The Second Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
From the Gospel: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This is one of those stories in the Gospels that is so familiar that we have stopped noticing the oddities in it. It begins as pretty ordinary event. Mary, Jesus, and some of Jesus’ disciples are at a wedding. The wine runs out. Mary tells Jesus that they have no wine. This is the first oddity. Why did Mary tell Jesus? Was Jesus unaware that the wine had run out? Maybe he and is friends were in the back yard and did not know the wine had run out. And what was Mary’s motivation? Was she just telling Jesus some news: “Can you believe they just ran out of wind? Boy, they didn’t plan this party very well.” Or did she expect Jesus to do something about it? And if so, why? Was she the caterer, and it was her responsibility? Or did she simply want the party to continue being a happy occasion? Jesus seems to have understood his mother to be asking him to do something, because he responds rather abruptly with, “What’s that to me or to you?” Which could mean that he doesn’t see dealing with the wine shortage as his problem or hismother’s. But then he follows with, “My hour has not yet come.” That suggests that his issue is with the timing not the request. Mary simply tells the servant to do whatever Jesus says. At this point we don’t know what to expect. It seems as though Jesus is not inclined to do anything. Mary does not seem to have a Plan B.
Jesus then does something quite unmiraculous. There is no wine around, but there is water. He tells the servants to fill the big cisterns with water. Then he tells them to take the water and put in the wine ewers and serve that. He has not prayed over the water, or touched it, or made any gestures over it. He just tells them to serve the water, because that is what there is. The text then says that the wine steward “tasted the water that had become wine.” We are not told when the water became wine. When it was poured from the cistern? While it was in the wine carafes? When it touched the steward’s tongue? And who changed it? It just says the water became wine. Did God do it? Or Jesus? Or did it just change by itself? And the wine turns out to be very good wine, better than what had been being served up until then.
From the way the story is told all that we know is that when Jesus is at the party, water becomes wine. In order to set the story into the organizing grid of his Gospel, the editor makes it more explicit at the end, but it is clearly another voice: Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
This is clearly an interpretation. There is nothing in the story that speaks of Jesus revealing his glory. Nor is there any mention of the disciples’ reaction. The story does not even say Jesus changed the water. All we have is that when Jesus is present, the water somehow becomes wine.
I think this is how it is with us all the time. We go about our ordinary human activities—work, school, social engagements, church—and we don’t expect much. When the wine runs out, or the boss is grouchy, or the teacher ridicules you, or church is boring, we are not very surprised. Nothing is perfect, and Murphy’s Law will ensure that if something can go wrong, it will.
Unless Jesus is there. When Jesus is there, the criticism of the boss can be a time for the boss to see how open you are to improving your game. When Jesus is there, the teacher can see how fresh your idea is. When Jesus is there, some prayer or a line of a hymn or the way the sun touches the colored glass will touch some deep part of your heart with longing or love. When Jesus is there, water becomes wine.
We do not often get an angel to tell us that Jesus is here. We don’t often get foreign sages to show us that Jesus is here. We do not often get a John the Baptist pointing Jesus out to us. What we get is life. We get other people. We get events familiar and new. We get our families and our friends. We get our communities and their politics. We get weather and epidemics and beautiful sunsets. And when we open our hearts, we get Jesus showing up in the back yard.
Sometimes our way gets hard. When Jesus shows up, we may find our cancer easier to bear. When Jesus shows up, the death of a loved one is a passage to a world to which we ourselves will follow later. When Jesus shows up at the end of our days, death becomes a birth.
When Jesus shows up, we can find that the Birmingham jail is study where we can write down our understanding of our times and the Gospel. When Jesus shows up in the midst of a struggle for justice, we may be given a dream. When Jesus shows up during a sanitary workers strike, we may see the promised land. When Jesus shows up, water becomes wine.
Christian spirituality is expecting Jesus to show up. We ask God to open our eyes to see Jesus in the events of our lives. We open our ears to hear blessing and wisdom in the mouths of those around us. We open our hearts to feel the love from others and our love for others. This is the Christian life. This is the essence of prayer.
When Jesus shows up, water becomes