by Stuart Pike
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
St. Luke's, Burlington
17 January 2010
Today’s Gospel story used to leave me a little bit cold. If Jesus was going plan out his career in miracle-making, I used to think, surely he would do one of the healings first. What was Jesus’ point in making this over-abundance of wine for a wedding feast. Surely it wasn’t a life and death situation. No one’s limb was restored; no one recovered their sight. It appears that the big winners in today’s story include the host who was saved from public embarrassment and the guests themselves who could party on longer! I was encouraged that this story appears to prove that Jesus loved a party, but shouldn’t there be a little more depth here?
Not only that: most of the characters in the story are blissfully unaware that a miracle has even taken place. The steward of the feast doesn’t know. The bridegroom doesn’t know. The servants who drew the wine out of the water-jars seem to be the only ones who know, although we can assume that Jesus’ disciples know along with Jesus’ mother, Mary.
At just about the time that I am scratching my head wondering what the point of the miracle is, I remember a simple truth about my nature which I try to keep hidden, occasionally with some success. Yes, the truth is that I am really a party-animal trapped inside the body of a Priest!
Truth be told, my favourite part of seminary was the social life! Anything was an excuse for a party. There were many evenings when a crowd of us would gather at Seager hall to celebrate something good or sometimes to console ourselves after something brutal such as a philosophical theology exam. The phrase was: “Life’s a party.” Or at least that was my phrase and my general positive attitude to life. Rejoice! Celebrate! Isn’t that the essence of our faith. Aren’t we, at the deepest level, Easter people?
The feast is an image which was often used throughout the old and new testaments. In our old testament today Isaiah uses the image of the marriage feast to represent the celebration of Israel when she is finally vindicated. Jesus frequently referred to heaven as being a marriage feast. The relationship between God and his people is likened to a marriage just as Christ is referred to as a bridegroom, and the Church his bride. The wine of the feast represents the abundant blessing of God: the richness of life in all its fullness. Wine is the joie de vivre.
There’s only one problem with the “life’s a party” attitude though: sooner or later in our lives, the wine runs out. We might be enjoying our lives like a guest at a wedding and then suddenly a sobering event might broadside us: the wine has run out. You lose your job, the diagnosis is in, the depression hits, the loved one is stricken or love is lost. Sometimes the wine runs out more gradually: middle age settles in and goals hoped for become only the illusions of our youth: and so: the wine runs out.
Perhaps you remember when the wine ran out in your life. Perhaps you haven’t experienced that yet. Perhaps you’re in the middle of that dry period now. Perhaps you feel the scarcity of it.
John, the writer of today’s Gospel, knows about scarcity and abundance. Many of the miracles which John describes are about God’s abundant blessings pouring into broken and impoverished lives: the healings of those who are ill or deformed or shunned: the feeding of the multitude, the raising of the dead.
I love how John tells the story. There is such a lovely moment between Jesus and his mother. They arrive on the third day of the wedding. In that time a wedding celebration lasted for a week! What a party, but what a disappointment because they’re not even half-way through and they’ve run out of wine. Mary looks to her son and simply says, “They have no wine.” Jesus knows the implication in her statement, but he replies: “But what does that have to do with you and me? I’m not ready to do anything about it!” Mary, the quintessential confident Jewish mother doesn’t even dignify his protest with an answer. She simply says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” Although John doesn’t record it, I can nevertheless see Jesus rolling his eyes as he mutters under his breath: “Oi vey” just before he tells the servants to fill the stone jars with water.
He tells the servants to draw out some of the water and to give it to the steward of the feast, and that’s it. The miracle is done! John uses hyperbole to point out God’s abundance. Look at the sheer volume of the miracle: Jesus makes 120 or 130 gallons of wine! Now that’s a party animal! The steward, perhaps swaying somewhat to add import to his words calls the bridegroom in astonishment and says, “But everyone serves the good wine first and then they bring out the poorer wine, when the guests have become drunk, and it doesn’t matter anymore. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Not only did Jesus make so much wine, but it was the best wine. Not only does Jesus bring life into a lifeless situation, but it is the best life. I can just see Mary in the background saying, “That’s my own son, he’s such a good boy.”
John’s meaning is clear: no matter the depth of your lack, Jesus can transform your life. You can be filled with God’s abundance. Your soul can be filled to the brim and overflowing with the essence of God’s blessing.
One of the important parts of this Gospel lesson to me is the fact that Jesus uses the labour of others to help in the miracle. The really back-breaking work of this miracle was the hauling of 120 gallons of water to fill those stone jars. That’s what the servants did. Jesus works through the contribution of ordinary people, and that’s how the miracle happens.
I heard Tom Harpur interviewed on CBC radio a couple of years ago. He was speaking about a new book of his called the Spirituality of Wine. He was speaking about how wine is made. How the heavens open and the rains fall upon the vineyards, drenching them with water. The ground of the vineyard is tilled by human activity, and the vines are tended by human hands. The roots of the vines drink up the water of the ground. The grapes are collected and pressed and the juice is stored and after a time the result is wine. The water of the rain, through God’s work and our work combined has been changed into wine!
The message of today’s Gospel is one of joy. Jesus can fill our thirsty souls with new and abundant life. And we can be engaged in bringing this abundance to others. Amen.