“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. (NRSV)
When biblical writers want to grab our attention, they usually say things like, In the beginning, or, They went up a mountain, or, An angel of the Lord appeared. In the story of the Wedding at Cana, John escalates things to a whole new level when he says, And Jesus’ mama was there, too.
In first-century patriarchy, where women have to be careful about how they dress, where they travel, and with whom they speak, Mary transforms the significance of women from water into wine.
Let’s re-enter the story.
A wedding is underway in Cana. The servers, who have been told to keep the wine flowing and the matzo balls rolling, are facing a dire situation. The night is still young, and the wine is gone. It’s like they’ve been pouring it into colanders.
Insufficient wine at a wedding means several things, and none of them are good. It means humiliation for host. It means vocational catastrophe for the chief steward. And all-in-all, it’s an inauspicious start for the young couple.
Just inside the kitchen door, the servers put their heads together in a nervous conversation.
“We’re out of wine,” says one of the servers.
“That can’t be!” says the other.
“But it is!”
Stunned and anxious, they have no idea what to do. Nor do they have any idea that someone was privy to their fretful conversation. Jesus, his disciples, and Mary are all guests at the wedding. And Mary has overheard them.
From across the room, Mary catches her son’s eye, and with a quick tilt of her head tells Jesus to follow her—to “come and see.” 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 servers, their faces sagging like a couple of empty feed sacks hanging on a fencepost.
“They have no more wine,” says Mary to Jesus.
“Mom, that’s not my problem,” says Jesus. “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 following Jesus’ protest, 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 baby boy?
She thinks of Rebekah scheming Isaac’s blessing upon Jacob. To arrange that 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, who, for the privilege of bringing just one life into the world, gave Samuel, her only child, to God.
When Mary speaks, she’s more than a wedding guest. She is a mother surrendering her son.
In the warm, moist air of the kitchen, she turns toward the servers and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus has envisioned a day like this, too. But in his vision, he decides when it’s time to make himself known. He decides when it’s time to step into the river and accept the fullness of his calling. He decides when it’s time to make the wild and lavish promise of himself to God. And he’s tempted to put off that decision, to put off the arrival of his hour. But his mother’s words burrow into his ears, and burn in his heart.
If Jesus tells the servers nothing, they will do nothing, and the celebration will collapse. People will fall away. They’ll scatter 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 them anything or not, when his mama told the servers to “do whatever he tells you,” she opened a door he knows that he cannot shut. So, now, Jesus confronts his identity and the uncertain future to which it calls him.
Looking around the kitchen, Jesus sees six stone jars, big ones, the kind used to hold water for the celebrations that restore God’s people to holiness and to unity with 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 to the creation a presence in the creation that transforms water jars into vessels of holy and spirited wine. For Jesus, it’s about being that transforming presence in and for the Creation.
Maybe miracle isn’t something that happens outside of reason. Maybe miracle is the very realm of our existence, something that saturates what appears to be the emptiness between you and me, or between any two creatures. If we live in the midst of miracle like fish live in water, then it’s no small miracle in itself to become aware of miracle.
In his song “Holy Now,” Peter Mayer sings:
“Wine from water is not so small,
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all.
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles,
But finding where there isn’t one.”1
We become aware of miracle through faith—faith being the gift of trusting that we are holding wine where others see only water.
We are stewards and servers in a trying time—a time when the spaces between us are not simply watery, but muddy and dark. The world has seen times like these before, though. The world has known all manner of turmoil, division, jealousy, dishonesty, injustice, violence, and fear. And in the story of the wedding at Cana, I hear God saying to all who claim the mothering, miracle-rendering gifts of faith, hope, and love: Listen, the wine you are used to may be gone. The celebration may seem to be faltering. Nevertheless, a future you have not imagined is unfolding. And while that future will be different, I, the Lord, am in its midst now no less than I was in the past. Don’t just believe me. Trust me. Follow me.
As it was for Jesus when he and his mother turned water into wine, so it is for his followers today: It is time.
It is time for us trust miracle.
It is time for us to embody hope.
It is time to embrace one another in compassion.
It is time for us to do justice.
It is time for us to receive, to hold, and to share the new wine of God’s ever-expanding, all-transforming grace so that we participate in keeping the celebration alive, joyous, and open to all whom God loves.
And that leaves out exactly no one.
1Peter Mayer, “Holy Now,” from Million Year Mind, Peppermint Records, 2001.