Water & Wine

A Reflection for the second Sunday after the Epiphany.
The lectionary readings for today are here.

Throughout John’s telling of the good news of God, he uses the word ‘signs’ to label the miraculous things Jesus does. A sign is not the thing itself but points us to what we are looking for. Think of road signs or directional signs in a building. All that Jesus did points us to the glory of God. In the gospel reading for today, John tells us of the first sign of Jesus at a wedding. We aren’t told who’s wedding it is but simply that Jesus and his disciples were there, as was Mary and it is Mary who comes to Jesus to tell him the party is at risk because they are running out of wine. Hospitality was so much a part of their culture that to invite the entire community to a celebration and run out of anything would have brought deep and enduring shame upon the families hosting the event.

Mary’s plea to Jesus wasn’t just a mother sticking her nose into other people’s business, this was community business and whether or not it was Mary’s place to intervene, whether or not she was trying to help in a healthy way, she was just trying to help. This would affect the relationship of the bride and groom’s families with the entire community. So why does Jesus appear to try and stop her with the question, “what does that have to do with me?” And why does Jesus tell her, “my time hasn’t come yet?”

Jesus often asks questions that, if really heard, enable those he is speaking to – and yes, us – evaluate their own motivation and to look deep inside so that the transformation, the healing, the feeding, is both internal and external, impacting not just what we do but who we are. Solving the wine shortage wouldn’t just keep the party going, it would prevent a rift in the community; it redeemed the situation. Jesus wants Mary to understand this. He also wants her to consider why she is asking him to intervene and to better understand herself. With this sign, Jesus points to God’s desire for us all to be well and whole and holy in community with each other. And he does it in a big way, a sign of God’s abundance and provision for everyone.

The water jars that Jesus uses weren’t ordinary jars. They were holy vessels used for purification before worship. The water was holy water turned into wine. Jesus would later say “I am the living water” and would tell the disciples that the wine he gives is his blood poured out for us. This sign points to the entirety of God’s plan for the world: through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we are all redeemed and brought into God’s community, God’s kingdom.

The sub-text of the wine sign is Mary and Jesus’ relationship. Mary asks Jesus to intervene, as most any mother would knowing her son could solve the issue at hand, and Jesus warns her it isn’t God’s timing yet to begin showing signs. He is asking her to trust God’s plan rather than make her own. But Mary persists and sets Jesus up by telling the servants to do as he says. If Jesus had walked away at this moment, Mary would have been shamed: people would have said she had a son who didn’t listen to the authority of his mother. Jesus redeems this situation putting Mary’s well-being in the community and the well being of their relationship above his own need to be right.

John makes a point to tell us that the wine was the best anyone had ever tasted: what God provides is so much better than what we can take for ourselves. I imagine Mary pondering in her heart all that happened that evening, realizing her own unhealthy attempt to intervene and gaining wisdom from Jesus’ response. I imagine she and Jesus having a conversation on the way home in which she shares the wisdom she gained. What does this story spark in your imagination? What are your pondering? How has Jesus’ sign pointed you toward a deeper relationship with God?

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

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