01/14/18 – JV – Serving up the Good Stuff in Cana


January 14, 2018
Jazz Vespers
Homily: John 2:1-11:
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

In ancient Middle-Eastern culture, the greatest feasts were at weddings. The wedding feast was an all-out, nothing held back party, which could last as long as a week. In a society which functioned by the rules of honor versus shame, for a bridegroom and his family to run out of wine would have been a disgrace that would be talked about for years to come. What’s the matter with these people? Didn’t they work hard enough? Did they spend too much money on things they didn’t need and run out of money to buy such an essential element as wine? Or perhaps they did purchase an ample supply of wine, but many of the guests took advantage of the free wine and drank as much as they could, not leaving enough for the rest of the party.

Mary got wind of the predicament and felt compassion for the host family.  She could have remained silent, reasoning that it was not her concern, so why should she speak up. I suspect that she ‘raised him right,’ as we say in the south. She assumed he would feel empathy and compassion for the family. So, she went to Jesus with the news that the wine had run out in hopes that he would help. She wasn’t asking for herself, she was asking on behalf of this family, who would have been shamed. Shame is a hellish state of being. Shame is like anxiety and depression woven together and made into a hair shirt straitjacket. It drains all joy.

Can’t you imagine the host family watching the diminishing supply of wine with great trepidation? I see guests watching with suspicion at how much wine the other guests poured into their glasses. I can imagine some guests saying: “what is he doing with a second full glass, he’s not even family! I can imagine guests not even finished their first glass, rushing to the nearest bottle to top off theirs before it was all gone. The fear of scarcity lures people into shameful behavior.

After Mary informed Jesus of the wine supply problem, Jesus made a troubling response. It is hard to know why Jesus first answered his mother the way he did. He addressed her using the word, “woman.” It sounds like “sass” to me, which you aren’t supposed to do to your elders. Not knowing a lot about the social conventions of that time or the tone of voice in which Jesus spoke, I’ll try to let that one pass. But then, there are those words on which it is hard to give a positive spin. “Of what concern is that to you and me?”

Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound like the Jesus we know. Perhaps, Jesus is, pardon the expression, playing the devil’s advocate. We know from the rest of the gospels that caring for the needs of others has everything to do with what Jesus preached.

We are told that Jesus was hesitant about making a public display of his identity and power. Employing a classic “Mother technique,” Mary didn’t press the issue but told the wine stewards to do what Jesus asked of them. I can just see her giving Jesus the “look” that sealed the deal for him. Rather than risk Momma’s disappointment, Jesus wisely decided God was, perhaps, giving him the nudge to get started.

Who are the voices we aren’t hearing or choosing not to hear? These voices aren’t coming from the privileged, they are coming from those that struggle against great obstacles to be heard. What scarcity do we fear that turns us against those in need?

When do we let abundant life God offers to dwindle into a life ruled by calculation of perceived profits and debts, of winners and losers, of friends and foes?

Martin Luther King Jr., whose life we celebrate tomorrow had a lot to say about the speaking up and stepping up in the face of injustice and human need. In one of King’s many great sermons, he used the biblical parable of “the Good Samaritan” to urge those with the power to help the powerless:

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”

When Jesus comes through with the wine, it is a grand fulfillment of what his mother asked him to do. Jesus doesn’t run out to Walmart and grab a few packs of box wine. Actually, if Jesus knew about Walmart’s business practices, I imagine he would be putting up just as much of a ruckus there as he did with the moneychangers in the temple. No, out of ordinary water Jesus creates 150 gallons of wine! There is an old rabbinical saying: “Without wine, there is no joy.” Well, Jesus turned the fear of scarcity into a celebration of joyful abundance.

So, we too are called to be extravagantly generous with our resources, and most especially our very selves. We are also called to speak out for the sake of those being neglected, excluded, or bullied, or made to be scapegoats. God’s love revealed in Christ has been poured out abundantly for us. Christ calls us as individuals, and as the Church, to keep the feast diligently, to share it generously, and to include all of the family of God at the table. So, join the party. Jesus has brought the good stuff.



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois