Sunday, January 17, 2010

Out of wine...

(A sermon preached on John 2:1-11 at All Saints' Episcopal Church 1/17/2010)

I have always wanted to preach on this Gospel text: the opening story of the second chapter of the Gospel of John. This is my first opportunity to do so. We only hear this story in its entirety every three years: but in reality, it gets a lot more play in church then we might realize.

This is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, page 423.

Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman.

(Yes, this is the wedding ceremony. I will resist the urge to comment on this in light of the law of 2010 New Hampshire. Continuing...)

The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation

(That’s debatable, but again, not my point today. Here it comes though...)

...and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

This is one of the best examples of the institutional church making a GIGANTIC and CONVIENT leap in using a Gospel text to suit its needs. But I’m afraid it’s just flat out wrong. There is just NO WAY that the Gospel writer’s point is a public endorsement of marriage, and the story has no other Biblical source but this account.

It is in fact likely that there is only one real reason that John tells this story. Jesus, for the first time in the Gospel of John, publicly demonstrates his power, and his disciples are completely convinced that they are not mistaken in their earlier stated belief, in Chapter 1, that Jesus is God’s son. This is John’s ultimate message: that Jesus is the Word Incarnate. The story concludes:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

That’s the real point of the story...not an endorsement of marriage.

There is, however, something that has always struck me as odd. It’s not to say that the Gospel writer intended to say something else in his telling of the story, but it’s there, nevertheless.

It’s the bit of dialogue between Jesus and his mother.

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)

Is it me, or is something missing here? Mary voices concern to Jesus, Jesus dismisses her concern, and then Mary tells the servants to listen to Jesus, who proceeds in solving the problem. This doesn’t seem to follow any logic whatsoever.

I have come up with three possibilities as to the missing part. To illustrate these options, I’d thought I’d reset the story a little differently.

There was a wedding in Cana. At the reception, Jesus was sitting at the “Adult kids” table with his friends. They were kicking it back and laughing amongst themselves. Peter had been bragging about bringing a date, but it turned out to be Phillip’s younger cousin, so they all were giving them both a hard time. Not too far into the evening, there was some whispering going on at some of the other tables. Mary, Jesus’ mom, came over to the table, next to Jesus.

“They have no wine,” she said in a concerned voice.

Jesus raised an eyebrow. “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

Now, as I said, there are three possibilities here. Jesus may have said this in a teasing, good natured voice, with a wink and nudge, pretending that his mom’s concern was drinking more wine herself, while conveying that he really understood and would help the situation. Mary would have given him a look of mock disgust, before telling the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.”

Option two. After Jesus remarked, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come,” Mary gave him the scalding look that only a mother can give her son. As the disciples reacted with uncomfortable silence, Jesus, thinking better of it, nodded consent to his mother, and she told the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”

Possibility three restores a bit of dialogue, and illustrates what’s really at stake. “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” The disciples are a bit taken aback by Jesus’ response to his mother. Mary, calmly, says “Jesus, may I speak to you privately for a moment.”

The two go off to the side hallway, and Jesus speaks first.

“Look mother, I have things planned out, and this is not my place to intercede. It’s not important in the grand scheme of things.”

“No Jesus, you look. Running out of wine at a wedding is a great dishonor, and you know that! This is Joe and Elizabeth’s biggest day of their life. Their families will be embarrassed, and this is what people will talk about when they remember the occasion. How dare you do nothing when you could do otherwise!”

Jesus was silent for a moment. “Of course I will help.”

Mary returned to the main room, and told the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”

In the grand scheme of things, running out of wine at a wedding means very little. In 1st century Jewish culture, it meant a great deal more, and for those personally involved, it meant everything.

My point is this: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come,” is the perfect excuse not to act. It is reasoning not to get involved because it’s not important in your eyes. It is the justification to ignore the plight of your neighbor as not your problem, and it is to ignore the hospitality need of the moment because it wasn’t the way you had things planned.

In this case, Jesus rejects his own words. He deviates from the way he planned things to do what is needed. Ironically, it became the norm for his ministry, not the exception. The second sign in the Gospel of John is less known, but also occurs in Cana. A royal official comes to Jesus, and begs him to come with him and heal his son. Jesus says to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official says to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus says to him, “Go; you son will live.” The official believes, and upon journeying home, finds his son well. (John 4:46-54)

Whether it was Nicodemus coming to him at night, the Samaritan woman at the well, or even his mother and friend standing together at his crucifixion, Jesus in the Gospel of John uses each encounter to demonstrate the glory of God, while at the same time, pastorally caring for people.

That’s really good news.


1 comment:

dstroud said...

This is one of the best sermons I think I've ever read. Well done.