Art: Mattia Preti, 1655, Oil on Canvas
O God of salvation, the people in whom you delight hasten with joy to the wedding feast. Forsaken no more, we bear a new name; desolate no longer, we taste your new wine. Make us your faithful stewards ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some thoughts this week about our upcoming lesson from John's Gospel on the Wedding at Cana
As we move into ordinary time, also known as the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, we have in the Gospel of John Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana. We are going to see great things through the Gospel of John and we know that we will see and come to believe in even greater things after his resurrection. Remember, in John 1:50 - Jesus words to Nathanael: "You will see greater things than these."
We begin our passage today with these words: "On the third day..." (v1) Theologically Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is the image through whom all creation flows, and comes to be. Jesus is the incarnation of God and inaugurates in all the Gospels a new creation time. Here it is very possible that John is tying this theme to the creation story and its seven days. The "third day" is the third day after the first followers were called: Philip and Nathanael. So we have the evolving creation story renewing the world with the calling of new disciples and now a recreation miracle is about to take place.
The setting is of course a “wedding." (It was most likely a Wednesday if you are curious in that the Mishnah (Kethuboth 1) says that the wedding of a virgin is to occur on that day. R. Brown, The Gospel of John, 98). What is perhaps more interesting is that in the prophetic tradition of Jesus' own time, one of the images of the fulfillment of God's work, the coming of God's reign, and the recreation, was a Wedding feast. ( Isaiah 54:4; 62:4-5, Matthew 22:2-14; 25:1ff; Mark 2:19).
So it is that Jesus' first miracle is to take place at a wedding feast in Cana, just about 15 km outside of Nazareth, and Mom is in charge. It is possible that Mary's concern regarding the shortage of wine comes from the relationship with the families being married. Some might say that Mary is persistent, maybe to the point of frustration, because Jesus uses a word not customarily appropriate for a son to his mother. I believe this is a common misunderstanding and stems from the English translation. Interestingly, it is the same word he uses when addressing the Samaritan Woman and Mary Magdalene. Scholars remind us that this was actually a polite way for a man to address a woman at the time of Jesus and that it is attested to in other Greek literature of the day.
This very much changes the English reading of the text and allows us to see that it is not Mary's involvement in Jesus' ministry that is important but rather the revelation of Jesus' mission. His response in verse 4 is: “My hour has not yet come" or "Has my hour not yet come?” Both readings are ok, and help us to understand that the work of Jesus in and throughout John's Gospel is seen as the work of Glorifying God most of all. All that he does is to glorify God. This helps me to understand that both in the seemingly trivial things of life and in the great episodes the Christian, walking the way of Jesus, has the opportunity to glorify God.
Mary of course is assuming that Jesus will do something to meet the situation (v. 5). See also 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1. So she says, "do what he tells you."
There have been and will continue to be tons of paper expended on the ideas around the numbers given: six stone jars, and fifteen to twenty gallons. While the material they are made of (stone) may refer to Lev 11:29-38, the meaning of the numbers seems to miss the idea: a lot of water was turned into wine. Some scholars further want to de-mystify the event by changing the amount or offering the idea that only the water drawn out was
turned into wine. Again, this misses the point that Jesus turns a huge amount of water into wine quite miraculously.
This lesson was Friday, January 15, 2010's morning prayer New Testament reading, and a number of people in the office were struck by who the first witness of the miracle is and who proclaims the meaning of the miracle: the steward. The steward is the first to draw the wine from the containers, the first to taste the bounty of God, the first to see and experience the miracle.
In this God is glorified. The greater glory of resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit following the crucifixion is foretold and we see a theme that will serve as a road map through this gospel. Perhaps a foretaste even of the Eucharistic feast.
This story of Jesus' first miracle is dense and filled with theological themes and ideas about Jesus and his ministry. As I reflect on the passage I am reminded of the theological work of Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyprian. Each one of them sees in this miracle a tie between water and wine in this story and other symbols in the Johanine Gospel like water, light and food for God's providence in Jesus -- the gift of salvation.
Having said all of this the themes that ultimately stand out for me are:
1. The charge as followers of Jesus to glorify God in the least and greatest of occasions along life's journey.
2. To embrace the call of others, the invitation to minister on behalf of Christ.
3. The expectation of the miraculous.
4. To be witnesses, like the steward who tastes and sees, and proclaims the goodness and bounty and providence of God.
This week as our eyes move from immigration reform at the beginning of the week to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we are tempted to ask where is God in all of this? And what are we supposed to do?
We have an opportunity as Christians, and particularly as Episcopalians, to see both in the eyes and faces of the least our brothers and sisters the opportunity to glorify God through service in his name. We are being invited and asked to participate in the lives of Christ's little ones and we have the even greater responsibility, as Mary did, to invite others to join us in ministry doing the miraculous work of the Gospel.
Instead of asking "how can we possibly make a difference?" the Christian response is to expect the miraculous and to make a difference. Like the steward we must taste the bounty we are given and proclaim the providence of God by sharing with the hosts of God. Haiti does not look much like a wedding feast in Cana. However, we have the opportunity to take our feast and share it with those in need. "What can we do?" you ask. We can give money for food, clean water, and medical supplies. We can pray for those in need. We can wait for the call to rebuild and answer it with even greater funds and, more importantly our time. And, for those who can make a difference now, we can act. Let us not only see the miraculous work of Jesus in the wedding feast today but let us act out for the glory of God and out of our abundance to change the lives of our neighbor.
Last thoughts this week: I can't get this video and these words out of my head. This video was made as a response to the Pat Robertson remarks earlier this week on Haiti: http://bit.ly/8snJF1.