Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Do Whatever, Pastor Kinsey
Jesus tells his mother, “My hour has not yet come.” But Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
As we enter the Sundays after the Epiphany and Baptism of Our Lord, we still find ourselves contemplating the meaning of what is revealed, in this beloved Child of God. The three kings unveiled, that the Savior of the world was born in a humble manger, bringing the royal babe, lavish gifts. But as Martin Luther once clarified for us, the lowly status of the holy family is not merely in a moral sense, but refers to their social status and income. And Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, provided the surprising and prophetic venue for God to send the Holy Spirit, bodily, like a dove, on Jesus, in a Temple in the wilderness. The same spot on the Jordan, where once upon a time, in another Epiphany, Moses liberated the people of God, and pointed them across the river to the Holy Land – their founding story – as he handed his charge over to Joshua.
And now today, Jesus is revealed in the miracle of water turned to wine, at the back-water wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus has just recently gathered 4 of his dozen or so disciples, and perhaps after some retreat and prayer time together, they’re now ready for a break. And so, On the third day, it says – a phrase we know well from the end of the gospel, when in the final revelation and miracle of Jesus rising from the grave, it happened, on the third day, – they all headed just north of Nazareth, to Cana. Jesus and his disciples were all invited to the occasion, and they met Mary, Jesus’ mother there as well.
Wedding parties, like our wedding receptions, were a time of free-flowing wine and celebration. Only theirs were frequently, a few days in a row. They too, had to plan ahead, but they had no savings accounts or credit cards. So what they did was rely on help and support from their families and clan. And, they didn’t fret over who to invite. They didn’t have to. The wedding celebration, was an open and public invitation to all the townspeople. Anyone, and everyone, could drop in, and probably did, in a small town like Cana.
It may be hard for us to understand in our society – based on individual rights and values – how ancient societies made choices and staked their reputations on how it affected the honor of the whole group, so as to avoid doing something that would bring shame to all. But that is exactly what’s behind the big deal of running out of wine at the wedding in Cana. The family of the groom was responsible to provide enough wine for all, and so, to not provide enough, even if a dozen extra guests came that they didn’t count on, could be disastrous. For, the shame it would bring on them, might even lead to the wedding couple and their family being ostracized from the community.
So when Jesus’ mother Mary notices before anyone else that the wine was just about to run out, and she says, “They have no wine,” it’s a rather panicked understatement!
But in her brevity, she also places much trust in her son. And even though Jesus is only just beginning to get organized with his disciples, and says to his mother, “My hour has not yet come.” Still, Mary answers simply, if indirectly to Jesus, through the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
This is only the first of seven signs, or miracles, in John’s gospel, that Jesus does to reveal God’s glory. We don’t know a thing, first hand, about Jesus the person yet, in John’s gospel. And now, in his first narrative, we learn that he’s rather snotty with his mother, a mother who is probably living on the edge, husbandless and poor. But she is also very perceptive, and her faith has high standards. Not only does she expect her son to obey, but even amidst this obvious human interaction of mother and son, she trusts he can do something to right the impending disaster about to befall the wedding couple.
So Jesus is shamed, you might say, into enacting, putting into motion, his mission of the revealing of the kingdom of God. Which, whether Mary knows it or not, inevitably leads to Jesus’ hour, the event of his death, resurrection and ascension.
As Jesus learned from John the Baptist, God does not only enter the world only in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, but anywhere where two or three believers are gathered. Jesus saw it happen in the wilderness at the River Jordan at his baptism, so why not here, at this wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee?
This is the meaning, it seems, of the six purification jars, that were the size of Temple stone jars, much too large for Cana, and so, out of place here. “Fill the jars with water,” Jesus says to the servants.
To wash with water from Temple purification jars, was to be healed and made whole again; announcing one’s restoration to the community. And when they were full, Jesus says, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief wine steward.”
Remember, the wine was on the verge of running out, so it must have been quite a party already! But it was not over. And long story short, when the steward tasted the water, he was amazed. Not only had it turned to wine, but the best wine served at the party yet! Usually, everyone serves the good wine first, knowing that the guests won’t likely notice when inferior wine is brought out much later, having had a few, already. But Jesus provides the very best, and lots of it – 6 jars, some 25 gallons each. And the wine, which came from the Temple-like purification jars, brought honor to the wedding couple, about to be shamed, and restored them to the community.
So Jesus revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him, it says. In other words, the Disciples were now willing to, do whatever he told them.
Mary’s words: “Do whatever he tells you,” now take on a new meaning by the end of the story. For all of us who have faith and trust in Jesus, we who are disciples and followers too, can’t wait to do whatever Jesus tells us. Not because we are blind followers, Zombies of the Apocalypse in the Living Dead, but because Jesus reveals God to us – and Jesus is, God revealed. And not because Jesus performed a miracle, but because signs of Jesus, point to the meaning of our lives, to Christ’s truth in our world, and a love that overcomes evil and death. We could just do whatever, and follow our own self-centered desires, but because we are set free by the death and resurrection of Jesus, we do whatever he tells us, as followers of the one who is trustworthy and true.
And because, Jesus knows our world, and our lives, and our neighborhoods better than we ourselves, he knows that, ‘big is not necessarily synonymous with great, and small is not always interchangeable with insignificant.’ Jesus comes equally to Cana, as to Jerusalem. Jesus comes to Edgewater and Inglewood, as much as to the Gold Coast and LaSalle Street. And the Holy Spirit is as present to a poor couple in Cana of Galilee, just as much as it is to the royal wedding of Kate and William.
We, who know the taunts, and the many ways the world puts us down because we are relatively lowly and not #1, know that Jesus did not deserve the label given to him because of his presence at the wedding at Cana, and other parties. The charge, a drunkard and glutton, was an accusation, thrown at him by the nervous authorities, when the truth was, Jesus’ life, was a life of discipline, lived in the Holy Spirit, giving and restoring life to whole communities, wherever they encountered him, and came to believe in him. Jesus ‘gladly clinks glasses of wine with regular folks, and those who are exhausted by poverty, telling them salud, cheers, skol, which means salvation, liberation, and healing.’ (Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez WorkingPreacher.org)
We “do whatever Jesus tells us.” For Jesus commands us to live well, to trust in the Spirit that we’re all baptized into, to let justice roll down like waters, and to never be ashamed of who we are – for it is God who bestows honor, on the followers of Jesus.