After yesterday’s message I got a note from a colleague thanking me for “teaching people to understand the narrative through the lens of the narrator.”
I consider that really high praise.
In this case, my friend was remarking on the fact that the questions we bring to the wedding in Cana story in John 2 — Whose wedding? How’d Jesus get invited? What was Mary’s role? How drunk were the people? — simply do not interests John. He no doubt knows all those answers; they simply bore him.
As an author full of both inspiration and intelligence, he has a place he wants to take his story, and he includes only the details needed to propel the narrative forward.
Which in the case of John 2:1-11, our second Jaw Dropper, means this as a landing place:
Every answer you get points you back to the Answerer who has got you.
I love what I get to tell you today because it shows the way ONE word makes all the difference. ONE word changes absolutely everything. I mean, there are a lot of ways in which that’s true, right? Like (AV Neil Armstrong) “One small step for man; one giant stumble for mankind.” Just doesn’t cut it, does it? It changes everything. Or that bad, it’s not Led Dirigible or Metal Zeppelin; it’s Led Zeppelin and if you change one word even to its first cousin, you change everything. And it’s not Bill Cosby the Science Guy; it’s Bill Nye the Science Guy. One word placed, mis-placed, re-placed, out of focus, properly focused, changes everything.
Well, in Week 2 of Jaw Droppers, it’s a one word kind of day. I’m not gonna tell you what that one word is yet, of course; that’s coming later. But in this story that all Baptists hate and all Episcopalians love because Jesus turns water into bona-fide, heavy duty, alcoholic wine, sorta like this: AV of grocery store image. But we’re going to take a journey through the story because it is so fascinating.
Look at 2:1:
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there,
Third day from what? Well, more than likely from 1:43:
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
all of which puts this on the seventh day in the opening narrative in John’s Gospel. Kinda of like seven days of Jesus’ re-creating the world his father had created. Or, it’s a subtle reference to the upcoming resurrection that’s gonna culminate the whole book. Not sure, but either option works.
Anyway, look next at 2:2-3:
2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
Now: this is almost always the place in the story where we ask all kinds of questions: Whose wedding is it? Why was Mary invited? (And why does John NEVER refer to her as ‘Mary,’ but always, only as ‘Jesus’ mother.’) Is it an extended family thing? How did Jesus + 12 get invited? What did the dress look like? What colors did the bride choose? And . . . after running out of wine, how, um, TIPSY! Were the people already? But what is so great about those questions we have is the realization that John the author is a very smart guy. Not only inspired but intelligent as well. It’s not like he didn’t THINK of those questions or KNOW their answers. They just don’t matter to him! They interest us; they bore him. Because he is telling the story in a certain way because he wants to take it to a certain place. Which includes 2:4:
4 “Woman,[e] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
Whoa! Jesus! So rude! This is your momma! It’s reminiscent of that time in Luke 2 when he was only 12, got separated from his parents for three days and they find him in the temple and he says abruptly, “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?” Same kind of abrasiveness here . . . except. Except it’s kind of like an email, isn’t it? What’s the great danger of email? You can’t know tone of voice! You don’t have a window into facial expression. And neither do we, here. And the emphasis on “My hour” lets you know that even here at the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus’ mind and heart are already headed to the cross. Really, 2:4 doesn’t mean Jesus is RUDE, just that he is RESOLUTE. He knows where he is going and what it will take to get there and doesn’t want to get derailed at this early stage. And the irony in all our hand wringing over what Jesus says to his momma in 2:4 is that he ends up DOING exactly what she asked – and a whole lot more – anyway!
Which is? All about the wine. Now: weddings in a place like Cana at a time like Jesus’ were village affairs. You’ve heard it takes a village to raise a child? Maybe. But in those days, it DEFINITELY took a village to marry a couple. And a wedding was not restricted a Saturday afternoon; they typically lasted several days. Drinking, dancing, celebrating, ritualizing. Again, the identity of the couple does not matter to John but the dilemma does. And the dilemma is if you are one of the families hosting the wedding and you run out of wine, your reputation will be in shambles. It’s an honor and shame culture, and one of the worst shames would be to have bad hospitality. These two families, this host, this bridegroom is fixing to lose face. And this failure will quickly appear in Google reviews, on FB, all over Twitter, all over Instagram, even on Snapchate, like THAT. They’re in a pickle and they need an answer, a RESCUE, almost immediately. Which is probably why Mary is as abrupt – er, resolute – with the servants as Jesus was for her in 2:5:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
And so look at what is available in 2:6:
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.[f]
Do you know how those stone jars were used (have one on stage?) By the Jews for cleansing. This is NOT drinking water. It’s BATH water! They had an elaborate system of washing hands and arms before entering the Jerusalem temple & this is how they did it. Like a doctor scrubbing today before surgery! So look at the instructions Jesus gives in 2:7:
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
To the brim. Makes me think of Elijah on Mt. Carmel before his own miracle – get that bull good and soaked before God sets him on fire!. Fill to the brim – it’s a masterful way of lengthening the odds and heightening the drama. That all gets followed with a no-nonsense command in 2:8:
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so,
What happens next is genius. Look at 2:9 (and know that the “Master of the Banquet” is sort of like the MC or even the Wedding Planner!):
and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside
You know what we miss? How Jesus turned bathwater into fine wine! Did he spit in it, rub dirt in it, like with the guy to whom he gave sight? Did he put his hands over and cast a spell? Did it happen all at once or gradually? Was it wine before the Master drank it? We don’t know. It all happens off stage and out of sight. All we know is that water gets drawn out, carried to the MC, and what he drinks is wine. The alcoholic kind. And I love the part of 2:9 where the Master does not know where it had come from AND WHO DONE IT but the servants knew. Isn’t that the way it always is with Gospel stuff? The elites are clueless and it’s the humble who shoulder the faith? The overlooked are the ones who understand.
