Day 2: John 2:1-25 “Signs of the Times~Wedding Wine and a Temple Ruckus”
The Word of God made flesh continued to reveal himself at two very common, albeit special, everyday places– a wedding and a place of worship. Jesus was at a wedding feast in the village of Cana and at the Passover celebrations in Jerusalem. I notice that contrary to the ways God is often portrayed, the Word made flesh is not far away up there someplace in a celestial heaven. He is not locked away in a dusty book or in the confines of a religious holy huddle. Jesus is out and about among the people. It’s in these settings that he continues to reveal who he is and where he is from, two pivotal questions that often arise in John’s gospel.
And the everyday problems don’t magically disappear, either. They had run out of wine at the wedding party. That was bad! It would have been particularly embarrassing for the bridegroom and his family. Mary tells Jesus about this problem. She doesn’t tell him what to do. She just relays to Jesus that there is no more wine. Jesus’ response seems abrupt and even rude. The Greek text here is even difficult to interpret. Jesus basically says to her, “Woman, of what concern is this between you and me? My hour has not yet come.” His hour? Seems cryptic.
Nevertheless, Mary shows her confidence in her son. She doesn’t retort; nor does she give any guarantees about what Jesus will do next. She simply tells the bridegroom’s servants to do whatever Jesus says. I like that. I have a feeling that Mary would have been just as perplexed at Jesus’ answer to her as we would be. But she goes forward trusting in Jesus’ words.
There are so many times I don’t understand why things happen the way they do– why God moves in some ways but not in others. Yesterday I prayed over and anointed with oil a woman in my church who was just diagnosed with stage-4 cancer. I do not know how God will act. I have seen some people make a full physical recovery, and I’ve seen others die. At times, that contrast has made it difficult for me to know how to pray. Dare I tell God what to do? Should I be bold and use a “name it and claim it in faith” kind of prayer? Who am I to presume how God will act on this woman’s behalf? Who am I to presume to know what is best for her and for all of us?
So, I prayed for God’s healing for this woman. The only thing I do know for sure is that healing runs far more deeply than cells and tissues. James seems to imply that (James 5:13-16). The only other thing I do know is Jesus’ promise of life abundant and eternal for all who trust in him (John 10:10; 3:16). Shouldn’t that be enough?
Mary’s confidence in her Son and my growing confidence in him might appear to be passive fatalism, i.e. “It will be what it will be.” You hear it in the defeated sounding sigh followed by, “It’s all in God’s hands– his will be done.” That’s not at all what I hear Mary saying, and that’s not the way I prayed yesterday.
What’s important here is my full confidence in God’s promises, God’s Word, and God’s character, even in the face of circumstances that would seem to paint a different picture. That’s not what some would call “blind faith”. Blind faith implies having faith in the parachute opening when it’s patently obvious that there is no parachute. That’s stupidity.
Many have called Mary-like faith naive or beyond reason. Whatever. Call it that if you want to. But it’s not stupidity.
Because Mary believed in her son, not sure of what he would do but confident in him, she passed her confidence along to the servants who then were ready to do whatever Jesus would say next. I see here that our faith in Christ (or lack thereof) affects others, too. Because Mary had faith in Jesus, the servants acted according to Jesus’ words, and the greater result wasn’t necessarily the miracle of new wine. The greater result was the new-found, deepened faith of Jesus’ disciples who saw the significance of what Jesus did and believed him.
The disciples saw, and I see, that indeed Jesus is the new wine reserved for the last, revealed when it seems that all else is withered and gone. Again, even within this sign is much of the same lesson Mary learned: Hold on just a little longer. The best is yet to come, even when it seems that all hope is gone.
But then Jesus enters an entirely different setting and reaction. He goes to the Temple, and in the house and place of worship and faithfulness, Jesus finds corruption and faithlessness– a market where surely there were all kinds of official attempts to soak money out of God’s people who were there to worship. Jesus makes a whip and drives them all out of the temple creating a confrontation with the religious leadership who then angrily demand a sign to prove Jesus’ authority.
What a stark contrast between these folks and Mary! Mary accepts Jesus words; the religious authorities flatly reject them, meanwhile losing the point of what Jesus was doing and saying.
It’s at this point in Bible studies that folks begin to trash all those blind, stubborn, power-hungry Jewish religious leaders. We imagine these harsh, cold, stern-faced men with long beards in black robes angrily defending their turf. It’s funny how we have a way of comfortably centering on the flaws of others, even people who lived thousands of years ago, while presuming and preserving our virtue. To a degree, I’m even guilty of that right now. (Oh no, I would never point fingers at the self-preserving, self-righteousness indignation of others, model of absolute humility and graciousness that I am. If only that were true…)
So much of growing in the faith is working through all those lessons in missing the point. Some people get it, and some don’t. That’s not my business about how or why. These stories are here to challenge me, not to cast aspersions on others. These Jewish religious authorities were learned, educated men, just like I am. They had the job of shepherding God’s people and ordering the life of their community, just like I do. They sought with all their heart to be faithful to keep God’s Word, just like I do.
If anything, reading of their failure to see should warn me, not vindicate me. Can I admit where I have been blind? Can I change my mind concerning things I have always been convinced were non-negotiable? Perhaps it’s not radically changing my mind so much as deepening and broadening where I am now. That’s a comfort.
Nothing Jesus taught was a radical departure, but it was a challenge. It was radical in that he opened up once-clogged wells of wisdom and truth to get back into purer water. Radical means “to the root”. Radical teachings aren’t meant to necessarily shatter as much as to help people become “unstuck” so that they can more freely get at the purity and essence of God’s heart and God’s ways.
Yet again, it all boils down to Christ and my receptivity to hear and trust what Jesus is saying, and to remember that his words are not disembodied epithets. They are living Words made flesh that reveal the Father.
Oh God, make my heart less stony and brittle. Make my heart a heart of flesh- open, mold-able, filled with passion, joy, peace, and faith in you and in your Son Jesus.