Water Plus a Miracle

Lectionary Passage:  John 2: 1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.9When 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 bridegroom10and 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.”11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

We actually refer to this story that we read from the Gospel According to John as part of our marriage service order, mentioning that in it, “Jesus graced a wedding at Cana of Galilee and gave us the example for the love of one another.”  I’m not really sure why because the truth is this passage is not about marriage; it’s about wine.  So last week we read of Jesus’ baptism and now we read of his first miracle.  He definitely got the show on the road, so to speak.  And yet, the story is a little odd.  We read later of teaching, of healing, of including, even of raising from the dead.  So what’s this thing about wine?  Why was this act important enough to put in the Gospel and, particularly, to place it where it is the first miracle that we find Jesus doing?

Well, according to the Mishnah (which is essentially a redaction of the oral tradition of Judaism and a documentation of the traditional understandings of Scripture), the wedding would take place on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow. The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There would be speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. It is probable that there was some sort of religious ceremony, but we have no details. The processions and the feast are the principal items of which we have knowledge. The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week (so, OK, that would be quite a lot of wine!).

So Mary, the mother of Jesus, is at the wedding, although her role seems to be more than that of a guest. Perhaps the couple was an extended family member or something.  But she seems to be one of the first to know that the wine is running out. She instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they appear willing to take her instructions.  Now you have to understand that this was an embarrassing situation.  The wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution.  Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?)  But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary.  She expects him to fix the problem.

In the setting of this story, Jesus has not yet begun to perform all the miracles and the teaching and yet his mother thought he could do this.  It’s unclear whether or not Mary really understood what “hour” to which Jesus was referring or if she really grasped who this man that she had brought into the world was, but, timing aside, Jesus helps out and fills a need.  Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things.  Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this?  I mean, really, wine?  Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor?  Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain?  Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do?  Now THAT would have been a miracle.  But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, creates a party, a feast.  Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more.  Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life.  And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself.  It begins as ordinary grapes.  Well, not really.  If you go even farther back, you start with water.  Everything starts with water.  And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed.  And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary.  And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait.  They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait.  We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.


And Biblical theologians have over and over pointed to the relationship that this story has with the Eucharist.  Think about it.  We take ordinary bread and ordinary wine (or in our case, ordinary Welch’s Grape Juice), and through what we can only describe as a Holy Mystery, a veritable miracle,  those ordinary things become holy.  They become for us the body and blood of Christ, the very essence of Christ to us, for us, and in us. 
And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine.  Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift.  Water and a miracle…

So this story of wine makes a little more sense.  Wine is water—plus a miracle.  But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water.  No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself.  Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation.  No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine.  Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.

And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different.  God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us.  We, too, are water plus a miracle.  So as we lift the chalice today, let it be a reminder of Christ’s Spirit infused into us, living in us.  13thcentury German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.”  It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle.

So maybe this story of Jesus’ first miracle is not as odd as we thought.  Our lectionary places it immediately following the remembrance of Jesus’ baptism and the remembrance of our own.  It is the point where God’s Spirit, where the holy and sacred itself, was poured into each of us.  So, yes, we are a miracles, created matter, Spirit-breathed.  We are the good wine that God has saved for now.  We are water plus a miracle.

Go be the miracle you were created to be!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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