But yet … as great as that is, that’s NOT the word that changes everything. Yet. But check 2:10:
and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
So ironic! Because that’s exactly what this bridegroom DIDN’T do! He LET the wine run out and short of an answer, a rescue, an intervention, he was gonna lose face. So his face got save but he at this moment doesn’t know how or why. The best till now is just loaded with meaning as it applies to Jesus – but that’s another sermon for another time because even that word still isn’t the word that changes everything. In the meantime, it’s like PARTY ON because all of a sudden there is 180 gallons of extremely good wine! And: no jokes now about how much ppl drop their jaws to slurp up the wine! Be dignified!
And then John summarizes what’s just happened in 2:11:
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
The first of his signs. Oh! You know what word we’re expecting there? Miracle! Jaw dropping miracle that he changes water to wine, even if he does so offstage! But no. Sign. A jaw dropping sign. And that one word, both in English & in orig Gk, changes EVERYTHING in this story. See: a miracle draws attention to itself. A sign – his very specifically chosen word – points away from itself and to a higher authority. Calling it a sign makes you know that the miracle here is not the real miracle. The miracle maker is! A sign reveals something about God that had been hidden before.
And in this case, the miracle is the wine, but the sign points to the Winery! If he can make 180 gallons of the stuff, there is always more where that came from! The miracle is the rescue of reputation; the sign points to the Rescuer. The miracle is the deed. The sign points to the Doer. And now it’s so clear why the miracle occurs offstage: because John wants Jesus & not the wine on center stage! (Like last week!) Here’s what I want for you today, realizing that one word changes everything: Every answer you get points you back to the Answerer who’s got you. Mary pleads for an answer to this face-losing-dilemma and the answer given says EVERYTHING about the ANSWERER. Every answer you get points you back to the Answerer who has got you.
This matter because here’s what I’ve seen happen. People get desperate — a marriage threatens to fall apart, a child gets sick, a job disappears – and then they get religious, and then they get an answer! Hallelujah! Yet all too often all that does is give people faith in the ANSWER . . . kind of like throughout the OT, all those incredible interventions like parting the Red Sea and sending manna from heaven did NOT increase faith in God; they just created a desire for the next Magic Show! People grow so dependent on answers, rescue, help and they forget to develop a deep connection to the Answerer, the Rescuer, the Helper. And so they forget the Source, they lose their religion, and go off on their merry little way until the next crisis hits! Not realizing that if they developed a living relationship with the Answerer, they’d have a lot fewer crises to begin with! A miracle faith is not sustainable. But a sign faith – where you realize, understand, and live into – Every answer you get points you back to the Answerer who has got you. now that is.
Because here’s what I can’t get away from: what about those times you gotta drink the bathwater? When no wine comes out, when no answer is present, when no rescue arrives. In those times, when your jaw DOESN’T drop with amazement but is set, firm in its anguish, what kind of faith endures? See that constant dependence on miracles & intervention apart from living relationship is so much like what my recovery friends call a SPIRITUAL BY-PASS. Ppl who are alcoholic or gambling or porn addicts want ZAP! HEALED! DONE! DELIVERED. And AA takes 12 steps, not one, because the point is not the delivery, it’s the Deliverer! That’s the kind of faith that endures, and it’s not produced on the fly but over a lifetime. It’s a sustainable faith. You read this story correctly, you drill down on the ONE WORD that matters most, and you’ll realize you have an inexhaustible well of resources from which to draw. A sustainable faith. Because answers aren’t the deal. The Answerer is. The wine is not the miracle. The identity & authority of The Winery is! Every answer you get points you back to the Answerer who has got you.
It’s a bit like this piece a friend emailed to me some time ago, AND GOD SAID NO:
And God Said No
I asked God to take away my habit. He said, “No. It’s not for me to take away but for you to give up.”
I asked God to grant me patience. He said, “No, patience is the byproduct of tribulations. It isn’t granted; it is learned.”
I asked God to give me happiness. He said, “No. I give you blessings; happiness is up to you.”
I asked God to make my spirit grow. He said, “No. You must grow on your own. I will prune you to make you fruitful.”
I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. He said, “No, I give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.”
Isn’t all this interesting? A jaw dropper that makes us ponder what kind of faith we have when jaws don’t drop.
And maybe what I love most about the story in John 2 isn’t the wine; it’s the water. Why? What was that water, again? Not drinking water. Glorified bath water! Used for purification so ppl would be “clean” enough to enter God’s presence in the temple. And they had to do it over and over and over and over. Each time wanted to go. And remember how I said John’s no dummy? He’s not! Genius! Because the word for “purify” or “ceremonial washing” in 2:6 is the SAME WORD as I John 1:7 (written by?): READ. Ah! That’s the heart! He’s not so much replacing water with wine as he is replacing endless ritual with ONCE & FOR ALL SACRIFICE! That’s his “Glory”! That’s what the SIGN reveals. This is almost John’s Transfiguration story – Jesus is turning inside out, revealing his “Glory” and what John shows us is the singular death that brings endless life. The kind of thing the servants know and the Masters miss. You believe it in that glory and that’s what sustains you. Every answer you get points you back to the Answerer who has got you.
Listen: in your future, maybe even this week, you’re GONNA get rescued. You’re GONNA get delivered. You’re GONNA get answers. Just be careful not to let that increase your desire for your next answer but instead for your next appointment with the Answerer. Every answer you get points you back to the Answerer who has got you.