January 20, 2019
Second Sunday after Epiphany, Baptism Sunday, Human Relations Day Sunday
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Q: What did the green grape say to the purple grape? A: Breathe! Breathe!
Q: "What's purple and huge and swims in the ocean?" A: "Moby Grape."
Q: What did the grape say when he got stepped on? A: Nothing. But he let out a little whine.
This morning we get to spend a little time with one of my favorite scripture passages, mainly because I’ve been able to remember that it’s Jesus’ first miracle. There are some folks that can memorize chapter and verse when it comes to the Bible. I’m not one of them. I used to feel guilty about that, but then I figure that I have the spiritual gift of finding bad jokes, and I feel a little better.
Still, when I speak to our piano tuner’s wife, I can sense an opportunity for regret to revisit that guilt. Our piano tuner is blind, so his wife drives him to his jobs over here, and she’s just as sweet as can be. And she’s memorized more than one book of the New Testament - one being the book of John, if I remember correctly. The whole thing! But then I remember that bad joke finding thing, and then I’m good again - she said with tongue-in-cheek.
Back to the passage for today, there are certain pieces of information that make the reading richer. In Jesus’ day, weddings lasted for days, and based on our modern day practice, we perhaps figure that the bride’s family was responsible for most all the cost.
Regardless of the event or non-event, the inability to provide what a guest needed was a failure in hospitality that would bring shame on host and family. That principle was so strong, that the Bible gives examples of the principle overriding normative and simple etiquette and respect - much to the shame of human behavior.
The Bible doesn’t say it, but in Jesus’ day, it was custom for guests to bring wedding gifts in the form of food and drink to share the burden of providing for such a large group. If a family didn’t have enough wine for a wedding, it might indicate that the family wasn’t very popular or didn’t have much community support in addition to their own lack of resources.
A lot of weddings from that time were held on a Wednesday. I didn’t find any reasoning for that specific day, but during that week of celebration, rather than going on a honeymoon, the couple kept an open house, dressing in crowns and bridal robes. As commentarian William Barclay said, "In a life where there was much poverty and constant hard work, this week of festivity and joy was one of the supreme occasions.”
Wine in Jesus’ day was not what wine is in our day. Not only was it a sign of joy, but it was essential part of life, simply because water was often poor. Biblical age wine was also diluted, generally two parts wine to three parts water. And drunkenness was a great disgrace, so wine was as much a part of that culture as coffee is in ours.
It was also customary to address one’s elders with respect, most especially one’s family. Back in my seminary days, when we went over this passage, a deal was made about Jesus addressing his mother. He calls her “Woman,” rather than mother, mom or even her first name. It was thought to be a derogatory address, leading to all sorts of speculations about what Jesus - or the writer of John’s gospel - really meant. Since that time, Biblical scholars have backed off that indictment, and today it seems to be regarded as a simple address, perhaps even one with a hint of a smile behind Jesus’ words.
John 2:1-11 Jesus Changes Water Into Wine
2 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Thank you, Cassie. After Jesus used the word, “Woman” in addressing his mother, he used the phrase, “Why do you involve me?” It was a common conversational phrase, but if it was uttered angrily and sharply it indicated complete disagreement and reproach. When it was spoken gently it indicated not so much reproach but misunderstanding. It was most likely that Jesus was simply telling Mary to leave things to him, that he would have his own way of dealing with the situation and his actions were that of a friend and faithful community member; the provision of wine a sign of shared hospitality.
The “jars” are an interesting part of our passage, too. The size may not come immediately to mind, unless you think about a burning barrel or 55 gallon drum, and estimate either half the number of “jars,” or half the size. It’s still a lot of water - that someone had to haul from point A to point B to be used in washing dusty or muddy feet and hands.
I never really paid attention to any movies or readings about hand washing before, but apparently first the hand was held upright and the water was poured over it in such away that it ran right to the wrist; then the hand was held pointing down and the water was poured in such a way that it ran from the wrist to the finger-tips. This was done with each hand in turn; and then each palm was cleansed by rubbing it with the fist of the other hand. This practice occurred before eating and between each course. So not only was all the water in those barrels necessary, it was basically “throw away” water. And with no magic words or wand, Jesus turned it - not into Boone’s Farm, and probably not a Chateau Lafite Rothschild at the other end of the spectrum, - but at least something respectable.
