There is so much more to the story of Jesus turning water into wine than a really cool – and apropos – party trick. The writer of the Gospel of John, of course, using different source material for his remembrance of Jesus, is the only one with this story and, since he writes with greater theological depth using symbolism throughout, we must take time to notice. Not to do so would be akin to walking as fast as possible through the Louvre in an effort to see it all. In the end, you may have seen everything, and yet you didn’t really see much of anything. This Gospel is a masterpiece. Rush if you wish, but know that if you do, you are only opting for the most obvious and basic gift it offers, and are missing the heart of the book and in fact, the reason for its writing.
There is so much more to this story than meets the eye in a casual reading of John’s second chapter. The context of a wedding that brings to memory and imagination not just this moment, but THE moment to come at the consummation of history when the great marriage finally takes place between the Creator and the Created. The entrance of Jesus just when the wine was running out, when joy was running out, just in time – at the right time – to help and send a message to all about the hopeful presence of God. Mom/Mary who brought the shortcoming to consciousness, and then instructed the servants to be faithful to Jesus’ instructions. Faithful servants who found themselves in the miracle – not just bystanders. A head waiter who probably needed to tell the bridegroom that Jesus’ label was finer than the Charles Shaw that ran out. An unknown number of guests who were responsible for the wine running out who were now enjoying great wine unawares of its origin. This was all part of the first sign. A sign that communicated great hope when it seemed to be running out – more than more-than-enough. Inherent statements not just about the focal point, Jesus’ connection to the Spirit of God, but about how we engage and interface with the Spirit working in our midst. It seems experiencing “more” is an option. We can get in on it or we can just stand around and suck (wine). But wait, there’s more…
John’s Gospel then brings a strange twist: Jesus going nuts in the Temple, overturning tables and causing a great mess. John is the only Gospel that puts the story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry instead of the end. Most contemporary scholars agree that John probably was off on the timeline, but did so purposefully to provide a allusion to what was to come: conflict with the Temple’s leadership. Spoiler: Jesus ends up getting killed thanks to the Temple leadership’s scheming.
Why include this story here, so closely tied with the wonderful, joyful wedding at Cana? It’s because Jesus wasn’t just about keeping the good times going at a wedding – he came to get the good times going for all. Jesus was an underdog. Jesus was a champion of the underdog – the poor, the foreigner, the outcast, the judged, the widows, the children – all of whom were in their own way at risk. When Jesus cleared the Temple, he was sweeping away a filthy expression of human greed in the most inappropriate space. The Temple was supposed to be a space where people could feel connected to God. It had become a “den of robbers” where the poorest of the poor were taken advantage of to line the pockets of those in power. Jesus’ ministry was much more than a feel-good campaign with free food and great wine. His ministry was deeply political and provocative all for the sake of calling out injustice and standing up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Jesus’ mission wasn’t simply about getting people to heaven, it was much more than that – it was about helping as many people on earth experience as much heaven here and now as possible. An experience of equality and equity, of being loved and respected, of being given dignity. This is an intractable part of what Jesus was about. To not see this and not accept it as part of the package Jesus came to offer is like entering a marriage only for the purpose of procreation. Sex. It’s like saying to Jesus, “I’m a yes so long as we’re only talking about sex (and on my terms) – I’m not really interested in anything beyond that.” I’m afraid the popular cultural understanding of what it means to be a person of faith – to be a Christian – is like this, where we essentially want God for our enjoyment alone, with little regard for relationship or wanting to be involved with what God wants. Just give me some more wine, please, and please stop saying things that upset the status quo. We know we’re not guilty of such spiritual hedonism when we join God in God’s work in the world out of love for God and the world.
I hope you see that Jesus is so much more, and invites you into so much more. The Good News is that God is with us now and forever, bringing joyous hope where we thought it was running out, and inviting us to get in on the action so that we can experience it all more fully. Bringing that hope means bringing it to those who don’t have so much hope, which draws attention to such a reality, which also draws attention to the system which allows and perpetuates the disparity to continue. Sometimes that means flipping some tables. Yet that’s where Jesus is, because that’s where the Spirit of God is, because God’s heart is for everyone, and when the deck is stacked against some, God moves in their direction.
Some of you have opted for more already. You’ve chosen to be like the servants who filled the water jars and took the new wine to the emcee. Some of you are like the emcee, who let people know what they were tasting because they might not otherwise. Or you are like Mary who encouraged faithfulness on the part of others. Maybe you’re even like Jesus, being used of the Spirit to bring hope and joy and equality and equity where it was needed. Or maybe you’re just standing around sucking. I hope you always choose more.