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from a Wedding"
Most of what we think about when we think about Jesus performing miracles is his healing: making people who are sick well, making the blind to see, casting out demons, curing incurable diseases like leprosy, and even raising the dead.
I mean, this is the really serious stuff. Even today, the so-called "faith-healers" are held in awe; and that is usually what we think of when we think of religious miracles.
This being the case, should it not strike us as a bit odd that Jesus first recorded miracle was NOT a healing? But even more strange, it occurred at a party!
Now, I know that when I think of Jesus performing miracles, I think of him doing so in the midst of his preaching, in the midst of a multitude where he is the center of attention. But the first miracle did not happen that way. I know it may sound crude, but we might even say that Jesus' first miracle could fall into the category of a party trick.
We know, from the second chapter of the Gospel according to John, that "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding."
Now, we don't know a lot about Mary after Jesus' infancy. We do know that she was beneath the cross at his crucifixion, but not a whole lot else. Yet, here she is.
I would suppose that the couple who are getting married are more than likely friends of the family, even though we don't know who they are. I have no idea why all the disciples were invited, although we might assume that almost everyone in the community was there. But, it is significant that they are there, as we will later learn.
So we have a festive occasion. And I don't think it's improper to call it a party. Two people are getting married, and many are celebrating that marriage. But what an unlikely place for the Son of God to perform a miracle.
I mean, should not the bride and the groom be the center of attention? Even for Jesus, isn't it really a bit inappropriate to upstage the young couple at such a wondrous event?
But, "When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
Bad planning. Probably like running out of food at a dinner while the guests are still hungry. An embarrassing situation. And Jesus' mother feels the need to do something about it, so she turns to her son. Now, she isn't just telling him what the situation is; reading between the lines I can hear her ASKING him to do something about it. And that's not a whole lot different from the ways in which we often relate to others.
We may not tell them what we want them to do, but our words can carry strong suggestions.
Likewise, when we pray, we may not ask God to do something specific for us, but as we express our situations and our problems to God, we are reaching out with a request for help.
So here is Jesus' mother saying to her son, "They have no wine." Now, what should we anticipate Jesus' response to this to be? After all, we're talking about party supplies! We're talking about the kinds of things one might, in some communities, buy off the shelves of the local grocery store!
"And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come."
And we get the feeling that he really wants to fade into the woodwork. Maybe he's even wishing that he had not come to the party to be put in this position. Obviously, the timing is off. Jesus must have had something different in mind for an opening miracle.
And he definitely feels that he is being called upon too soon, before he is really ready.
Now the statement, "My hour has not yet come," raises a number of questions. Did Jesus know what the plan of his life was supposed to be? If he did know, how had he, at least, pre-conceived it? When was his "hour" supposed to be? In our own lives, have we not been called upon to assume responsibilities before we felt we were really ready?
But on the other hand, we need to appreciate Jesus' humility. A grandstanding, showoff Christ would have been looking for every opportunity to perform miracles. And frequently they would have been little more than party tricks.
Yet, in spite of Jesus' objection, "His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
Now, obviously, SHE'S not doing what HE has told HER, which is, "Mom, back off; leave me alone; I'm not ready."
So what's going on in Mary's head, anyway? Does she think that Jesus doesn't really mean what he's saying; that he's just being modest? Or, knowing of her son's powers, is she eager for him to demonstrate them? In any case, he is thrust into the spotlight. The servants are now standing there waiting for him to give instructions. Jesus may not feel himself ready, but everyone around him expects him to be.
Now, on the surface, this may all seem to be a simple interpersonal relationship; but I believe that it is much more. Mary has faith in her son. She believes in him and in what he can do.
But even more than that, she acts as if her expectations are an accomplished fact; and we hear that in her "DO whatever he tells you." Mary is beyond doubt; and that's the stuff of which miracles are made.
"Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons."
