Whenever I read about changing water into wine I am reminded of a story about a state trooper who noticed a car that was weaving quite badly. He pulled the car to the side of the road and walked up and asked the driver for his license and registration. He noticed an open bottle on the front seat. He also noticed that the driver was a minister.
“What are you drinking, Reverend?” he asked.
“Oh just water,” he said.
“May I see it?” asked the officer.
The minister handed the bottle to him and he took a whiff of what was obviously alcohol.
“This isn’t water, Reverend, this is WINE!”
The minister clasped his hands together, as if in prayer, gazed heavenward and said, “Praise the Lord. He did it again!”
There is much “water-into-wine” humor out there. But what does the story of the wedding at Cana teach us? It is a story about compassion for those in an embarrassing situation.
One of the things I tell couples as we prepare for their wedding is to expect something to go wrong. Maybe even more than one thing. But do not to worry too much about it because that will be one thing they can look back on and laugh about later. And if they videotape the wedding, they can send it to America’s Funniest Home Videos, which shows a lot of wedding bloopers. They might make some money from it!
Mary, Jesus and his disciples attended a wedding in Cana (it was a few miles north of Nazareth). Whose wedding it was we do not know. Some scholars have speculated that it was Mary’s nephew, therefore, a cousin of Jesus.
It would have been typical for all family members to get involved in wedding preparation. So if Mary were related to this family, she’d likely been given some responsibilities. That’s why she was one of the first to notice – that they had run out of wine. They had no drinks for their guests.
While that may not sound like much of a problem, some of us who take being a host seriously know how embarrassing something like that can be. It was even more so in Jesus’ time. There wasn’t much else to drink besides low alcohol content wine and water. Such a thing could impact upon the guests opinion of the family and disgrace the newly wedded couple.
Mary knew it and brought it to Jesus’ attention. His reply, his mother has often bothered people, for it seems a little harsh and even disrespectful. For Jesus seems to be saying, “Don’t bother me. Besides, my hour is not yet come.”
William Barclay, the New Testament scholar, pointed out that this was a common way of speaking in those days and that what Jesus was saying was, “Don’t worry about it, mother. You don’t quite understand what’s going on with me and the ministry that will unfold. Leave it to me, and I will handle them in my own way” (THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, Vol.1, pages 97-98).
Mary was not insulted by his words. She tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” and likely turns to other responsibilities. She is confident that he will take care of it. He does. This is Jesus” first public miracle. There could be no doubt who was responsible.
There will be many times when we meet persons in difficult and humiliating situations. Our tendency might be to say, “that’s none of my business or “that’s not my problem,”” But the welfare of every person is our business – just as it was for Jesus. We may not be able to turn water into wine, but we can give a helping hand and share the blessings God has given us when we see trouble out there. Remember Jesus Christ told us that we could do these things (such as turning water into wine) and even greater, if only we had faith.
But the Cana story is not just about compassion for others, it’s also about faith.
Mary is confident Jesus will handle the situation. When she learned there was a problem, she immediately turns to her son for help. What he’ll do about she doesn’t know, but she’s confident in him. She tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”
Mary demonstrated a similar faith when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she was to become the mother of Jesus. She simply said, “Let it be to me as you have said.”
People become like those empty wine jars at this wedding. They can get to running on empty, feeling lost, drained of life and joy and strength and hope. Not know where to turn. If this is sounds like you in any small way, follow Mary’s example. Turn to Jesus. I don’t know what exactly he will do or how or when, but Jesus still fills empty vessels with hope, and joy and life, no matter what the situation. Turn to him. Trust in him.
This is a story about compassion and faith, but there is even something deeper going on.
Jesus tells the servants to fill the six large stone water jars that stood near the door. These were jars not for wine but for water to be used in washing rituals required by the Torah before eating, to become nearer to God at a sacred meal and worship. Washing was necessary to purify yourself before coming into God’s presence.
This means that the old path to God, based on obedience to the laws like purification, are empty, no longer binding. They cannot bring us to God. But Jesus fulfilled them! Jesus turned the water to wine! Jesus could do what the law and what ordinary people could not – bring us to God through the abundant grace that flows through him. The old wine that had been drunk (the Law) and was gone had been replaced with the new wine of grace in Jesus Christ.
There were 6 empty jars, holding 180 gallons of water. Jesus told the servants to fill them with water. Jesus turned 180 gallons of water into wine. That’s about 1000 bottles of wine, more than most weddings could use. And that’s the point – not about the wine but its about its over-abundance. The wine stands for grace for God’s love and forgiveness that’s available to everyone in Jesus. It’s wine that never runs out. It’s the wine that is Jesus himself.
“Scholars often take on crazy tasks. One once calculated the amount of water turned into wine and offered his estimate to St. Jerome about whether all the guests at Cana had drunk it all that day. Jerome responded, “No, we are still drinking of it'”
We are still drinking this wine, even though Jesus’ hour did come. It came on a cross, from which flows an inexhaustible stream of grace, free to all who are thirsty who are running on empty.
Jesus still does it. He turns water into wine. He fills empty lives with hope, meaning, joy, grace. Be filled and know the new life Jesus Christ can bring.
May God bless us all this morning.
Rev. Michael Ader 1/24/2013