Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
I was at a meeting of some school’s ministry leaders recently, and some were bemoaning the fact that my city wasn’t more Christian, that more people weren’t following Jesus. Now, I’m all for people following Jesus, but what got me was one leader’s insistence on ‘out-there’ miracles as a motivator for conversion. He thought that once miraculous healings took place, no-one could not believe. So what kind of miracle is this at Cana? The kind that wows the masses into belief through sheer crowd-pleasing power, or something else?
The wedding at Cana is an attractive story for Australians, mainly because it looks like Jesus is prolonging a drunken celebration, and we’d love him just for that. What a God, who can take a slab of empty VB stubbies, add water and voila!…nice neat rows of James Squire. Apparently, the cult of Dionysus was pretty huge in Galilee – he was the god of partying, and closely linked to emperor worship. One of his party tricks was turning things into wine. So is Jesus proclaiming himself the new Dionysus, the new party king? There’s some evidence that Jesus has a predilection for parties – his feasting with sinners and parables about inviting the poor to parties.
This story, however, doesn’t seem to be about Jesus’ love for parties or publicity. Jesus and his disciples are not honoured guests – powerful people aren’t asking him leading questions, and Jesus hardly says a word. Maybe they got an invite because Nathaniel, the one who cast dispersions upon Jesus birthplace (What good can come from Nazareth?), came from Cana. Once Jesus gets around to it, the miracle is pretty blasé in the execution – no prayers, so hand on jar, no spitting, no mud. Just an instruction to take a cup to the manager of the party and suddenly, the water in which hundreds of grubby hands washed themselves becomes first-rate vino, fit for the first swirling and sniffing sips of the wedding. And then, only the servants and the disciples have any inkling about what went on.
So this is no razzmatazz miracle show. Jesus himself, later on in John, indicates that believing in him because of miracles is poor belief, and he does not trust it.(Jn 2:23-25). What the is this miracle for?
This is Jesus’ first sign of seven in John. A sign is not really important – it’s what it signifies that is important. A red light is not important compared to actually stopping at a busy intersection. This miracle points to important things about Jesus’ mission – it reveals certain things, as verse 11 indicates.
- Weddings and vines/wine are symbols of God’s relationship with Israel, the chosen people. In today’s reading from the prophets, Isaiah claims that Israel “…shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.” (Is 52:4) In Psalm 36, also from this week’s lectionary, has Israel feasting and drinking in celebration. In the Old Testament, however, the relationship is usually one of God being the jilted lover, and Israel the prostitute or loose woman who goes off with whatever attractive suitor happens to be in the neighbourhood. In this sense, the wedding at Cana reveals Jesus’ true mission of restoring relationship between God and people.
- The purity code was the set of laws (and laws upon laws) that distinguished the Jewish people from others. Examples included restrictions upon what could be eaten, who could enter the Temple, who could be physically touched and ceremonial washing. In this story, the symbols of Jewish Law (the jars) stand unfilled, helpless to effect the kind of reconciliation and joy that Jesus is initiating. Jesus uses them to reveal his mission of restoration and reconciliation, thereby both confronting and sidelining the purity code.
- The really crucial stuff in Jesus’ life will be that which hardly anyone sees or knows about – the marginal people (servants, the blind etc) will know about it, and his disciples will see it, but mostly it will be hidden from the eyes of ‘significant’ people. Think of Jesus’ long discussion before his death – it’s only with his disciples. Jesus is not interested in public acclaim or power – think of his retreat when the crowds seek to make him king. He has lone conversations with the Samaritan woman and Nicodemus. This is consistent with the prologue of John, in which John says that Jesus came to his own, but they did not recognise him.
- Jesus’ life and mission went beyond the normal, everyday ways of changing the world. He used persuasion, works of mercy and direct action, but he also did things that were out of the ordinary; which is another way of saying they were supernatural. Some of these supernatural actions were not nature-bending (like touching lepers) but some of them were.
Questions for reflection
Could we endure a life where the good we do is never recognised by the ‘important’ people? How important is recognition to us?
What are the purity laws in our culture? How do we distinguish who is acceptable and who is not?
What might reconciliation with God look like in Australia, or in your community?
How do we feel about Jesus’ supernatural actions? Can we imagine God intervening in the world directly?