Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What Did They Believe?

In preparation for Sunday's class on miracles, I searched the Internet for a list of all the miracles that are recorded in the Gospel. One website presumed to list all of Jesus' miracles chronologically, as if the four gospel accounts could (or should) be reconciled to a single timeline. Naturally, the miracle appointed in Sunday's lesson (John 2:1-11) was listed first since John tells us it was his first miracle: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee." I doubt that Matthew, Mark, or Luke, who omit the water-into-wine, would agree that this was Jesus' first feat of wonder, but I do think it's significant that John presents it as such.

In part, that's because of what comes next: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him." They believed in him. John links the sign, the disciples' witnessing of it, and their belief. That's how John works. Throughout his account, people see the signs, and some recognize them for what they are while others fail to make the connection. Those who make the connection believe in Jesus. The word John uses for believe is πιστεύω, which means exactly what we typically mean by believe, but John uses it in varying degrees. After the wedding in Cana, the disciples may have believed in Jesus--they may have recognized the sign for what it was--but their understanding of who he was wasn't finished.

In this way, John's signs are a lot like road signs. One need not speak a particular language to understand that the icon of a gas pump means that one can get fuel at an exit. Similarly, one can see a sign that points in the direction a particular attraction without confusing the sign for the attraction itself. Whenever talking about John's signs, I like to use the image of a group of tourists taking photographs in front of a sign that says, "Grand Canyon, 100 Miles." It's ridiculous to confuse the sign for the think the sign is pointing to, but the gospel is full of those moments--full of people who are more interested in getting their fill of the loaves than receiving the bread from heaven--and it's also easy for us to make the same mistake when we read about them.

John lets us know that, after seeing the first sign, the disciples were hooked. They believed in Jesus. Did they recognize that he was the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, who had come to redeem the world through his death and resurrection? No, of course not. But did they know Jesus was up to something bigger than producing wine at a party at which the wine had run out? Absolutely.

This was a sign of something bigger. In Jesus, God wasn't interested in making sure parties had enough wine. Nor was God interested in making sure those blind, lame, and leprous people whom Jesus touched were healed. God was interested in saving the world, and the miracle at the wedding feast is a sign of that. Through Jesus, God provides for God's people. In Christ, God is setting the great wedding banquet for God's people that is envisioned in Isaiah 62. In Jesus, God is offering a new dispensation, a new and effective way of renewing the relationship between humanity and the Creator. All of that is contained in this particular sign, and the disciples saw it. Even if they didn't understand it, they saw it, and they believed. That's an invitation to faith--not to complete understanding but to a process of connecting the dots. The disciples believed in Jesus. They believed that he was the one through whom God was revealing God's self to the world. This Sunday, don't get lost in the feat of wonder. Recognize it as a sign of something bigger and believe in the one who is the sign. Even if you don't understand it yet, believe and trust that the signs will lead you to the truth.

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