In, With, and Under
January, 17, 2017
First wise men from the east, then a dove from heaven and the voice of God, and now water into wine—all pointing to the glory and wonder of God-made-flesh. Changing water into wine was the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, by which Jesus revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. With this first miracle, the gospel of John is off and running but many modern people say, not so fast.
Can all this stuff really happen? We live in an utterly miraculous world of galaxies, black holes, T-cells, babies, and acts of love, and yet the modern viewpoint by which we have prospered handicaps our ability to follow the gospel.
Isaiah proclaims the whole earth is full of God’s glory. The Gospel of Thomas declares, “cleave the wood and I am there.” The apostle Paul, invoking Greek philosophers, asserts that God is the reality within whom we “live and move and have our being.”
To enter the world of the gospels, we must open ourselves to the reality of a deeper wisdom flowing just beneath the surface of all things. We do not jettison what we have learned about how the material world works. But we must add what we have come to know about how the living world works. The healing-transforming grace of God is at work relationally and persuasively within each moment. God is present in, with, and under, not outside of, the normal cause and effect process of life, working with, rather than against natural events. (Bruce Epperly, the Adventurous Lectionary)
Yes. Miracles happen. Miracles happen all around us. Can water change into wine? Maybe. But perhaps this is beside the point. To follow the gospels in what they have to teach us, we have to go all in, like any child listening to a good story. This is what philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called second naiveté. We must think our way past what we have learned as adults, in order to re-open ourselves to the wonders and mysteries of life we knew as a child.
Jesus turned water used for ritual purification into 175 gallons of wine to gladden the feast at a wedding. It will not be possible to wash away your sins using the old rites of the law after this marriage. And — it won’t be necessary. There are six jars, just as there were six days of creation. On the seventh day, creation did not need to be purified. God’s creation is already deliciously good. The incarnation of Christ is a radical affirmation of the ordinary world that in many ways, after more than two thousand years, we have yet to fully grasp.
Yes, now we are off and running in pursuit of the good news of this gospel. We set out into the deep water. We journey with Jesus beneath the surface of things. We find communion with the Living Word of God and may glimpse some understanding of God’s grace that is hidden in plain sight, always a work in, with and under our lives and in worldly events.
The real test of the truth of the miracle at Cana is not 175 gallons of wine, but the transformation of our hearts and minds as we are slowly, and all at once folded into the body of Christ to become a living sanctuary of hope and grace. Can God do that? Do you believe God can renew and remake your life? Then, yes, you to must admit to the truth of miracles.
So let’s return to our gospel, to the scene of Jesus’ first miracle, in order to see what else we might have missed. As a pastor myself, something I notice that’s a little strange is what Jesus didn’t do. Jesus didn’t preside at the wedding. He gave no sermon about marriage. He offered no advice about family life. He doesn’t even say a prayer or offer a blessing for the bride and groom.
The whole wild and joyous, somewhat raucous, slightly drunken scene is just what the Pharisees and other upright, uptight religious people of his day complained about. It fits with all four gospels’ portrayal of Jesus as a man who disdains the pieties that mark purity, such as the Sabbath laws, as a man who enfolds the unclean in what he calls a greater purity, into a fellowship of faithful longing of the heart for love: hearts he finds in prostitutes, lepers, a very short tax collector, and the poor.
“Maybe the inviting of friends and family to witness the joy two have found together, and the hopeful future they dare to embark upon, is the best of occasions – outside of a manger – for Jesus to offer us a miracle that changes no-more into more-than-enough and even into the-very-best-of-all-good-things.” (Nancy Rockwell, The Bite in the Apple)
It may be easier for us to take seriously Jesus’ anger, suffering, and weeping over sin. But perhaps we do Jesus an injustice by ignoring his love of parties, his love of the life of the flesh. There is something about the radical incarnation of Jesus that makes us look away. I wonder are we too embarrassed? (Nancy Rockwell)
Historically, we Protestants seemed determined to flip this gospel on its head. The temperance traditions that led to Prohibition reflect a profound uneasiness that persists to this day with the idea that the ‘new wine’ of Christ means Jesus preferred grape juice. There are still many Christians who would much prefer a Jesus who changes wine into water, and who concentrates on purification rather than radical blessing of our bodies and its all too frequently carnal desires.
Historically, Catholics turned the wedding at Cana into a whole catechism for marriage, exercises to prepare brides and groom to live in mutual respect and stay married, complete with injunctions against family planning.
Jesus offers us none of this at the Wedding in Cana. He offered us a miracle. It is the miracle of radical incarnation, the blessing to embody grace, the transformation of our hearts and minds for inclusion and incorporation into what Martin Luther King Jr. called the beloved community. Jesus opens the way to a new way of life for us, marked by the way of his cross. Jesus opens the eyes of the blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf to see and to hear the miraculous going on within the ordinary, everyday mysteries of daily life.
Jesus’ mother asks him to solve a simple problem: They have run out of wine at a wedding feast. Within that simple human problem are hidden the Passion, the Eucharist, and the ultimate triumph of God over death and evil. In the Eucharist the real presence of Christ is hidden in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine.
Christianity is a religion of revelation, epiphanies and miracles. We experience the scandal and shock of the gospel every time we discover the sacred hidden within the profane, the extraordinary hidden within the ordinary, unity found in diversity, wisdom hidden within simplicity. In the fullness of time God has sent the best wine in Jesus Christ.
Just as Jesus gladdened the wedding feast with as much as 180 gallons of fine wine, so Jesus invites us now to gladden our lives with grace poured out for you by the Holy Spirit. Come drink and be satisfied. Come walk from darkness into the light. See, by light of the miracle of God’s grace, the whole world looks different. The whole world, including we ourselves, are being changed.