Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Joy at the Wedding -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 2C

Pieter Bruegel, The Wedding Dance - DIA

John 2:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
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                The Gospel of John begins rather oddly. John writes his prologue, which offers a powerful theological introduction to Jesus’ ministry. He is the word of God incarnate.  With that statement, the rest of chapter one of John takes from John’s ministry of baptism to John pointing to Jesus, calling him the Lamb of God. Over the next two days Jesus starts putting together a coterie of disciples. Then on the third day—presumably three days after John declares Jesus to be the Lamb of God—Jesus and his disciples have been invited to a wedding in Cana (2:1-2).  Things are moving quite rapidly, but why a wedding?


                This reading from the Gospel of John is set for the second Sunday after Epiphany. In keeping with the purpose of the season of Epiphany, including the story of Jesus’ baptism the previous week (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22), this story allows for something of Jesus’ deeper identity to be revealed to us. There are elements in this reading that speak to deeper realities. Consider the reference to the third day. Is this simply a chronological statement or a reference to the Resurrection? Then there’s the wedding. Is it pointing to something beyond the mundane, perhaps the messianic banquet? What about this wine and the jars that are used to make the wine? Then there’s the identity of the bridegroom. Is Jesus the bridegroom?  None of these questions can be completely answered, but they are intriguing ones nonetheless. It is good to remember that John has deeper interests than simply telling a story.

                So, here we are at Cana, a town a few miles north of Nazareth. John returns to Cana a few chapters later, at which time Jesus will perform his second sign or miracle (John 4:46-54). In the second sign Jesus will heal the son of a royal official, but the first sign comes at a wedding to which Jesus and his disciples have been invited. Not only is Jesus and his entourage invited, but so his mother (whom John never names).  One of the burning questions raised here concerns why it is that they have been invited to the wedding. Could this be a family affair?  After all, Jesus’ mother seems quite concerned that the host is running low on wine, and wine is needed to keep the party going. Jesus’ mother isn’t only concerned about the wine shortage; she has a solution to the problem. She believes that her son can do something about it, though he doesn’t seem inclined to intervene. Jesus even tells her that this is none of their business. Let the hosts worry about it. But she’s not interested in letting this go. He even tells her, revealingly: “my time is not yet come.” Jesus might be hesitant to intervene, and therefore, reveal something of his identity, his mother doesn’t agree. There’s a problem. Her son can resolve it. She’s going to get him involved.

Once his mother gets going, he’s committed. He can’t say no. So, after she tells the servants to do Jesus tells them to do, he takes the six water jars used for the rites of purification, each containing twenty to thirty gallons of water, and has them filled to the brim with water.  Then he tells them to draw out some of the liquid and take it to the chief steward, who must be a bit frantic as well about the dwindling wine supply! The steward tastes and discovers that the water has become wine. Not only is it wine, but this is fine wine!  The steward can’t believe what he’s tasting. After all, it was common practice to bring out the best stuff at the beginning of the feast and then save the cheaper stuff for later—after you’ve had enough to drink that your taste buds can’t tell the difference between the good stuff and the lesser quality wines. The steward is amazed that this is really good wine. In fact, it’s better than what they’d served at the beginning of the feast.  It appears that Jesus knows how to make good wine!

With that, the first sign has been accomplished. The disciples see his glory and believe in him. No one else is mentioned here. Neither the bridegroom nor the steward seem to know how this wine came to be. They were just glad to have something new and special to serve.

The story of Jesus’ visit to the wedding at Cana is intriguing. It speaks to God’s abundance and extravagance. Making wine for a wedding is an odd way of revealing the glory of God, and yet it shows us something important about Jesus and his vision for humanity. If we take the wedding itself as having symbolic value, then it is an eschatological symbol. The wedding banquet figures prominently in Revelation 19, where the Lamb is joined to the bride (church). Blessed are those invited to the wedding supper (Rev. 19:7-10). The new wine that is created for this particular wedding is a reminder that God offers the best. God is extravagant with blessings.

It is well known that people of faith can be a rather dour lot. The Puritans were understood to be a people who were quick to ban any form of celebration. Many of our church services have a funerary feel to them. Reverence is one thing, but joylessness is another. Jesus is rarely pictured smiling (though the one smiling picture that has made the rounds is kind of creepy). And yet, Jesus is criticized for being a wine-bibber and a glutton (Luke 7:34). So, here he is at a party. He might have been reluctant to get involved, but when he did, he did it right! So, maybe we have something to learn here. Jesus blesses a wedding with his presence and with his gift. He brings joy to the gathering.

If Jesus makes wine (something many good Protestants likely have trouble with, especially those with temperance backgrounds), then he seems ready to engage in a bit of joyousness. Shouldn’t that be true for us as well? The vision that Jesus lays out here is truly an eschatological one, but it is also one that points us to the goal that God has for us – and that is that we as God’s creation should flourish. Jesus draws us beyond the mundane to the transcendent. Miroslav Volf puts it this way, speaking of world religions, which he says “stand or fall on their ability to connect people to the transcendent realm and thereby make it possible for them to truly flourish, to find genuine fulfillment both in their successes and failures, and to lead lives marked by contentment and solidarity” [Volf, Flourishing, (Netgalley proof).

There is joy to be found in life, no matter our context. That doesn’t mean we become complacent or ignore injustice. It simply means that there is power present that can create within us all the joy that God desires to impart to us. If we find this joy, we can share it. After all, Jesus was willing to share joy with others. Thus, as people of faith, filled with the joy that is God’s presence we can bring joy to the land. As the prophet Amos declared: 
The time is surely coming, says the Lord,                  when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,                 and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine,     and all the hills shall flow with it.  (Amos 9:13). 

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