Monday, February 8, 2010

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 17, 2010)

John 2:1-11

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Today is the second Sunday in the season after the Epiphany. An Epiphany is a manifestation of God, and the Epiphany season is the time when we celebrate the light of God come to the world in Jesus Christ. The Gospels provide us a view of that light in different ways. The synoptic Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, contain an account of the transfiguration of Jesus. Through the transfiguration the disciples come to know Jesus for who he really is, God’s own son. But the transfiguration is missing in the Gospel of John. What is not missing, though, is a demonstration of who Jesus is. We find that demonstration in our reading from John today. When the wine runs out at a wedding Jesus remedies the situation by turning water into wine of even greater quality and quantity that what the wedding host had originally provided.
This story of the miracle at the wedding in Cana is one of those stories that is troubling for some of us. It seems unlikely at best to us today. Changing water into wine is, to our minds impossible and violates any ideas we have about how the world is ordered. This story is one that skeptics are likely to mention when they say that they doubt that the Bible is “true.” The miracle of changing water into wine can also be used to mock Jesus and his divinity. In the 1970’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Herod taunts Jesus by saying, “Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine.” With just a few words, Herod dismisses both the miracle and the divinity of Jesus.
The miracle at Cana, and for that matter, ALL of Jesus’ miracles, bothered Thomas Jefferson, too. Thomas Jefferson—the same Thomas Jefferson who was the third President of the United States, one of the founding fathers of our country, and as my son would insist I mention, founder of the University of Virginia—couldn’t reconcile this miracle of Jesus, or for that matter, any of them, with the Enlightenment understandings of how the world works. In 1819, Jefferson began work on his own version of the Gospels, which he called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Jefferson’s aim in presenting Jesus was, in his own words, “to rescue his character.” Jefferson’s version of the Gospels eliminated the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, any mention of Jesus’ divinity, and the miracle accounts. Jefferson was well aware of how controversial his work would seem to others. He suppressed the work during his lifetime, and his relatives kept the work secret until 1895. The so-called Jefferson Bible was only published for the first time in 1904.
I think that a reaction like Jefferson’s to the miracle of Cana misses the point. Our Gospel story today doesn’t depend on whether or not this miracle was an actual historical occurrence. While we’re talking about what this story isn’t, I’d also like to dispel some other misconceptions about it. It’s not, as some would say, about Jesus’ own wedding. In this story, Jesus isn’t being rude to his mother, though it may sound that way to us. This story is also not about whether or not it’s morally acceptable to drink alcohol.
The point of today’s Gospel story isn’t about any of those things. What the story is about is God’s extravagance and abundance in the gift of his own son to us. Of course it IS remarkable that Jesus changes water into wine in this story. What needs to be emphasized, though, is that Jesus changes a LOT of water into a LOT of wine. We’re told that six stone water jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons were filled with water. Do the math. One hundred twenty to one hundred eighty gallons of water become one hundred twenty to one hundred eighty gallons of wine. Quality wine, not the cheap stuff, as the steward noted when he said to the bridegroom, “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.”
More wine than was actually needed. Better wine than was to be expected. We’re starting to approach the heart of the matter. Jesus doesn’t only provide what is needed in a given situation. He provides what is needed in a manner that exceeds any possible expectations anyone could have. Jesus doesn’t just meet the demand, but he exceeds and overflows it. In this inaugural event of Jesus’ ministry John lets us know clearly the sheer boundlessness of what Jesus has to offer. Jesus is no ordinary Galilean, make no mistake about it. The miracle at Cana prefigures the feeding of the five thousand, where Jesus will take a seemingly inadequate supply of food and will not only have enough food to feed a large crowd but have food left over.
I’ll say it again. Jesus is no ordinary Galilean. Jesus can tap into a source of abundance that we would traditionally associate with God and not with mortals. The miracle at Cana establishes Jesus as one whose resources are as limitless as the Creator’s, who will later in John’s Gospel provide not only water but Living Water, not only bread but the Bread of Life.
What is one to do in the presence of such abundance? What is one to do in the presence of such grace? Our Gospel lesson today provides us an example of two possible responses. Let’s take a look at them.
The first response to Jesus’ miracle comes from the steward at the wedding. The steward acknowledges a wonderful act of hospitality in serving good wine throughout the wedding rather than only at the beginning of the celebration. He attributes this gesture to the bridegroom, the presumed host of the wedding feast. What the steward doesn’t understand is that the source of the plentiful and good wine isn’t the wedding bridegroom, but Jesus the true bridegroom. The steward’s response isn’t inappropriate, but it isn’t complete either.
The disciples are the ones in this story who fully appreciate what Jesus has done at this wedding at Cana. John tells us, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. And his disciples believed in him. The disciples lead the way for our own response to the miracle at Cana. John’s intent in relating this story about the first even in Jesus’ ministry isn’t to impress us by sharing an extreme act of hospitality. It’s not that hospitality isn’t important, because it IS important, to be sure. John’s intent is to have us respond as the disciples respond, with belief in Jesus and the sheer abundance and extravagance of his gifts. We know that this abundance and extravagance prefigures even greater things to come because its source is God, who has no limits. NO limits. With God all things are possible, from changing water into wine to the feeding of the five thousand to the resurrection of the body. Amen.