What If Jesus Came to Your Party?
Kind of a fun story, isn’t it? I mean, you have to admit, people don’t normally think of Jesus as a “life of the party” type. Yet here he is, making sure the party doesn’t run out of wine. I know, this is a different culture than NE Mpls. It might make more sense to us if Jesus turned water into craft beer, but I think some of us can still appreciate the significance of the story.
Truth is, in a world like ours, where so many people think of God as a party-pooper, this story sends a different message about God who affirms life and letting your hair down a bit (too late for me on that one).
But this story goes way beyond God giving his thumbs up to people having fun with each other, drinking wine, and celebrating a wedding, although clearly these things are good. Indeed, the world is full of people who love to party, don’t need a reason to party, and are always looking for a “good time,” yet many of them are not exactly spiritual giants or our preferred role models. For Jesus, the miracle at the wedding of Cana is not just an excuse to keep on partying. According to John, this was the very first miracle of Jesus, and hence, it’s a statement – a declaration – about who Jesus is, a revelation of how God wishes to meet us – not as judge, but as life-giver.
In this wedding miracle, the celebration is a vision of what God intends for us all: a feast of joy, blessings and the fruits of the earth, shared in community with others. And it is pure gift – unmerited, unearned. Given because it is God’s pleasure to give it.
And so, the story: weddings in this culture were major celebrations lasting several days and often a week. Though part of the wine supply was provided by the guests, it was the responsibility of the groom, as the host, to make sure that there was enough wine to last the entire celebration.
Jesus, his disciples, and his mother were guests at this wedding party, and it would not have been unusual for Jesus and his disciples to be at a celebration where there was drinking. We know from the Bible that Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of eating and drinking and having too much of a good time. To them, a serious religious figure was supposed to be somber and shaming of others, not enjoying food, drink, and laughter with the unworthy. Well, Jesus didn’t fit that mold.
So the wine runs out before the celebration is over. Not good. Major social embarassment for the groom. Jesus’ mother somehow found out and told Jesus, presumably before the rest of the guests knew.
Now it is not clear exactly what Jesus’ mom expected Jesus to do at this point. If John is correct, Jesus hadn’t yet performed a miracle publicly, so his mom was not necessarily assuming he would do one here. One commentator suggests that since much of the wine supply was dependent on the guests, and since Jesus and his disciples had very little means, it’s possible they didn’t bring much by way of gifts to the wedding. As a result, the shortage may have been caused by Jesus and his disciples’ presence at the party. We don’t know. But if so, Jesus’ mother sharing the fact that the wine had run out takes on a whole new tone. Kind of like, “Jesus, now they’re out of wine because the guests didn’t bring enough. You better do something!” Like go and buy some more, maybe? We don’t know.
At any rate, Jesus’ response is curious and a bit prickly. “Well, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
On one level, this could be interpreted as a rather typical mother/son exchange: “Mom, it’s not our problem, OK? So don’t put me on the spot.” I like his mother’s response here, though. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” She seemed to know that Jesus wouldn’t sit on this one.
And sure enough, Jesus asks the servants to fill up six jars with water, draw some of the water out and bring it to the chief steward. They did and when the steward tasted the water which had now become wine, he called for the groom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have saved the best wine for now.” End of story.
What does John make of this story? Without a doubt, this was an act of compassion, saving the groom from the shame of running out of wine. But the miracle is much more than that. The final sentence tells us that Jesus did this miracle to reveal his glory, and his disciples believed in him.
So this sign identified who Jesus was – the long awaited Messiah, what God wants for us – a really cool party that just keeps on going, and who gets invited to the party – more on that in a minute.
So, first of all, this was a sign that Jesus was the long awaited messiah who would bring the messianic age, the Kingdom of God, where everything gets worked out the way God wants it to be. Something we can experience now episodically, but is not fully realized until the next life.
Second, Jesus’ miracle – and the prophecies they fulfill – tell us what God wants for us. There are many descriptions of what this messianic age would look like in scripture. There are images of peace and restoration, such as, “The lion will lie down with the lamb,” “The blind will see,” and “The dessert will bloom.”
There are also many images of celebration, abundance and wine. In Zechariah it says,
Their hearts shall be as glad as with wine. Their children shall see it and rejoice, their hearts shall exult in the Lord.
In the book of Hosea it says,
They shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
And as Amos vividly describes,
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
Now, those who don’t drink or can’t drink at this point might say, “Oh, great. I guess I’m left out.” Rest assured: this is not about alcohol per se, but about the gift of life. All of this wine imagery signified the joy of an abundant life that is overflowing and will never end. This is why John uses this story as Jesus’ first miracle. By turning water into wine, Jesus is fulfilling many, many prophecies.
Is this the image people in our world have of God, church, religion? Of Jesus turning water into wine? Usually not. Often, residents of our world see God and church as the bearers of bad news, not good: you know, if you’re having fun, it must be a sin. Studies show that the vast majority of people who don’t go to church increasingly view church as judgmental much more than life-affirming. If we have such good news, how come we’re so good at making people feel bad? How could we communicate God’s love and God’s winemaker skills more effectively? Any ideas?
For us it is also a reminder of the blessings that continually come our way and sometimes we either miss them or take them for granted. At the wedding in Cana, the wine steward and maybe many more had no idea that a miracle had been performed. They just knew the celebration continued in style. What if we lived life believing that all our blessings were gifts, even miracles, of love given to us by God?
Third, Jesus offered a very symbolic gesture about who has access to this party. The thirty gallon jars of water he turned to wine were normally used partly for sanitary purposes – washing hands and feet – but also to make oneself ritually clean before God. You know, wash away the dirt on your character.
It’s no accident that Jesus used those very same jars to serve up the new wine. The old time religion signified by those jars was us cleaning ourselves to become acceptable to God! In this story, the same jars are used for something quite different, something that replaces the old time religion. Instead of using these jars to clean ourselves up, God uses these jars to pour us the best wine we’ve ever had! The meaning is clear: it’s not our move to ascend to God but God’s move to bring the party to us. In Jesus, God has come into our midst to give us the wine of joy and celebration and abundance! As Marcus Borg points out, we are invited to a wedding feast where the wine never runs out.
What if that was the invitation we could somehow extend to our neighbors?
It’s been pointed out how many folks in our world struggle with shame – the sense that I as a person am either worthless, or simply worth less than the person next to me. We talked about this at our book club last Wednesday at Parkway Pizza. How people struggle in life with something, feel unworthy of God or going to church, and just find other things to do. Could be due to divorce, chemical addiction, unemployment, mental illness, low self-image. The end result is that the task of making ourselves ritually clean and worthy is just too big a task. There’s just not enough water in those jars to get the job done, so why bother at all?
And then we see that God says, “Don’t bother trying to clean yourself up. I’ve turned that water into wine and I’m offering it to you because you’re worth everything to me. So drink up!” Amen.