Sunday, January 17. 2016
Text: John 2:1-11
We heard John proclaim in the very beginning of his gospel that “the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). But what would it mean, what would it look like, feel like, taste like, to experience grace and truth in the flesh – in our flesh? In the first of his “signs,” John’s Jesus begins to address this question.
Jesus is three days into his ministry, just barely begun. Like a new head coach, he has been busy putting together his team of assistants. Andrew comes with his brother Simon Peter. Philip recruits his friend, Nathanael, whom Jesus has envisioned sitting under a fig tree. Nathanael is amazed at Jesus’ perception. Jesus assures him that, if he comes along, he will see yet “greater things.”
It doesn’t take long before these words come true. The whole entourage – Jesus, his disciples, even his mother – have been invited to a wedding in Nathanael’s home town. Now remember, a wedding in this time and territory was more than a rehearsal one day followed by the ceremony and reception the next. Weddings went on for a week and involved the entire village plus assorted friends and relatives from other places. For a couple to run out of wine before the week was over was not just a social faux-pas. It was shameful, casting a shadow over the families’ good names and jeopardizing the success of the marriage.
We can speculate about Mary as mother and matron. Perhaps she was a force with which to be reckoned. Tradition has certainly portrayed her as a figure of power and influence, on earth as well as in heaven. Practically, the text says she sees that the wine is disappearing much too rapidly. “Son, they are running out of wine.” “Well, what is that to us? What do you want me to do about it?”
These words seem harsh, disrespectful to our ears. That’s no way to talk to your mother. Maybe he’s trying to assert his independence. Maybe she is interfering with the delicate timing of his ministry, a timing determined in a realm beyond her understanding and above her pay grade. Maybe this is the beginning of his assertion that only those who serve God and God’s beloved community are to be counted among his true family. We will likely never know the full meaning of this response, so strange in our hearing.
The way the story plays out makes me thing of the son who says “no” to his father’s request for help, only to be found later doing what his father asked. Perhaps Mary is meant to be instrumental in moving her son to action. She is meant to help implement heaven’s plan. Remember it was not long ago that we read again the powerful words of the Magnificat and sang of “Dreaming Mary”:
And did she dream about a son? And did he speak, the angel one?
We only know God’s will was done in the son of Dreaming Mary.
Then she prayed, rejoicing in her savior. She taught him justice for the poor. She taught that kings oppressed no more
when she taught, that Dreaming Mary.
Anyway, Mary tells the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.” Not much time passes before they are serving the guests from a seemingly endless supply of fine wine, 120 to 180 gallons of the very best. The steward, the bride and groom, the guests, are all amazed and, of course, grateful. The party continues on to its joyous conclusion. Only the servants, Jesus and his entourage know what has really happened. I imagine they were all amazed in their own way.
Water into wine. Jesus’ first miracle, though John prefers to call it a sign. What a wonder! But it’s not as much the actual transformation of the water that’s important as it is the significance of the transforming word. In the beginning, the Word brings about creation. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:3-4). Jesus speaks the word and the water is transformed to fine wine.
The transforming word is truth. There is another way. People live in fear that there is not enough to go around. Faith shrivels and religious practice becomes rote ritual, binding humankind instead of liberating. Compassion is little practiced. People focus on caring for me and mine. Difference is deemed dangerous and is met with suspicion, anger and hatred. People take up arms to protect their self-interest and destroy outsiders and the earth in the process.
The truth is that God never intended us to live like this and has been trying to convince us that this is so since blowing the breath of life into us and calling us very good. The truth is that the large jars filled with water for ritual cleansing could just as easily be filled with fine wine with which to celebrate the gifts of God’s goodness and the abundance of life in the Beloved Community.
Deborah Guy writes, “Sometimes, I am so focused on what I do not have that I cannot see God’s gifts. God offers me a feast. Do I eat the bounty offered? Do I drink from the river of pure joy? Where is the life and light in my own life? Do I know God and God’s faithful love? Is my heart right? Do I allow God to extend righteousness to me? (January 13, 2016, d365.org). The transforming word of truth sets us free from all that binds us so that we can live and work with the Word to fulfill God’s intention that all creation be wrapped up in a Beloved Community, blessed and sustained by God’s steadfast love.
The transforming word is grace. It is the amazing grace of God’s steadfast love for us, whatever our limitations and foibles. The word is grace that invites us to party, to celebrate the wonder and goodness of creation, to recognize that love is the real power in the universe, the only power that matters in the end. To love God with one’s whole being and to love creation as we love ourselves can only result in transformation of all. It is grace that allows love to lead the way, to shape our lives, to help us see that we are welcomed “just as we are.”
The transforming word is Jesus, the Christ. The Word became flesh. God took on human form. Jesus embodied the cosmic Christ, powerful presence from before the beginning of time, and lived among us. Jesus is the miracle, Jesus becomes the sign that leads us to God’s Beloved Community. In his life and work, in his teaching and his practice, in his compassion and his deep connection to the Holy One, he demonstrates the possibilities of transformation for all of us.
Lately I have been taken with the transforming possibilities contained in the words of liturgist and poet, Maren Tirabassi. Let’s give her the last word today as we consider her “Reflection on John 2”:
REFLECTION ON JOHN 2
Maren C. Tirabassi
Of course, marriage is a miracle,
like every tender, trusting, tricky
relationship between people.
It’s a miracle, given the stress
from wedding planner to dementia,
that we ever hold on
to love or respect
or the ability to cope
with each other’s relatives.
The truth in John’s pragmatic descent
from philosophical heights
to pre-toast nightmare
is that in every relationship,
we run out of something –
patience or courage or energy,
health or money or parenting skills,
or the ability to appreciate humor,
or the willingness to make breakfast in bed,
watch boring television,
drive aunt Susan to the tenth doctor,
accompany the kid to traffic court –
or just joy.
Everybody runs out of something, sometime.
And then we recognize
Word-boy is in the miracle business.
Jesus can transform things –
water into wine,
wine into poured-out love,
our days of fear, loss, failure, anxiety,
into a morning more healthy, more whole.
So the first miracle
is not walking on water
but making it a party,
and here comes the pun –
it works because we party-cipate.
That couple owned the clay jars;
those attendants poured;
the steward did the taste-test,
which was probably not so much
swirl and sniff
as supermarket sample.
No hocus-pocus-vintage in the smokus –
Jesus transformed something
that was already there –
something that hadn’t run out –
like love or respect or caring,
memories of counting new baby toes,
or holding one another’s hands
side by side at a grave –
into enough, into abundance.
Of course, they did run out of water
for getting clean –
and had to settle for welcoming
all those dirty guests,
but that’s where we come in –
for we’re the wedding crashers here.
(Maren C. Tirabassi, 1-13-2016, giftswithopenhands.wordpress.com).
May the transforming word come to our lives and our community, bringing joy and making all things new. Amen.