Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Abundance not Embarrassment


Last Sunday we celebrated the gift of recovery and invited everyone in our congregation to embrace the 12-steps as a part of our liturgy and to hear the good news that there is no shame in addiction. This Sunday we will read the story of Jesus turning water into wine--a whole bunch of wine. Maybe we should have reversed the order of the weeks. So why all of that wine?

As Steve Pankey pointed out yesterday, Jesus provides the equivalent of 908.5 bottles of wine for the wedding feast. More than that, though, the wine Jesus gives them is first-rate. As the steward notes, the wine is even better than that originally offered to the guests. There's a quantitative and qualitative comparison being made, and both are important theological points for John as he describes Jesus' first sign at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

I have read several times that the host of a wedding feast would risk significant embarrassment if he ran out of wine in the middle of the party. I don't deny that--it makes good sense and, to a lesser extent, is still true today--but I want to get past a reading of Jesus' miracle as a solution for an embarrassing situation. It's more than that.

As John puts it, "When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.'" There is no narrative detail to the actual exhaustion of the wine. John doesn't tell us that the steward looked and suddenly realized that the wine was gone. John doesn't tell us that the servants were scurrying about, trying to figure out what to do. Instead, he simply says, "When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.'" Would that have been embarrassing for the bridegroom? Sure. Would it have been understood as a foreshadowing of a difficult, perhaps fruitless marriage? Maybe. Although those thoughts are surely in the background, the scene as it unfolds has less to do with the consequence of the wine's exhaustion and more to do with the one who can provide.

This morning, as I read this gospel lesson again, I hear Mary's words not as a pleading or a nervous confession but as a simple, matter-of-fact statement. "They have no wine." Jesus' reply, often thought of as rude or irritated, is actually another matter-of-fact statement: "That's not really our concern--yours and mine--is it?" When Mary seems to force her son's hand by asking the stewards to do whatever he tells them, she isn't spoiling Jesus' master plan by making him act before he is ready, but she is drawing her son--God's son--into the moment. Rather, she is connecting her son's place at the wedding feast in Cana with God's presence among his people as the long-awaited bridegroom.

At God's wedding feast, the wine never runs out. And, at God's wedding feast, the wine is always of high quality. Of course the host is never embarrassed in front of his guests--he's God!--but that's almost inconsequential. More important is the nature of God's own feast. Jesus' miracle isn't salvation for the host of the banquet. His sign points us to God's great wedding banquet, where all shall be provided. Mary saw it. In the end, the disciples saw it, too. If you're preaching this week, don't miss it.

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