“It Is Time”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.
8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”
So they took it. 9When 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 10and 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.”
11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
When biblical writers want to grab our attention, they usually say something like, In the beginning, or, They went up a mountain, or, An angel of the Lord appeared. When John says, in the story of the Wedding at Cana, And Jesus’ mama was there, too,he escalates things to a whole new level.
In first century patriarchy, women have to be careful about how they dress. They have to be careful to whom they speak, and who’s around when they do. And while, in the solar system of Jewish motherhood, more grown men that will admit it find themselves locked in a maternal orbit, in the alchemy of John’s gospel, Mary transforms the significance of all women from water into wine.
(Let’s enter this story a little more closely – and have a little fun with it.)
Reuben and Nathan have been hired as servers for the Mordecai-Isaacson wedding. They’ve been told to keep the wine flowing and the matzo balls rolling, and they’ve managed that. But now they face a situation. Every one of Michael Isaacson’s fraternity brothers have come to the wedding. And they’ve all brought dates. Reuben and Nathan feel like they’re pouring wine into colanders. The night’s still young, and the wine is gone.
Insufficient wine at a wedding means several things, and none of them are good. It means shame for Mr. Mordecai, the father of the bride. It means vocational catastrophe for the chief steward, a good friend of Reuben and Nathan. It will also bring entirely too much delight to Mrs. Isaacson, the mother of the groom. Mrs. Isaacson runs the debutante program down in Jerusalem, and she is quite sure that this Mordecai girl, from the boondocks of Cana, is notgood enough for herson. So, like a dog on the hunt, she has her nose in the air, winding the party for flaws.
Nathan realizes the problem first. He spots Reuben across the room and begins to weave his way through the crowd, smiling at the guests, politely ignoring those who raise empty goblets asking for more wine.
Trying to sound calm, Nathan says, “Reuben, could I trouble you to join me the kitchen, please?”
Reuben is flirting with one of the wedding dancers and doesn’t want to be bothered.
“In a minute,” he snaps.
“Reuben!” hisses Nathan, “Kitchen. Now.”
Nathan glares at Ruben and mouths the words, No more wine.
Stunned, Reuben glances back at the dancer, holds up an “I’ll be back” finger, winks at her, and follows Nathan to the kitchen. With their jobs hanging in the balance, they mull over the wine. They have no idea what to do. Nor do they have any idea that someone overheard them.
For the last half hour, Mary, from Nazareth, has been graciously nodding her head as another woman brags on her children.
“And my son,” says the woman, “has broken all company records for the sale of linen and purple cloth to government buyers. And I suspect that in three years, Herod will have hired him as a consultant.”
“Is that right?” says Mary. Then, without weariness or spite, she says, “Well, bless his heart.”
As she listens to the woman boast, she manages to hear key words and to see the facial expressions in the exchange between Reuben and Nathan. When they disappear into the kitchen, Mary looks at the woman with the rich son and says, “Would you please excuse me? I need to speak to someone. Enjoy the feast. I hear the wine is excellent.”
Mary catches her son’s eye from across the room and with a quick tilt of her head tells Jesus to follow her. Jesus has been chatting with some new friends, relaxing, sharing stories, blissfully anonymous in the crowd. But he knows the look his mama gives him, so he slips away from his company and follows her.
In the kitchen, Jesus sees his mother standing with the two servers, their faces sagging like a couple of empty flour sacks on a doorknob.
“They have no wine,” says Mary.
“Mom,” says Jesus, “that’s not my problem. Not right now.”
Mary has imagined a day like this, a day when she lends the authority of her voice as well as the sanctuary of her womb to the creative Mystery at work within her and beyond her – the Mystery who is revealing a holiness that is as universal as the stars and as intimately hers as the children to whom her body and her love have given birth.
In the awkward silence, she thinks of Moses’ unnamed mother setting her son among the reeds in the shallows of the Nile. Who would find him? Another Hebrew? An Egyptian? A crocodile? What would become of her fine son?
She thinks of Rebekah scheming Isaac’s blessing upon Jacob. To arrange a deception will mean that Jacob must flee from her as far as he must flee from Esau. And Rebekah knows that she may never see her favorite son again.
She thinks of Hannah. For the privilege of bringing just one life into the world, she will give her only child, Samuel, to God.
When Mary speaks, she’s more than a wedding guest. She’s a mother surrendering her son. Turning toward Reuben and Nathan, she says in a flat voice, into the warm, moist air of the kitchen, “Do whatever he tells you.” And that’s all she says.
Jesus has envisioned a day like this, too. But in his vision,hedecides when to make himself known. He decides when to step into the river. He decides when to accept the fullness of his blessing. He decides when to make the wild and reckless promise of himself to God. And he’s tempted to put off the arrival of his hour. But his mother’s eyes burn in his. Her words linger in his ears, and burrow into his heart.
If Jesus tells the servers nothing, they will do nothing – and the celebration will collapse. People will fall away and look for joy elsewhere.
If he tells them to do something, they’ll do that – and heaven knows what will happen next. And whether Jesus tells Ruben and Nathan to do anything or not, his mama has opened a door he cannot shut. He finds himself facing his identity and the uncertain future to which it calls him.
“Do whatever he tells you,” Mary said.
Jesus looks around the kitchen. He sees six stone jars, big ones, the kind used to hold water for the rituals that restore the people to righteousness and unity before God. He turns to the servers and says, “Fill [those] jars with water.”
The sign Jesus performs at Cana is not about coercing belief through some sort of magic. It’s about revealing tothe creation a presence inthe creation that transforms water jars into vessels of holy and spirited wine. For Jesus, personally, it’s about beingthat presence.
Miracle isn’t something that happens outside of reason. Miracle is the very realm of human existence. Miracle is God’s here-and-now Kingdom. Miracle saturates what appears to be the emptiness between you and me, between any two creatures. We live in the midst of miracle like fish live in water. And it’s no small miracle in itself to become aware of miracle. We become aware of it though faith – faith being the gift of holding wine where once we held only water.
We are stewards of a trying time, a time when the spaces between us are not simply watery, but muddy – thick and dark. And I hear God saying to all who claim the mothering, miracle-rendering gifts of faith, hope, and love: The wine is gone. The celebration is faltering. A future we never imagined is unfolding. And while that future will be different, God will be in its midst no less than God was in the past.
As it was for Jesus, so it is for his followers now: It is time.
It is time for us embrace miracle.
It is time to embrace one another.
It is time for us to receive, to hold, and to share the new wine of God’s ever-expanding, all-transforming grace.*