They Have No Wine

January 13, 2019

Reverend James R. Henry

Text: John 2:1-11

John’s account begins: There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Someone quipped that weddings are accidents waiting to happen. There are so many details to take care of in the planning and preparation and so many things to coordinate. So, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, and sometimes they do.

I could tell you stories… like when a tiered wedding cake toppled to the floor on a hot July afternoon. Or when the groom, a young tough policeman, fainted in the middle of the ceremony and one of the groomsmen, also a policeman, teased him in a whisper loud enough for all to hear, “Don’t worry, this will never get back to the barracks.” Or when the bride, on her father’s arm, was halfway down the isle in grand procession and the pipe organ went down. The beauty of that tragedy was that the father of the bride was also the chairman of the music committee, responsible for the maintenance of the organ. I could tell you more but let me assure all you parents of up-and-coming brides that 99.999% of weddings go off without a hitch.

At the wedding in our lesson, something did go wrong. They ran out of wine. That would have been then, a much bigger problem than for us today. There would have been only wine and water to drink and the water was hardly fit to drink. The wedding feast was held in the home of the groom and might go on for up to seven days. So, this was no minor embarrassment. This was a crisis! But Jesus miraculously saved the day by turning water into wine and it’s ultimately a lovely scene!

Jesus is clearly the central figure in the story. It’s his first recorded miracle, and in the framework of John’s writing it is the first of a number of signs that call people to believe in Jesus. But as I began to think through this story a couple weeks ago, I found myself drawn to Mary and I found myself identifying with her in a deep way. While she may not be the central figure, she plays a very vital supporting role. Note how John begins his account; 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.” I might have expected the order to be the other way around.

My mind begins to wonder: What if Mary had not been there? But I’m not going to allow myself to wander off into the hypothetical. John says she was there. She was very much present in what was going on around her. When the wine ran out, she noticed it and was immediately alert to the need, and she cared about it, and she responded to the need.

Now, this is not really her problem. It’s not her fault. It’s someone else’s problem. Besides, despite her good concern, how could she begin to provide wine for so many and for the rest of the week? I mean, what could she do about it? But she did do something about it. She said to Jesus, “They have no wine.” She was troubled enough about someone else’s need to speak up and speak out.

Again, my mind begins to wander: What if Mary had not spoken up? But she did! She goes to Jesus, and with a sense of expectation and hope she says, “Jesus, they have no wine!” She knows that Jesus could do something, and she seems to believe that he should do something. This is not a casual statement of fact. There’s a sense of urgency here. She is imploring him in an intercessory way. She can’t meet the need herself, but she knows he can.

Now here’s where I can really begin to identify with Mary, can’t you? Isn’t this the essence of intercessory prayer? Isn’t this what intercessory prayer is all about? “O God, they have no wine! Look down in your mercy!”

I’m with Mary. I want Jesus to pop the miracle right now and bring this thing to a happy resolve. But the story doesn’t end quite so simply. In fact, the whole thing gets troublesome. I’m talking about the response Mary gets from Jesus. Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” And Jesus says to Mary, “What concern is that to you and Me? My hour has not yet come.”

WHAT ?!? What gives here? Biblical scholars and commentators have offered various conjectures and suggestions. Maybe Jesus doesn’t want to come off as a cheap purveyor of stuff, like some kind of health-and-wealth guru, especially this early in his public life, when he senses that his higher calling is to give his very self ultimately in death.

Whatever… here’s where I can really begin to identify with Mary. Why does God not act? Where is God in the face of such poverty and hunger and disease and injustice and when so many don’t even have clean water to drink, let alone wine? How can I justify God’s goodness in the face of so much human suffering and evil? How could God have allowed her to die so young, or his kid to OD on drugs?

Theologians call it theodicy. Some have spoken of “the scandal of diving reluctance”. Again, whatever, this is as troubling to me as it is to you. It eludes my best efforts to understand. I can’t reduce it to manageable form.

But it’s not the end of the story. Mary doesn’t throw up her hand and say, “If Jesus doesn’t care; if he’s not going to do something about it, there’s no sense in me trying.” Rather, she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” WAIT !!! Didn’t she hear what Jesus just said ?!? Is she being overly presumptuous? Is this some kind of mother’s prerogative? Is she trying to force Jesus’ hand?

I think her initial expectancy and hope – “they have no wine.” – is now become a kind of holy insistence – “THEY HAVE NO WINE!”

She sees someone else’s problem. It’s not her problem, but it’s acute and it’s immediate. And she really cares about them. Someone may say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s not your lane”, but that doesn’t make the problem go away and it doesn’t allow her passion to wane. Moreover, she knows enough, even from that initial announcement from the angel Gabriel about her son named Jesus, and she trusts enough in who she knows him to be and who he is to become, that she pushes forward with what she knows is good and right and everything she knows to be the very nature of Jesus. And she says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Somehow, Jesus is good and righteous, and he will know what is good and right and she transfers the weight of this whole thing to Jesus.

Let’s not try to read into this story what is not there, but let’s hear what is there in the conversation as John recounts it in such a simple way.

Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.”

Jesus says to Mary, “What concern is that to you or me?”

Mary says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus says to the servants, “Fill the jars with water. Now draw some out

and take it to the chief steward.”

And the wine was the best of the party!

And so, it was a happy ending, at least at the wedding at Cana. But the story is not ended for us. We’re not home yet. We are still troubled by what we see around us, and all over the world. We still struggle. And here’s where I want to fully identify with Mary. I want to know and trust God enough to be able to push it with Him… not against Him… and to allow myself to plead and quarrel with God… to protest before God, and to hold God accountable, not to me, but to Himself, because I do know who God is… that He is a God of love and truth and justice. Without deducing any kind of fixed formula for the motives and actions of God, it does impel me to pray expectantly and even insistently. In our hour, in our world, in our perplexity and outrage, and in our world of need, I want the best wine for everyone… the wine of the common good.

Sometimes I want to grab God by the lapels and shout, “Come on, God, they have no wine! Look down in your mercy. They have no food; their fields are dry. She can’t nurse her infant; her breasts are dry. They have nowhere to live, except the streets. They have no job, no medicine, no healthcare. They have no support, no friends. His son died of an overdose. Her uncle abused her. O God, can’t you see? They have no wine!”

I hate this! But I’ve got to know it. I can’t fix it, but I can’t turn away from it. So, what shall I do?

Do our prayers influence God, and the course of events? Yes… somehow… I do believe… yes. But I cannot reduce God to my rationale. I can’t put a meter on God’s workings or measure them. I cannot levy my determinations on God. But because I know God to be the God of Love and Truth and Justice, I will argue with God, and expect God to be the God that He is. But I will not judge God. I will love God, and seek God, and trust God, and obey God. I want to stay in my lane, but I want to do whatever God tells me to do in my lane.

And like Mary, I can’t look away!

That’s all I know. That’s all I can tell you. So, I’ll say, Amen.

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