to someone in your office or circle of friends; it’s always the servants whose eyes are opened to the grace of God unfolding around us.
Now, here’s the hardest part of this passage, I think: When Mary pointed out to Jesus, “They have run out of wine,” Jesus replied, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
John portrays Jesus as being reluctant. The term “Woman” is not as disrespectful in Aramaic as it sounds in English; in fact, it probably was the proper term for a son to address his mother. What strikes me here is how Jesus, God in human flesh, seems to tell Mary he doesn’t really care that much. The hosts miscalculated. It’s their fault, let them live with the consequences.
I know what my father would have said. “Yes, it’s hard; but I’m not going to rescue you from your own mistakes. Trust me, you will grow spiritually from your experience.”
If it is true that the key to ministry is knowing what not to do and not doing it, this might seem the ideal time not to do something.
What does it say to us that Jesus seemed to say No; and then, when his mother acted as if he had said Yes, he proceeded to provide all that was needed and more?
It matches our experience, doesn’t it?
When we pray or wish for our world to change, for those we love to find their way, for our brothers and sisters in natural disaster to have their needs met, for wars to end and the ill to find healing, it seems sometimes that God has shrugged us off. Those we love suffer from want; hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes strike the most vulnerable; one war ends and another begins; some are healed and some die far too young.
This story invites us not to accept No as an answer; not to resign ourselves to suffering as God’s will for some; but, to live as people who know our God is a God of abundance. If the hour has not yet come, then the mother of Jesus brings it on anyway. “Do whatever he tells you,” she tells the servants.
And, in following the way of Jesus, they see the amazing sign of God breaking into the world in a way that none of the guests could recognize.
My seventh-grade teacher, Mr. R–, the one who hung the sign on his classroom wall, “There is a proper time and a proper place for every proper thing,” ran a tight ship. I don’t think anyone ever spoke in Mr. R–’s room without first raising his or her hand. At least not more than once.
One day in late May of 1972, however, the last week of school, a clown walked into our classroom. I don’t mean the class clown. I mean a guy with a painted face, a red nose, and great big funny shoes. He carried a huge bunch of balloons in one hand and a basket full of goodies in his other–cheeses, muffins, jam, and candy.
“Congratulations, Mr. R–,” the clown said, handed him the balloons and candy, and then honked the horn that hung from his belt.
Mr. R–’s eyes grew wide, and he reached into the basket and opened the card. He laughed. It kind of scared us; none of us had ever heard him laugh. And then, he wiped away a tear. It took him a moment to compose himself before he folded the card, placed it back in the envelope, and resumed his lecture on the causes of U.S. participation in World War I.
Our expressions must have told him that we could not possibly pay attention without having our curiosity satisfied. So, he told us.
“It is from my children,” he said. “I am to be married next week at the end of the school year.”
Sometimes, nothing can hold back the joy God has in store for us in Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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