Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Great Lent Week 1
Volume 7 No. 399 February 24, 2017
 
II. Lectionary Reflections (Miracle at Cana)

Believing in the Glory - Water into Wine

by Rt. Rev'd Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Woolwich

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
- John 2.11

'Our Lord Jesus Christ was himself a guest at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.' - As a parish priest, I have said that so many times as part of the introduction to the marriage service in the Alternative Service Book - and longed secretly for the sonsorous cadences of the Book of Common Prayer: 'which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee'. Nowadays, Common Worship includes this sentence: 'St John tells us how Jesus shared in such an occasion at Cana'. Any way, whatever words we use to describe it, is the point of this gospel passage really that Jesus was a wedding guest at Cana? And, let's remember, not a very good guest - having a very public domestic with his mum, taking control of the wine list, generally stealing the limelight of the bride's big day.

But in fact the truth at the heart of this gospel passage is not that Jesus was at Cana to express his approval of the institution of marriage; a wedding does provide the context in which this, 'the first of his signs', is performed, but it is not the meaning to which the sign refers. For me, the point of this first sign, the transformation of water into wine, is the abundance, the super-abundance, even the excess of the provision which God offers to his people. Think of the figures involved. There are six stone jars, each of them holding 2 or 3 firkins, 20 or 30 gallons, and each filled up to the brim with water. Taking the lowest figure in the range that St John offers, we have 120 gallons, i.e. 545 litres, of wine. A standard bottle of wine today is 75 cl: Jesus has produced the equivalent of 727 bottles for a party which has already drunk its way through its host's provision. If we take the upper figure, the stock taking rises to 1090 bottles, I think. Even by the standards of a clergy event in the Diocese of Southwark, that is prodigious; indeed, it is prodigal.

And this super-abundance, this exuberance undaunted by anxiety over wastefulness, is a theme which appears again and again in the New Testament. In the parable of the Sower, the grain is scattered everywhere; most of it is lost, but that which falls on good soil produces astonishing yields - thirty-, sixty-, a hundred-fold. In another parable, the workers who are recruited to labour in the vineyard late in the day are rewarded with the same generosity as the others, much to their bewilderment. St Paul writes that the love of God is shed abroad by the Holy Spirit into the hearts of the ungodly, and it is in their justification that the justice of God bears the fruit of amazing grace. Christian faith speaks throughout of undeserved, unexpected, unscientific abundance; and this is the sign which Jesus sets before us at Cana of Galilee.

In enacting that sign, says St John, Jesus revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. This is a sign set in the most basic of human settings, that of a wedding; it is performed through ordinary human actions, the drawing of water from a well; it uses the everyday stuff of human consumption, wine; it is described in markedly understated human language, a simple past participle form 'water become wine'. Yet we know that we are being pointed beyond the boundaries of normal human experience, to the burgeoning abundance which is the sign of God's presence - a reality which cannot be adequately described, but for which John uses the word 'glory'.

Of course, 'glory' is not a word coined by the New Testament writers; the divine glory repeatedly breaks into the narrative of the Hebrew scriptures too. In our first reading, Isaiah speaks of the glory of the Lord that will arise upon Jerusalem and draw the nations to his light. The gospel message is, that in Jesus that attracting, dazzling light is embodied in a human being: 'we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth'. How is such an economy of divine prodigality received in our world. What difference might it make to the way we live, if we are among those who have seen his glory?

Well, let's go back to what John says at the end of his story of Cana - Jesus 'revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.' Think about each of those three words in turn: 'revealed', 'glory', and 'believed'.

In the first place, as always in the gospels, this revelation of God's glory takes place in a particular place - at Cana of Galilee - at a particular time - during a marriage feast - and through a particular person - Jesus of Nazareth. It is in these specific interactions that ultimate meaning is disclosed, and it is through telling and re-telling this specific narrative that that meaning is brought to others. And that means that Christians should always be wary of any general theories which try to predict what is going to happen; always approach with a hermeneutic of suspicion any reporting that generalises how groups of people are going to act or think; because if God's glory was revealed in a Galilean wedding feast, we never know what might happen anywhere, or who might do what when. It is in the telling of particular stories of particular people at particular times and in particular places that revelation happens, and one of the great strengths of the Church of England is that through our presence in parishes, schools and chaplaincies across the land we are daily hearing thousands and thousands of such stories. As a bishop in South East London, I never cease to be struck by how very much more interesting, more compelling and more meaningful are the real human stories that I hear, compared to the opinionated stereotypes that I read in newspapers or see on TV. It is in the particular that God reveals his glory.