Well, if you're going to perform a miracle, you might as well make it a big one. I mean we're talking somewhere between one hundred twenty and one hundred eighty gallons. That should be enough for a either a very big party or a very long one.
And we might ask ourselves, why is this such a big deal? Well, I think that Jesus is still trying to keep this in the background. You see, we're not in the room of the wedding feast itself.
And in the background, Jesus is simply making use of whatever is available, which in this case are oversized jars.
But on the other hand, is it just an accident that Jesus' first miracle would involve jars for the Jewish rites of purification? We know from the second chapter of Luke of Jesus' first appearance in the temple: "When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord."
"Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim."
Now this is not as simple as it sounds. That water's not coming out of the kitchen sink or a garden hose; it's probably being carried from the well. And there were either a great many servants, or this may have taken a rather long time.
When I recall from my youth carrying five-gallon cans of water across plowed ground to over-heated tractors, my body aches for those poor servants.
Indeed, this miracle is not coming easily or quickly. It is very unlike many other miracles which required a simple laying-on of hands. But then, I am reminded of the saying that what often passes for genius is about one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Jesus may not be perspiring, but I am quite sure those servants are.
And I think that it is well to remind ourselves, when we become impatient, that not all miracles come quickly; indeed, that most of what we really value in life takes great time and effort.
"He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it."
And this is the point of transition. We move from the back room to the party room. But remember: the steward is only receiving a sample. The steward will not see the six thirty-gallon jugs. The steward does not know of the work that went into filling them.
The steward does not know who gave the instructions for all this. And the steward does not know of the exchange of Jesus with his mother before all of this. All the steward will receive will be a sample of the finished product.
Does this sound familiar? How often do we think of, and even speak of, the "miracle of overnight success"? When, in fact, all we know is the finished product. We're in the party room. We don't know what went on in the back room.
Overnight successes are, in reality, usually years in the making. And often, God's miracles are too. Does a miracle have to be an event that happens in a second? Or can it also be something that we work with God, over time, to make happen?
"When 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 and 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."
And the miracle is accomplished. But it has a strange twist to it. The steward doesn't know it is a miracle. As far as the steward knows, there has simply been more wine brought out.
As far as the steward knows, there was no problem with planning; there were adequate supplies. The miracle is known to Jesus and Mary, to the disciples, to the servants, to the bridegroom who risked embarrassment, but not to the steward or the guests.
Instead, the steward and the guests experience the generosity, the kindness, the respect of the bridegroom. They are accustomed to going to parties where the host brings out the good stuff first, to make a big impression, and then, when no one is paying much attention, takes advantage of the guests and lowers the quality of the refreshments.
They are accustomed to hosts taking the attitude, as a party progresses, of "give them anything; they won't know the difference." When they least expect it, the guests at THIS party are being most honored.
In performing the miracle of turning water into wine, Jesus has not simply reluctantly performed a miracle to solve a simple housekeeping problem. Obviously, the bridegroom is relieved that his wine shortage problem is taken care of; but he got more than that.
The steward and his guests, who did not know of the miracle, hold him in high esteem for honoring them with his best wine at the end of the wedding feast.
I've often heard the expression of people coming out of bad situations, "smelling like a rose." I know what that feels like. It is being in a situation that looks like an absolute disaster, and God pulls me out of it.
But God does not just help me avert disaster; God frequently makes me look like a shining success. And more often than not, I don't know how it happened; I just struggled through it, and kept faith that God could do anything. I call that "miracle."
"Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him."
Jesus reluctantly performs a miracle that he is nudged into by his mother. But I'm glad that he did it. Because that miracle, in many ways, in spite of the fact that it would appear to have no really significant social value like a healing miracle, tells me so much more about God's work in my life than many of the healings that Jesus performed.
And I also think that it is important that we understand that healing miracles aren't the only kind; that, in fact, most of the miracles of our lives won't be of a dramatic nature; but when they do occur, we can rejoice that God has "kept the good wine until now."
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