Is 62: 1-5; Ps 36: 5-10; 1 Cor 12: 1-11; JOHN 2: 1-11
Almighty God, grant that your people may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. AMEN.
As Epiphany continues, we arrive at the third of the familiar season’s narratives. First there’s the arrival of the Magi, second the baptism of Jesus, and then today’s account of the wedding at Cana. Again, someone, some group, sees, understands that Jesus is G*d’s incarnated word by some visible event. Even in this Luke year, Year C, this portion comes from John’s Gospel—and John’s Gospel almost always layers in theological underpinnings to its narrative.
The occasion was a joyful wedding. Jesus, his mother and his disciples had all been invited to the celebration. Typically these events lasted for a week, with many friends and family members partying together. Weddings were such significant occasions, they also appear in metaphor in various places in scripture. In Isaiah, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Weddings and wedding imagery are used to show G*d’s delight in Zion, Jerusalem, in Israel. G*d’s shows love also when “your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings. They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.”
When we hear from John about Jesus and his group going to a wedding, we are primed to pay attention, to look for more than a bride, a groom, and a marriage ceremony, more than a local custom, more than a view of a cultural occasion from the Palestinian past. We are ready for something because weddings appear so frequently as notable. We plunge into this passage, “there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee…” We listen carefully, and being in John’s Gospel, we’re paying particular attention, but we’ve already skipped a clue to the scope of this scripture portion. We remember that the Gospels were not journalism accounts of the news of the week, but were crafted for the purpose of showing G*d’s glory. This reading actually begins “On the third day,” not with the wedding. We recognize the preview of other three days, of Lazarus, and of Jesus himself, and understand that the scope is about Easter, and encompasses the whole story of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. True, three is a common number, but “On the third day,” is a clear link to, if not prediction of, Easter, especially combined with the joy and profligate generosity of converting water to wine, not just a cup, or gallon, but six huge stone jars worth, probably about 120-150 gallons of wine. In a desert country, having that much water on hand is already special hospitality, but changing that much water into delicious wine is beyond “abundance of G*d’s house; it’s from the river of delights.” This narrative shows G*d’s flamboyant generosity to ordinary people living regular lives, and to ones needing help to go from mere subsistence to joy beyond measure.
People who write about this sign of Jesus’s power and self-revelation often get distracted by his abrupt response to his mother, here translated as “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” We don’t have a good word with which to address adult women, especially one’s mother. People then didn’t address their mothers as Mother, Mom, Ma or other familiar terms in public. Sometimes this word of address would be heard as Lady instead of Woman, but neither really sounds civil or ordinary to our ears, and Madam is too distant and as though separated by class, if not age. Were we southern, Ma’am would do— polite, a little formal, a little familiar, but it just sounds southern to us. It was a common mode of address for them, and we really have no equivalent that just seems like an ordinary way an adult would address his/her mother in public to be polite, familiar, and acceptable to her and those hearing them. Our translation is awkward and blunt—but this was the word they used to convey something usual.
His mother did however know something about his personhood. While he didn’t think it was yet his time, she saw a need and believed he could address it promptly and effectively to save the host’s embarrassment and make the party a success, making it festive again for those celebrating. What did he think he’d do for his first sign, something more dramatic, or large scale, or public? How did he know he’d have a particular time, and how did he think he’d recognize it? Given there’d been a dove at his baptism, and he’d heard a voice from the heavens then, what did he expect would notify him of his time? It’s not a surprise though, that the person who’d known that there was something unique about him before his birth was the one to alert him to action. She acted, not from her understanding about him, but on seeing a need to ordinary people at a specific moment, and knowing, simply knowing, he could make it all right.
Did the disciples not understand Jesus’s capabilities, his power, or his care for people in need? It would seem that his mother understood who he was in a deeper way than anyone else around him, until he demonstrated it, when he acted at this wedding. He made manifest both to his own personal group and to his familiar community that he could save a situation, satisfying people to bring them joy. That this sign involved only wine and not bread and wine, suggests that the wine represented perhaps not beverage, but rather covenant, new wine for a new family, a new community. “This is the new covenant in my blood poured out for many…”
All this is familiar for us, both this first sign and the metaphors implicit in every detail of this narrative. It does seem somewhat distant. How does Jesus’s sign to insert new life into a community effect us? Jesus traveled with his companions to celebrate with friends. They needed him, and he filled their spirits with new hope and cohesion. A few of the disciples didn’t make a plan around or outside the group. There was no discouraging complaining, or side arguing, when things went amiss at the wedding. Some people probably didn’t even notice that all was not well. The mother of Jesus familiar with “pondering things in her heart,” was used to watching and assessing what was around them and what needed doing. She noticed what was wrong, and went to Jesus. Those with him and those who’d invited him, trusted him. He hadn’t acted in public yet, and still she knew that he could act for his community, for people in need. The wedding group enjoyed itself and continued throughout Jesus’s actions as itself, in its own way. That group continued maintaining its identity to the moment, doing what it was there to do, and Jesus enlightened it, saved it for its continuity. They’d provided what they could, and he gave enough additional to enable it to survive happily as itself.
Jesus brings life to communities to help people work together for each other, with each other. His presence brings life and hope, and fills people with spirit to do better and be better for their communities, their own aspirations, and their own souls. He didn’t tell them to take heart; he filled their need so that they kept their spirits and their own identity. Much church emphasis is put on what people and communities do wrong, by sins of commission or omission, while sometimes people are just going along doing what’s doing, and then something isn’t working any more. Maybe they can acknowledge what’s missing, or maybe not. Jesus can notice, or have such broken systems called to his attention. Maybe someone says, “Help,” either by noticing what they themselves need or what someone else is missing, or needs. Jesus can renew heart and life to fill a gap, strengthen resolve, heart, or spirit. He acts with and for people without blame or shame, but rather with love and energy to build up communities, to further G*d’s reign. We’ve been accustomed to limiting what we think of as the role Jesus takes, always being connected with dysfunction from one sort of sin or another. Here he participates in a lively functioning community to help it bring new life to its members without fuss or much notice. He’s there fixing what is needed to fulfill the action going on and to step into his mission of bringing life to those who see and believe in him. We’re not a wedding, but we are here for a banquet, and he gathers us, breathes and lives in our midst, and promises to feed us both with a foretaste of heavenly life and with that eternal life for ever. As individuals and in our circles of communities, he fills us with what’s missing so that we can continue together bringing new life to those with us and around us. He acted for those at the wedding at Cana, and he’s here now, ever watching for what’s broken to provide it for this community in action, in fellowship, and in joy. Always. Good News.
© Katharine C. Black 2 C Epiphany 20 Jan 2013