And, second, what he reveals is just that, glory: an overwhelming, life-giving grace which cannot be reduced to our limits, which infinitely exceeds our expectations. No doubt the chief steward at Cana had estimated how much wine should be bought; no doubt the guests felt he had underestimated; but all calculations are as nothing before the enormous quantities God's glory dispenses. Whether 727 bottles or 1060, the numbers are vast beyond measure: glory cannot be measured.

To set something immeasurable and unimaginable as that which we value most is to be profoundly subversive in today's world. We live in a society which is obsessed with measuring targets, with paying by results, with putting a numerical figure on every value, with looking for a financial analysis of any transaction. But the economy of God's glory does not work in this way: knowing that we always fall short of any target that his infinite holiness may set us, we rely on his illimitable grace; it is that grace alone that gives us true value, and it is that standard that sets us a new way of relating to one another. It is not easy to learn to relate to one another according to the economy of glory, because we are very suspicious of this way of thinking. Like labourers in the vineyard, we grumble at God, envious because he is kind.

But then, thirdly, becoming kind as God is kind is what we have to learn to do if - like the disciples - we believe in Jesus, the one who has revealed his glory. Believing in Jesus means staking our lives on the hunch that the divine glory he reveals is the most important reality we can know, and then living our staked lives according to the economy of that glory in the world. That in turn means, taking the risk to give of ourselves to others generously, prodigally, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to believe in others as God believes in them, to expect great things from the God whose grace is at work in them as it is in us. That is a challenging way to live, and it's much easier to slip back into suspicion of others, into defensiveness, cynicism, criticism.

I see all those attitudes in my own church much of the time; I see them in myself nearly all the time. But two days ago I was in Lewisham at a memorial event for a great little girl of Nigerian heritage, Ella Kissi-Debrah. Ella was a devout server at her parish church, St Swithun's, Lewisham. Last year, she suddenly died, aged 9, from the severe asthma that had been with her through much of her short life. A few weeks before her death, Ella said this to her mum: 'Mum, life is too short to use it being horrid to people'.

'Life is too short to use it being horrid to people' - simple words, but out of Ella's short life they speak to me powerfully of what it means to believe in the Jesus who reveals his glory among us. In Cana, in Lewisham, in Oxford, he gives us gallons of the new wine of his glory so that we can love one another as he loves us - or at least not be horrid to one another.

Copyright 2014 Worcester College Chapel. All rights reserved.

The One Who Gives Abundantly

by Sigurd Grindheim, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

John 2:1-11 TNIV: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." "Woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 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 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." What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples put their faith in him.

Imagine that the Bible was lost and somebody today was given the task of recording, to the best of their ability, the deeds and words of the Son of God. They were to give an account of the good influence that Jesus had had in people's lives. What do you think would have been recorded as the first instance through which Jesus showed his greatness? Imagine that there would be a poll among the Christians of the 21st century where they were to answer the question: how does Jesus show you that he is the greatest?

I'll tell you one thing I don't think would make it among the top ten: Jesus showing up at a small town wedding, making water into wine. But that's what the apostle John reports as Jesus' primary miracle, when he revealed his glory to the disciples, when he showed them his greatness.

Why couldn't Jesus have found a better purpose when he performed his first miracle? Why couldn't he have intervened in some of the many political conflicts of the time and put an end to war? Why couldn't he have done something with the world's food supply and put an end to world hunger? Why did he choose a small town wedding where he had to provide some more wine? These people had been partying for days and they had probably had enough to drink already. Why does Jesus choose to provide wine at a rural wedding when he would reveal his glory?

