1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “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.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Mary is a guest at this wedding. Mary only shows up twice in John’s Gospel – here as a guest at some random neighbors wedding, and at the cross, not a guest but a grieving mother. John doesn’t do anything by accident in his gospel, everything is full of meaning, layered upon meaning. Mary’s place at the cross carries significance and her role at this wedding does too. Mary is a guest at this wedding, along with her adult son and his friends. And she perceives a problem and gives Jesus a line that we are to read into…. She prompts Jesus to action.
But most stories about Jesus’ power involve someone who is sick or suffering, or hungry or dead – situations that Jesus treats with compassion and abundance. But why a miracle at this wedding? Why does Mary want Jesus to use his power? No one is injured, or suffering – beyond the fact that they are soon to discover that the wine has run out and they’ll probably be a bit sad about that. Maybe this crisis it would inspire more neighbors to share THEIR wine, to bring up a few jugs to distribute.
Weddings in Jesus’ culture were not just a ceremony and a nice reception afterwards, but a whole shebang. The whole community would have been invited for multiple days of celebration. Certainly the families would have provided for this, but neighbors and friends also contributed out of their abundance to support the newly married couple. Much like a cookie table here. This is a multi-day party and everyone is invited, including apparently the random guys Jesus brought home. Hospitality is of the utmost importance.
Mary is a guest at this wedding. The wine is not her responsibility, its not her party. She doesn’t know why the wine ran out, or who is at fault – all she knows is that there will now be a problem. And she knows a guy who solves problems. She knows a guy who makes things happen, and who does it with grace and mercy. Who makes the deaf and blind to hear and see. Or at least that’s what he will do…. So far all he’s done is call his disciples. But Mary knows, because Mary has already seen so much.
Mary is not some meddling parent in this story – but a prophet – one who has been through scarcity and suffering and fear and failure. She has been a pregnant unmarried woman, without a place to safely deliver a child, and she has had to flee the country to keep her child safe. But she has also been visited by an Angel, used her body to deliver the messiah into this world, and been visited by strange men bearing words from God and gifts from foreign countries, and she has pondered all this in her heart. And now she knows, where there is death, God brings life, and where there is scarcity God makes abundance – because she has seen it herself.
The way John introduces Jesus is a little different than the rest of the gospels. John is the only gospel to share this story with us and he doesn’t call it a miracle, but a sign. It is the first of seven such signs in John’s Gospel. A sign is meant to point us in the right direction – like when you are traveling and you see a sign that says Rest Stop 12 miles. The sign is not the point – but it certainly helps to know which direction you should be looking with you have to make a pit stop.
John lets us know – Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. And Mary’s part to play is more than just a guest at the party. She’s seen the signs and she has a particular perspective, one that she needs to share with the disciples.
In her commentary Debie Thomas confesses that “It’s an odd and provocative role, but I’m grateful for it, because it allows me a place in what otherwise feels like an inaccessible narrative. I have no idea how to turn gallons of water into gallons of wine. But I do know how to say what Jesus’s mother says. Sometimes, it’s the only thing I know how to say. “There is need here.” “Everything is not okay.” “We’re in trouble.” “They have no wine.”
Mary has a particular perspective here that I can appreciate. A guest, but a guest that knows Jesus.
“Mary instills trust, and invites obedience. “Do whatever he tells you,” she advises the household servants. I admire the fact that she doesn’t wait to hear the specifics of Jesus’s plan. She doesn’t pretend to know the details; she doesn’t invent a roadmap. She simply communicates her long-standing trust in Jesus’s loving, generous character, and invites the servants to practice the minute-by-minute obedience that alone makes faith possible. If I’m reading the story correctly, the servants’ task isn’t easy. There’s no running water in the ancient world, and those stone jars are huge. How many trips to the well, how much arm strength, how deep a resolve, the task requires! I imagine it’s Mary’s faith that helps the servants persevere when they feel bewildered and ridiculous. She acts as a catalyst, turning potential into action. She lays the groundwork for Jesus’s instructions: “Fill the jars.” “Draw some out.” Take it to the chief steward.” She fosters a faith-filled atmosphere that becomes contagious. She instills wonder in those around her, and ushers in a miracle. Maybe I’m so drawn to Mary this week because it’s a hard business, holding the promise of God’s abundance up against the agony of scarcity, loss, and need. “ (Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus)
As your interim pastor, I am a guest in your church. A guest with a specific call and responsibility to attend to, but a guest nonetheless. And I know you are sensing a lack. Do you look back to the days when the wine was flowing and it seemed like the party would never end? Does it feel like the wine is running out? Some days in feels like the party is coming to an end – like everyone is gonna have to just pack up and go home. Like we’ve exhausted our resources, limped along and tried hard but the last drops are coming.
My role as a guest here, much like Mary is to point to Jesus, notice the lack we have observed – and point to abundance. Because
I hear we have no kids. You have two kids right here who are faithful participants in worship.
I hear we don’t have enough money. I see faithful stewardship and generous giving – and daily bread provided.
I hear we don’t have the energy for this anymore. I see God’s strength perfected in weakness.
As a called and ordained minister of the church of God, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sin, something so radical and gracious we could never deserve it. As a called and ordained minister of the church of God, I declare to you that your persistence in filling water jars will end with something extravagant and amazing. As a called and ordained minister of the church of God, I declare to you that not only is Jesus present and invited here – he has brought us a foretaste of the feast to come at his table. He has made our meager table into his gracious banquet – and there’s enough to share with the world.
We are guests and servants. We are guests at God’s table – and at this party God created called earth. We are guests and servants called to drink our fill, and to practice obedience to our savior’s commands. We are brought to this table by God’s gracious invitation, fed with Christ’s own body and blood, and the Spirit sends us out with gifts to serve. May our lack show God’s abundance. Amen.