The Best You’ll Ever Have

John 2:1-11

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 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 10 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.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

Having just participated in my own wedding not too long ago, the significance of a wedding. A ceremony that creates family, a relationship and asks God’s blessing on this new thing with your friends and family surrounding you is indeed a cause to celebrate, to throw a big party. Where there wasn’t a family, now there is. Where there wasn’t a bond, now there is.  The world needs more creating of new relationships, more celebrations like this.

Especially in the book of John where whenever the world is mentioned, just insert “God-hating” in front of it. In the opening verses of the book we’re told that the light came into the world and the world rejected it.  So then, this story of a wedding, out in the world that rejects God, is a significant setting for the first time and place Jesus performs his first miracle in the book of John.

And what a first miracle it is! Somewhere 180 gallons of water are turned into wine, and the good stuff. The wedding is well under way, perhaps a few days in and it is now threatened with going off the rails. The wine’s already run out? How embarrassing. Who had miscalculated? Was the chief steward’s job on the line? This was supposed to be this couple’s celebration of their lives, and now it looked like they would be remembered for the day the wine ran out. This celebration of abundance, this celebration of new life, this celebration of family was now going to be remembered for what it lacked.

So then, I began to wonder: was the Chief Steward’s job on the line? Would the host be publically shamed?  Would this be seen as a bad omen for the couple?

But then I learned that in first century Palestine it was customary for people to BYOW. Bring your own wine. That was the deal – you brought your own. Which turned this story upside down for me. Now it wouldn’t necessarily shine a bad light on the steward or the bride or groom but instead on the freeloading guests. The ones who showed up empty-handed. Was the crowd giving the side-eye to Jesus and his disciples?

I mean, what resources did they have to afford to bring their own wine? What we do know is that Jesus and his disciples are always traveling and depending on the hospitality of strangers. They showed up empty handed.

So not only did this story turn upside down, it’s now cracked open and exposed the poor people at the party. The ones who didn’t bring any wine and who had probably been drinking wine. So really, they had had more than their fair share, if you’re doing the math.

And then we get this exchange between Jesus and his mother.

*When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

Initially, I want to be offended by how Jesus seems to speak to his mother. I’ve read textual criticism that says the term he uses is harsh and I’ve read textual criticism that says the term he uses is not harsh. Regardless of that, it seems Jesus is putting his mother off. “Why is this my problem or yours?” he seems to be saying. “It’s not my time.”  Yet her response isn’t to walk away in a huff or to even argue with him. Mary seems to know that Jesus can and will do something.  And maybe she’s the kickstarter campaign he’s needed to get this ministry going already.  Come ON, Jesus. Let’s get this party started! “Do whatever he tells you,” she says, knowingly. Wink wink.

So perhaps Mary’s comments are motivated by knowing what Jesus is capable of doing and that it’s time to put it out there already. In public. Who knows, maybe he’s been practicing in private?

But there is another powerful thing at play at this point in the story: shame: It’s as if Mary is saying, “We’re exposed, Jesus. Everyone’s looking at us – the poor people. The outsiders. Do something, Light of the World!”

Which brings us to the jars. The jars of Jewish purification. It’s the water you washed with before entering the temple as a sign of religious purity. It was how you got clean, along with mandated waiting periods, after you touched a person with leprosy or came into contact with a menstruating woman, a prostitute, or if you ate with tax collectors and sinners, or touched a dead body. These were all things that would make you unclean, impure, unholy so therefore unfit to be in community, in contact with others, much less in or near the temple where God was believed to live.

Now this miracle looks a little different, doesn’t it? Jesus takes the very vessels used in purification rituals by the church to separate themselves from the world that hates God, right? The water and these 30 gallon vessels were signs of separation, of who belongs and who doesn’t. Of how to wash away other people. Jesus uses these vessels as a sign pointing us to a whole new reality, a whole new thing.

Because this isn’t about just wine, even really good wine. This is Jesus pointing toward life – abundant life – that all will know through him, through his body through his blood. He’s pointing toward the feast and celebration of life known in him. Jesus’ life – a life that creates relationship, that creates a bond where there was not one before. This is about Jesus pointing toward there being enough for everyone, even those who are the poorest and show up without the right stuff. This is about Jesus using the vessels that said, “you’re out” and turned them into an abundant gift where no one was left out.

Jesus using the ordinary to erase lines reminds us that there is no “greater than” no “lesser than.” There are no 1st world countries or 3rd world countries or more desirable countries. This miracle erases any distinctions, any comparisons, any hierarchy. There is just one joyful inclusion of everyone. Enemies and friends. Strangers and family.

Ultimately this miracle is about a grand, joyful celebration here and now, a wedding party where everyone is invited in to celebrate. And Jesus, the ultimate host, has turned over the inviting to you and to me. Who will we invite to know this joy, this celebration, this party that at its core is about pure unconditional love. You don’t have to BYOW, ever. There will be enough. No wait. There will be more than enough. And it will be the best you’ve ever had.

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