“Too Much Wine?”
The Rev. Ann Dieterle
St. James’s Episcopal Church
January 20, 2013
Sometimes our image of Jesus is so otherworldly that we forget that he did in fact live a human life. Whatever he was doing for the first 30 years before he began his public ministry, he appeared to attract little attention. That’s all beginning to change at the point in which we meet him now- in Cana of Galilee- but in this story before he becomes a miracle worker he is first and foremost a wedding guest. Jesus and his family are celebrating at a party.
The story is a little low on dialogue. If you’re counting, Jesus has a sum total of three lines. The first is in response to Mary’s news that the hosts are out of wine:
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
Biblical commentators are quick to point out that this isn’t as rude as it sounds to our ears. When he says ‘Woman’ it is similar to a term of endearment- not scolding or disrespectful. It is a sign of disengagement though.
It’s strange to think of Jesus disengaging- especially from a request from his own mother. In the end he does as she asked- but it seems that he has to determine for himself whether or not it corresponded with his purpose. This probably isn’t a bad thing, given the number of people who want him to be someone else- but it sounds a little strange all the same.
One of the things it points to is how strange it is, or should be, when we disengage from one another.
In the last two parish retreats we’ve had we’ve used a pair of Disney Pixar movies with the kids to illustrate spiritual themes- and one of them was Up! Up! is about a man named Mr. Frederickson who’s on a journey to fulfill his late wife’s dream- which happens to be living in Paradise Falls- a remote location in South America. He pursues it with singular purpose, though he acquires some unexpected companions along the way, companions who inevitably distract him from his mission. On more than one occasion, in response to a request to help someone else, Mr. Frederickson says in response “This is none of my concern!”
How do we respond when we encounter a need that doesn’t necessarily fit into our initial plans for our day, our week or our life? Do we disengage and tell ourselves that “this is none of my concern?” Or do we take time to really listen to a call for help, and to respond? You might have seen stories in the news about someone being in distress or even in life-threatening circumstances while bystanders watched or made a video, but didn’t attempt to help. These are extreme examples- not to mention disturbing ones- but even in the day-to-day, I know a lot of times I walk around with blinders on- so focused on whatever “important” thing that I’m doing that I’d likely miss any opportunity to serve that God has placed directly in my path. I forget how important it is to take time to really see other people.
It’s not all bad news though. I’ve heard more than a few stories of St. James’s doers helping others and getting involved when they could have decided that it wasn’t their concern.
Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. And Jesus tells them to “Fill the jars with water.” That’s his second line- and you’ve got to wonder what the servants are thinking at this point. Why they were obeying Mary and then Jesus- who were not the hosts of the party afterall- is a mystery to me but they did.
And this task isn’t as easy as it might sound. The jars were made of stone and held 20 – 30 gallons- even empty they must have been really heavy. And remember, there’s no garden hose out back. The servants have to lug all 6 of them to the well, and all 6 of them back- now full of water.
If you’ve ever been to a place where fetching water from a well is a daily chore necessary for life- you probably have a sense of how hard and time consuming this task is.
It’s a physically demanding task, and yet the command is quite simple to follow. Fill the jars with water. A lot of Jesus‘ commands are so simple as to almost be a stumbling block: “pick up your mat and walk.” “Go and sin no more” “sell all you have and come follow me.” You kind of expect, maybe even want something profound and complicated. What Jesus asks of us is always quite simple. Simple, but not very easy to do.
Jesus’ final speaking line in the story is after the servants come back from the well- and if you’re doing the math, you have calculated that they have 120 – 180 gallons in those stone jars. Jesus tells them to “…draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”
And we know that what the steward tasted wasn’t water, but wine- and not just any wine, but good wine. This isn’t the stuff you get in a $5 bottle you pick up at CVS- this is a fine wine that you get at a fancy wine store when you’re having a really nice dinner party or giving a REALLY nice gift. And to emphasize the point, there’s A LOT of it.
This is an extravagant gesture- and it means that the wedding party can rage on- and for a long time!
One of my cousins got married in Minneapolis a few years back. There are five of us cousins who are in a similar age range and we always have a good time when we get together- which is usually only for weddings and funerals, for better or worse. We were all at this wedding and we closed out the reception. And then we went out afterwards, and then we left that place and at this point I’m beyond ready to go to bed. But my cousin Henry is determined that I’m going to stay up and have fun. So we hire one of those bicycle rickshaw things and he drags me around downtown Minneapolis until 3 a.m. And they were doing a zombie crawl downtown- so we were eating tacos at 3 a.m. with zombies, it was so bizarre!
I’m really glad I let him drag me around but I was so reluctant at the time. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to get what I needed and I was ready to shut it down- to hoard sleep as if I’d never get the opportunity again!
So, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get appropriate amounts of sleep or other things that you need. But this story for me, along with the wine in our Gospel, contrasts our fear of scarcity with God’s abundance and extravagance. And that fear effects the way that we live and share with each other and the way that we spread good news.
Robert Hotchkins, a University of Chicago theologian said that in Jesus we aren’t just liberated from fear of death, we’re liberated from the fear of life.
This story is about Jesus‘ first miracle- and Jesus is never interested in performing miracles for the sake of performing a miracle. John calls this his first sign: and it is a sign that life in the kingdom of God is marked by abundant life.