This story tells me that Jesus' concern is to help individuals and make them happy.

How different this is from so many religious ideas about who Jesus is and what he does. Some people have thought that a follower of Jesus should abstain from marriage. Some people seem to think that a good Christian must not be too light hearted, but that a good Christian must be very serious. How very different the real Jesus is. He comes to a wedding. And he decides to perform his first miracle to help people enjoy themselves and have fun.

The point is not that Jesus is encouraging excessive drinking. That is repeatedly condemned in Scripture. But the point is to show how Jesus is the giver of all good things.

Jesus says: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). In our Norwegian tradition we tend to think of abundance as something that is too much, something that is unnecessary, almost immoral. But if you do a search in the Bible for the word "abundance" and similar words, you will soon find that one of God's blessings is that we have abundance.

When Moses gives his last speech to the people of Israel, he makes it very clear that they have two options before them. They can serve God, who brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, or they can choose their own ways. The result will be either a curse or a blessing. If they go their own ways, they will experience the curse, and they will finally lose the land that God gave them, as they eventually did, but if they follow the Lord, they will experience the blessing. They will be prosperous and they will have abundance.

Deuteronomy 30:8-9 reads: "Then you shall again obey the LORD, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and the LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors."

Many of us have experienced that God can lead us and demonstrate his goodness to us also when we don't have abundance, also when we suffer and when we feel everything in life goes against us. Because God can turn everything around for the good and he teaches us that the most important good thing in life is to know Jesus Christ.

The Psalmist says: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps 73:25-26).

But the text for today reminds us that we have a generous God and a generous savior. We have a God who wants us to have all good things. And he wants us to have abundance. Just as when he was a guest at the small town wedding in Galilee and they were a little short of wine. Jesus did not just provide a little wine. He found six of the biggest water jars available and while he was at it, he provided about 150 gallons of wine. They should be able to keep the party going a little while longer.

Jesus reveals that he is the one, as the apostle Paul says, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

In his world famous book on prayer, Ole Hallesby takes Mary in this story as an example of someone who knows how to pray to Jesus. What is it Mary does? She merely tells Jesus what the problem is. She does not suggest what Jesus should do. Mary no doubt has some idea of what Jesus is capable of. She remembers how he was born, and how he was conceived. She remembers the message from the angel that she "will conceive in her womb and bear a son, and she will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:31-33). But she does not come to Jesus with an already thought out solution. She does not even ask that he do something about the problem. She simply says what it is. And she is so confident that Jesus, who is the giver of all good things, and who cares for us and wants us to have abundance, he will provide the best possible solution, better than what she can imagine.

Jesus' reply to his mother may seem harsh: "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4). Jesus' first miracle is the beginning of Jesus' special ministry, and to reveal himself as God's Son, and it is necessary that also Mary has to learn that she has to come to Jesus as everybody else. She does not have any privileged access to the Son of God even though she is his mother. She is in the same position as everybody else. Mary, however, is not discouraged by this seemingly abrupt answer she receives from Jesus, but she remains just as confident that Jesus has the situation under control. She does not bother to talk more to him about it. She knows that he knows. And she trusts him. She simply tells the servants: "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5).

I don't know if Mary would have been able to imagine what Jesus was about to do. Probably not. When Jesus provides an answer to our prayers, the answer is often more glorious than what we were able to expect. By giving us something other than exactly what we were expecting for, he is able to give us more. He provides a solution that is better than what we even could imagine.

My mother was able to teach me a lesson about this once, when I was in Junior High. I had just started at a new school, and these transitions to a new school are not always easy. In my case, I was picked on by some of the other kids. Especially one of them turned out to be very annoying and at times I thought it was absolutely terrible to be at school because of this individual. My mother and I used to pray together every night and when I had told my mother about this very annoying kid, my mother suggested that we pray for this boy and that we pray that he and I became friends. Now, at this point, I realized that my mother and I had a serious communication problem. Because she had clearly not understood what a jerk this fellow was. And my mother's suggestion was more than stupid. But I couldn't very well object, either. So I went along with this praying, confident that it could not possibly yield any results whatsoever. This boy was simply beyond what you could pray for. Maybe it was possible that he might leave me alone. That was something I could imagine. But becoming his friend? No way. Not in this world and definitely not in the next. Can you imagine what happened? We became friends. We became very close friends. We used to hang out all the time. I would go over to his house and we would hang out together.

