Second Sunday After the Epiphany

TEXTS: John 2:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

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.’ (John 2:3-5)

Today’s gospel lesson might be familiar to you because it’s often read at wedding ceremonies—and the reason for that is obvious. However, the story of the wedding at Cana of Galilee is also commonly read during the season of Epiphany. In fact, that’s a tradition that even predates our modern lectionary. And the reason for that is obvious, too, if you think about it.

The theme of Epiphany, you will recall, is the revelation—the showing off to the world—of Jesus the Christ. During the Epiphany season, we hear all these gospel passages which “reveal” who Jesus is, and what he’s all about. Changing water into wine was the first of Jesus’ miracles—the first time he gave a real sign to his disciples of what was going on with him.

Now, when it comes to theology, this reading is a gold mine—albeit a challenging one. One of the things Jesus does here is replace a Jewish ritual with the reality of his presence.

Remember those “six stone water jars” that held 20 or 30 gallons each? They were there “for the Jewish rites of purification.” When full, they contained enough water to fill an immersion pool used for ceremonial cleansing. They were not supposed to be used for any other purpose. But Jesus ignores that convention, and turns them into gigantic wine barrels.

Wow! The Jewish rites of purification are superseded—overwhelmed, really—by who Jesus is and by what Jesus does. And there is much, much more. I could go on and on, talking about the theology of this passage.

I won’t, though. Because this is a blog, not a master’s thesis. And also because, first and foremost, this is a story—and it’s a great one!

Notice that Mary starts out as the real hero of the piece, telling her son he’s got to do something for this wedding couple. At first, Jesus seems reluctant to act. He tells Mary that all of this is none of his business, and that he has other plans about revealing his true identity. His time has not come.

Mary, however … well, she pretty much ignores that and assumes that Jesus is going to be a good boy and listen to his mother!

And he does.

Now, something we need to understand is this: in those days, running out of wine at a wedding was not simply a minor social inconvenience. It was not like, “Well, the wine’s gone, so we have to switch to beer.”

No. In first-century Jewish culture, this was a major breach of the requirements of hospitality. In fact, it was a disgrace—and it would be devastatingly embarrassing for this couple. Everywhere they went, for the rest of their married life, this would be remembered. They would become known for it. They would be ridiculed, and whispered about. The strain on their life together would be enormous.

Realizing all of this, Jesus must decide what to do. He must decide whether to change his timetable. Should he wait before making himself known, as he had planned? Or should he act right now, responding to this urgent need?

Well, we know how the story turns out. Jesus does act, the wedding day is saved, and the bride and groom are rescued from a major embarrassment. As you probably realize by now, this story is not about the bride and groom. It is about Jesus. It is about all that theology I mentioned a minute ago.

This is important.  The first time Jesus made himself known as the Messiah, he did so in response to real and important human need. Not according to his own plans, or his own agenda, but in order to solve someone else’s problem.

Think about it. Jesus’ first manifestation of his glory—the first of his signs—was not for or about himself. He did not make a great big circus out of it. He didn’t pitch a revival tent, gather a crowd, and then start healing the sick and raising the dead. No. Instead, the signs of his calling—and of his identity—were drawn out of him. You could almost say they were dragged out of him—not by his own plans and schedule, but by the needs of those around him. And by his mom.

So, this gospel passage begs the question: What does it mean for Jesus to be the Messiah? What does the Son of God look like, in human flesh? How does he behave?

The answers to those questions are found in his response to the realities of human life and need.

Jesus’ identity as God incarnate—and all the power that went with it—these were not things that he used for his own ego gratification. No. Jesus revealed his identity—and lived his life—completely for the sake of others. Who he was—and what power he had—was not for him. From the get-go, it was always—and only—for the benefit of others.

With that in mind, consider our Epistle lesson from First Corinthians. That passage deals with some of the interesting and peculiar things that were going on in the church in Corinth in the first century. There was some pretty weird stuff happening—and some extremely selfish stuff … and some very evil stuff. And at the core of it—as is so often the case when religion goes bad—there was a strong sense of “who is best,” and a strong sense of “this is mine.”

They were having all kinds of  spiritual experiences and encounters with God—which ought to be a good thing;! But they had become possessive and competitive about all of that. They were saying things like:

  • “this gift is mine”;
  • “this way of doing things is mine”;
  • “this spirituality is mine”;
  • “this special something is all mine!

What Paul says to them in his letter echoes the point made by our gospel reading. What Paul tells them is basically this: “What you have is not for you. What you have is for others.”

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” is how he actually puts it.

This is a fundamental truth about the gifts of God. What you have is not for you. What you have is not even about you—not really. The Corinthians could never get their religion right—or get their lives right, for that matter—until they realized that what they had was neither for them nor about them. It was given to them so they could give it away—so they could use it to build, and to help, and to create.

What Jesus had—who he was, what it was that made him special and unique—this was not given for his own sake. It was given so that Jesus would have a choice. It was given to him so that he could choose to give all of himself for others.

What we have is not for us. Not really. All that we have—however little, or however much—is given to us so that we might become givers. It is given to us so that we might build up, so that we might help, so that we might become part of something greater, so that we might serve our neighbours and build up the larger body.

In one way or another, that is the purpose of our lives, and everything in them.

And this is good news!

I’ll say it again: this is good news.

It is good news that we do not live for ourselves alone, that what we have is not for us. We were not created to live apart from others—closed in upon ourselves, protective, possessive, and defensive. We are not at our best when we live that way. We impoverish ourselves when we live that way. And we do not have to live that way. We can choose to live beyond ourselves—to live for others and for the greater good. And when we choose to do that, miracles will begin to happen.

Our lives will become bigger. We will find ourselves re-created—reborn, if you like—and there will be more to us than we ever imagined possible.

At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, Jesus chose to set aside his own plans and his own schedule. Instead, he chose to reach out and bless the lives of others. In doing that, he showed us how divine our human lives can be.

And there will always be plenty of wine at the wedding!

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