While all of this information may add some nuance and insight into our passage, there is still the “so what” aspect of it. For today, for us, a part of that “so what” is most likely overlooked, falling so near the end of the passage. The last verse says, "What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” through which revealed his glory - and belief followed.
I wonder if we don’t think about glory in terms of angels showing up in the fields to the shepherds - complete with light and singing and all sorts of celestial show. I wonder if we don’t typically think that “glory” as the bright shining presence of God, the white-hot holiness of the divine that is so stunning, even Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock to keep it from frying him to a crisp. We think that “glory” is the power of God that is so raw and so real, the priests who once entered the Holy of Holies did so at great peril (and if anyone else tried casually to enter that place where the glory of God dwelled, they would surely die).
Glory is big. Glory is bright. Glory is loud. Glory is a multi-sensory extravaganza that you will not miss if you are anywhere in glory’s neighborhood when it happens.
But John tells us that when Jesus quietly transformed water into wine, in an effort to do no more than solve a social mishap that helped a family save face in front of their friends, this was somehow Jesus’ first revelation of no less than his glory. In fact, this glorious manifestation was sufficient as to cause the disciples to put their faith into Jesus.
There is no evidence that the wider crowd at this wedding reception ever knew what had happened. Only Mary and the disciples—and the servants who had done Jesus’ bidding—realized what had happened. The bride and groom don’t even get any mention here.
Somehow they discerned Jesus to be the Messiah, the one who would bring abundance where there had once been only scarcity. Somehow they saw in this quiet miracle in Cana an echo of all those soaring prophecies from Isaiah about how when the kingdom fully comes, all the good things we enjoy would flow freely and in never-ending abundance. When needs are met—even needs as commonplace as the one in Cana that day—somehow joy follows and that joy is related to the glory of God.
So how do we discern Jesus to be the Messiah, the one who brings abundance where there is scarcity? Do we look into the moments of miracles, even little ones, to the glory in them, to the abundance of joy in them? Iranaeus once said that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” God desires us to flourish, to enjoy and take delight in God’s creation even as God did at the dawn of time.
This moment of glory happened in a little village, in a home, rather than the busy market or buzzing synagogue. Perhaps there is more glory to be found in our homes and gardens and workshops and offices than any of us even realize.
There is an old legend which tells of the days when Jesus was a little baby in the home in Nazareth. It tells how in those days when people felt tired and worried and hot and bothered and upset, they would say: "Let us go and look at Mary's child," and they would go and look at Jesus, and somehow all their troubles rolled away. There was faith which could trust even when it did not understand - that Jesus would do the right thing. No need on earth can exhaust the grace of Christ; there is a glorious superabundance in it - even when reality seems contradictory to that fact.
It will be easy to see when the hungry are fed, when the homeless are housed, when children without decent shoes get new kicks from a local clothing ministry, when the despairing are comforted by a word of hope, when the sad can dry their tears with the gospel comfort of the resurrection to come.
It’s not so easy to see glory when the only thing inside is emptiness and loneliness or the sense of absence of God. But the glory is still there, waiting for our own discovery of it. Even though the light is lengthening just a bit lately, some folks still struggle with the darkness of heart and exhaustion of spirit, and maybe if my finances can make it to the end of the month, then - maybe - this glory thing will turn its light on me.
I think we do better in looking for the glory before, instead of after we feel better or sense less angst. God has already forgiven and counted us as beloved. From the beginning of the beginning, God has poured God’s love into this world and our lives, and we miss some of that glory by putting it off. So let us all change that, for all of us, especially for those who are tired and sick of being sick and tired, as we pray.
Lord of Light and Joy, we confess that we are not always so good at looking for your glory in the simple and close-at-hand. And yet you offer it to us, consistently and freely. Help each of us to see your love and light and joy and blessings - not only in our lives, but in our opportunities for service to members of our family in you - both those near and those far away. Help each of us turn moaning and crying into songs of praise and hope. Give us spirits of trust and rejoicing, that we may truly be your people all of our days. Prepare us for joyful service in your world as all your people say, Amen.