Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

Second Sunday after the Epiphany January 20, 2013

A few years ago, my former husband’s niece was married on the island of Kaui in Hawaii. I did not expect to be invited as I was an ex-in-law. But not only was I invited, I was paid for. My plane ticket, my lodging in a lovely house, food, events associated with the wedding, even a helicopter ride over parts of the island were all paid for by my ex-husband’s family. They wanted me to be there very much, and they made it possible. It was an extravagant gift, one I appreciated as a blessing from God.

Jesus’ first sign at the wedding in Cana was an extravagant gift to the people assembled there. In John, Jesus’ signs point to something beyond him. They are designed to reveal the character of God to the people, so they might believe that Jesus is the Word of God. Divine abundance in the miracle is the main revelation of the sign, but there are other things we can learn about God from looking at various parts of the story.

The setting is at a wedding, a joyous and celebratory occasion. Weddings were seven days long, and everyone had a good time. Because Jesus was present at a wedding, we can tell that God celebrates people (Robert M. Brearly). God is in favor of people laughing and talking and having a good time. God is in favor of us taking pleasure and delight in the world God made for us. God is in favor of joy in our faith, rather than faith carried out as a rigid duty. In all of his ministry, Jesus celebrated people too. He was called a glutton and a drunkard by the religious authorities because he had too much fun. He ate dinner with anybody and everybody, from Pharisees who didn’t bother to offer him the simple hospitality of washing his feet to tax collectors who came hurrying down from trees to welcome him to their homes. Jesus healed people, and he fed people. He taught the crowds and his disciples that the coming kingdom of God was about love and mercy and justice. He came to save people from their sins and to bring them in joy to new life with God.

From Jesus, we learn that God is present in situations of human need. Weddings are a place where things have a habit of going wrong. At my wedding, it was a bridesmaid’s dress. We had a seamstress working on several of the dresses, and she didn’t finish Lily’s dress in time. So Lily sat with my dad. The seamstress got the dress together enough for Lily to make the pictures and she didn’t seem too upset about this issue, but it was embarrassing for us. In the first century, it was a terrible social faux pas to run out of wine at a wedding, where the bridegroom was expected to provide food and drink for all the people of the town. In Jewish tradition, wine was about joy. The rabbis said where there is no wine, there is no joy. It was also an eschatological symbol of the coming Day of the Lord when the faithful would have security and prosperity (Gareth Lloyd Jones).

Of course this problem was not a matter of life and death, but God is present in those situations too. Jesus’ healed people who were dying and raised people from the dead. He was present where people were being marginalized and oppressed. He said he came for those who were sick, not for those who had no need of a physician.

Then there is that strange exchange between Jesus and his mother. Mary notices they are out of wine and mentions it to Jesus. There is the implication that he can and should do something about it. But Jesus says to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come”. His addressing her this way seems harsh, but Gail O’Day says that Jesus frequently addresses women this way. He also creates distance between them by playing down familial relationship to indicate that he is not going to do what she wants just because she is his mother. Then she tells the servants to do whatever he tells them and he turns the water into wine anyway. Jesus’ talking about his hour tells us that he is not at anyone’s beck and call, except God’s; he will do what he is supposed to do on God’s time. But there is the loose end that Mary seems to know it is Jesus’ hour before he does. Does prodding God help when we find human need (Carol Lakey Hess)? Does prayer really change God’s mind or did Mary – and the bridegroom – just get lucky this time? We do not know the answer to that. Asking God for what I want when I want it has sometimes worked for me, but I believe it has been sheer coincidence that I asked at just the right time. God’s favor is always a surprise, whether asked for or not, though we can be sure God favors us because God has told us so many times how much God loves us. We have to leave Mary’s expectations and Jesus’ succeeding actions to the category of loose ends – and God leaves loose ends that don’t tie up handily sometimes.

The six stone jars give us another clue about who God is. The water to be found in the jars is used for washing dirty feet and cleaning hands around meals. These jars are empty, and Jesus has the servants fill them with water to produce the wine. New wine created in old jars means God is doing new things in the midst of old forms. God is not negating Judaism, but filling the jars with a “wondrous new gift” and “creating something new in the midst of Judaism” (O’Day). God creates new things in the midst of old ones and gives new life to things that were once healthy but are in need of help in the present age.

Then we have the miracle. There is description about actions taken before the miracle and those after, but we have no description of the miracle itself. We just know that divine grace has been at work providing wine for the guests. And not just any wine, but an abundance of good wine – 700 bottles worth – (Gareth Lloyd Jones) the best the wedding guests have been offered. It is enough to last the rest of the feast. This divine abundance is the main theme of the story. God makes God’s presence known by giving the very best to us. But we also learn that the grace God gives is sometimes mysterious. We see the result, but we do not know how or why it has been given to us. We do not know God’s plan or God’s timing.

God reveals Godself to us in Jesus in this miracle of divine abundance. How do we respond to grace? The steward thought the wine came from the groom doing an unusual thing – saving the good wine for last. He resorted to a practical explanation. The servants knew what had happened, but they did not know what to think, and his disciples believed in him. What do we do with God’s abundance when we receive it? Do we come up with a practical explanation, do we take what is offered without thinking about it, or do we believe that Jesus is God’s Son, the Word made flesh, sent to save the world from sin and death? If we believe, we should celebrate and praise and take delight in what God has given us. We should spread the word that we have been given a gift from God that we are grateful for and help others believe in Jesus.

There is another question that we must ask ourselves in this world – what happens when divine abundance does not come – where people are poor and hungry, incurable disease is present, violence is rampant and meaningful relationships are often hard to come by. What do we do with God’s seeming reluctance to help in the way we want (Carol Lakey Hess)? It is a hard question, and there are no easy answers. Do we batter heaven with our anger? Do we turn away from God? Do we remember things run by God’s timing and not our own? Do we look for God’s presence in the midst of tragedy? All of these answers are valid, and we have probably done them all from time to time.

But whether life seems good or bad, Jesus shows us that God is a God of overflowing grace and abundance. We may experience “quieter miracles” than this one, but we all experience the grace of God in our lives. The fine wine of grace is meant to be shared. So reach out and drink that fine overflowing wine that brings you joy, and offer the overflow to another. Your life will be enriched by your gift.

AMEN

  - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works cited
Robert M. Brearly, Feasting on the Word, Pastoral Perspective, Year C, Volume 1, p. 262
Gareth Lloyd Jones, Tuesday Morning, p. 14
Gail O’Day, New Interpreter’s Bible, John, p. 536
Gareth Lloyd Jones, ibid.
Carol Lakey Hess, Feasting on the Word, Theological Perspective, Year C, Volume 1, p. 264
O’Day, ibid., p.538
Hess, ibid., p.260