He is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, says the apostle Paul (Eph 3:20). It is true.

Sigurd Grindheim

On Wine and Weddings

by Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt

Gospel: John 2:1-11

I was out to lunch with a friend the other day. It was noon on a Saturday and the restaurant was crowded. After we sat down I looked up to notice the group at the next table. There were four sitting there. The three women were knitting and the young man was looking on. It's a little unusual to see a group of knitters out for lunch, so they especially caught my attention. One of the women was a little older, one appeared to be her daughter, and the third was sitting close to the young man. I was trying not to eavesdrop at first, but the quarters were tight and they were speaking loudly to be heard over the din of the lunchtime crowd. Soon I could hear they were talking wedding plans... and then the older woman began to tell the story of her own wedding day. She spoke of the party that was held before the actual wedding itself, about the amount of alcohol consumed, and of how the whole wedding party was late getting to the church. (I cringed in behalf of the pastor who officiated that day. I'm guessing that after that he found himself making the speech I've made for years at wedding rehearsals. Pastors, you know the one --- where you remind those bright shining young people to please wait to party until after the wedding itself!) And then she went on to talk about the 21 bottles of cognac which were served at the actual wedding reception. From there, the details don't much matter, but as I leaned back in my chair I found myself wondering about how many of our wedding stories go like that. How many of our stories center not so much on the ceremony itself, but on the celebrations which precede or follow the time at the church. Indeed, how many of our stories: both those we tell and those we don't, carry memories of what was imbibed by the guests.

For it is also so in the wedding story that is ours to share in today. The story here, too focuses not on the actual wedding itself but on what came later. Only in this case, the wine gave out before it was time for the guests to go home.

So I find myself now thinking not so much of the potential embarrassment of the host, nor of the wonder of the guests who would have enjoyed that fine wine. Rather, I am thinking of those on the edges of the normally main memory itself. I am thinking today of those presumably strong young servants who carried the stone jars and filled them with water. You know, those folks who would be standing on the edge of any wedding reception still today, waiting to serve, to clear, to carry the individually sliced pieces of cake to the tables of the guests. Those same ones who, in the case of the story I overheard above, had the unenviable task of cleaning up after those who had enjoyed the party perhaps a little too much. In Jesus' day, I expect they were the permanent underclass: those servants, those slaves. In our day, perhaps this is also so.

It strikes me on this reading, though, that those servants on the edge of the celebration were the only ones to actually witness the miracle here. To be sure, the chief steward tasted it, and apparently his taste buds were still sensitive so he was able to enjoy the fine quality of the wine. And the bridegroom and the bride and all their guests enjoyed the gift of the miracle before us now. Still, it was the servants who saw this wondrous miracle of abundance play out right before their eyes. It was the servants who saw it all --- those who most likely never actually even got a sip of the 180 gallons of fine wine that was now being stored in those stone jars. Indeed, they were, they are those who go mostly unseen, un-noticed by the rest of us. And yet, they are the ones who went home with a story that night. They are the ones who first glimpsed the promise of Jesus. They are, indeed, as we hear throughout the Gospels --- they are the ones for whom the gifts of God are especially meant. And so whether they ever tasted this wine or not, they must have gone home with the dawning recognition that in the simple act of 'saving' a party, the world itself was about to change in Christ Jesus. Indeed, in Jesus the world itself was about to change.

  • Do you think there is any significance to the apparent truth that the servants were the only ones to actually witness this first miracle of Jesus first hand? Why or why not?
  • Why 'water into wine?' What other Biblical references to 'wine' might help us to go deeper into this story?
  • Can you think of other examples when the presumably 'main memory' was not the main memory at all? Can you think of other times when unexpected folks have received an unexpected gift of God's grace?

Source: Dancing with the Word

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