John 2: 1-10
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. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “What concern is that to you and to me?” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
If you have been at New Vision for a while, you know that the gospel of John is my least favorite gospel. Unlike the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that tell the stories of the human Rabbi Jesus, the 4th gospel mostly portrays him, a lot of the time, as a sort of cosmic super Christ, which is not how I see him. But even worse than that, to me, is John’s anti-Jewish bias, made obvious in his negative portrayal of all Jewish people who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, through his continued use of “The Jews” as a pejorative. When I bought this book a couple of years ago, Outdoing Jesus by Doug Pagitt, a progressive Christian writer, after reading a synopsis, I didn’t realize it was just about the gospel of John. So I put it away until recently, and I discovered that it makes some really good points. The author looks at the miracles of Jesus, called signs and wonders in the gospel of John, not as breaking the laws of physics, but breaking open human hearts, which is also the way I view them. The title comes from John 14: 12, where, during the last supper, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will do the same works that I do. In fact, you will do greater works than I do.” So I thought I would use it as a jumping off point to look at some of these signs and wonders as good deeds for fellow humans. The story for today, as we heard in the reading, is when Jesus changed the water into wine. Of course if you grew up Southern Baptist, Jesus changed it into unfermented wine or grape juice because drinking alcohol was a sin. This story isn’t about a cosmic super Christ. It’s about Jesus at a wedding with his mom. She was the first to notice that the wine was running low. And she told Jesus to do something about it. And after a little reluctance, he did, but not in front of the crowd like you would think a miraculous sign would have been done. The only folks who knew that it happened, Jesus, his mom, the disciples, and the servants, didn’t announce it to the wedding guests. Because Jesus did it for the guests, for the bride, and especially for the groom and his family, who were considered the hosts. Weddings in first century Palestine were multi-day affairs. The first two days were celebration days where the families met and got to know each other. The third day was when the vows were spoken, making it the most important day. And this, the text says, was the third day. They were about to run out of wine on the most important day, and because of customary hospitality expectations, this would have brought great shame to the groom in this honor and shame society. Pagitt says, “Turning the water into wine is not used to enhance Jesus’s reputation. It is used to save the reputation of the groom.” We too live in an honor and shame society, although it’s not so obvious. People still ask what the rape victim was wearing, and get impatient at the person in the grocery line who is using food stamps. I’ve seen it my whole life in how we shame our homeless neighbors. Our actions and reactions make them ashamed of how they look and how they smell. Ashamed that they don’t have a home to go to and a bed to sleep in. That sometimes the only bathroom is a dumpster. Society blames them for their situation. But not everybody. I read this past week about a barber who has been giving free haircuts to homeless people for 5 years. He said that so many of them never have any human contact, and when he cuts and dries their hair and give them a head massage, he is honoring them. With the fresh haircut, they see themselves differently, and other people see them differently and so treat them differently. That’s what we did at the drop-in center, treated our homeless neighbors as equals. Tried to give them their dignity back. And some of us are still doing it on their own. I love to read Brenda’s updates about the community that forms around the picnic tables when she brings the snack bags. Another thing about the story that Pagitt points out are the jugs Jesus used. The text says they were meant only for ritual purification. I believe that the gospel writer included this to further disparage Judaism and it’s practices, that the jars would have been made impure after they were used for such a non-religious purpose, and that Jesus was making a statement about how ridiculous that was. But I got a different message from it, which fits with something I have been thinking about for a while, as my theology has evolved to the point that it has been almost total replaced by ethics. The jars were considered sacred. The wedding was considered secular. I think those concepts are archaic and we should stop using them together. Sacred/secular. How self-righteous. Like what we do in church is so different from what goes on in the rest of the world. And so much better. It’s just not true. At New Vision, our music comes from Broadway Musicals, the 60’s, pop, Motown. We don’t change the words to make them about Jesus. The message is already there. And when we do Movies with a Message, we don’t then have to relate them to the bible. The message is already there. Do the right thing. Love your neighbor. Fight against injustice. Finally, since Thursday was Earth Day, I want to mention something in the story that we all know. They had to have wine because no water was drinkable. The only way to make it drinkable, so that people could survive, was through boiling, fermenting, or distilling, which is why wine and other alcohol were the primary source of drinkable liquid up to the 18th century. I remind us of that because today, over 2 billion people across the world still don’t have access to drinkable water. But thanks to humans helping other humans, there are now programs on the continent of Africa that turn sea water and dew into drinkable water, which not only keeps people alive, but also benefits women and girls who typically spend their days collecting water from polluted rivers and boiling it. Now they can go to school. No matter how the stories of Jesus were told or interpreted, it seems obvious to me that everything he did was to benefit someone else, and he made his world a better place. May we follow his example in everything that we do, so that we can help make our world a better place.