Sermon Epiphany 2C 2019 The Rev. John M. Atkins
From the Gospel of John 2:1-11
2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the
mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been
invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of
Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not
yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells
you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish
rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus
said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to
the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the
chief steward.” So they took it. 9 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 10 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.” 11 Jesus did this,
the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and
his disciples believed in him.
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John is writing this Gospel 60 to 70 years after Jesus death and resurrection. John and his community of disciples have spent much time thinking about Jesus life. They have contemplated not only Jesus’ manner of living and his miracles or signs, but also their deeper meaning. Stories are stories on the surface, that is, until you gain a deeper level of understanding. Miracles are miracles until one is illumined by knowledge.
We are told in today’s Gospel story that Jesus went with his Mother and 5 of his
newly gathered disciples to a Wedding in Cana of Galilee. That village was in
walking distance to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. It has been suggested that
Jesus’ Mother, Mary, was a relative of the bride or groom, because she had authority to tell the wine stewards to listen to her son. Women had no power
unless they were designated power to do such things. In any case, the wine ran out during the all-day Wedding feast. Wine was celebrated as a gift of God’s joy. Also, hospitality was very important in ancient Palestine. Running out of wine for guests was a humiliation for the bride and groom. That would have been a stigma associated with the newlyweds for years to come. That could not be allowed. Jesus was put on the spot by his Mother.
The English translation of the Greek text sounds harsh. But the Hebrew intent of the Greek words is respectful, rather translated: “Yes, my Lady. I have this under control.” Jesus may not have been quite prepared for this ‘imposition’, but he was willing to offer his divinely inspired help.
Six water jars were present for washing the guests’ feet and hands, as prescribed by Jewish tradition. Jesus used that water as the basis of his ‘sign’ or miracle. Again, the English translation of the Greek text is insufficient to understand the Hebrew intent of the wine steward’s reaction to the new wine. First, the wine was usually a mixture of 3 parts water to 2 parts wine. Expense was probably a factor. Second, it was shameful for Jews to become drunk. They would, however, have their fill of wine, knowing the social and religious norm. So, his reaction gives us a clue that the wine ran out early during the wedding feast, before the guests had their fill. Jesus’ wine surpassed the old wine in both taste and appeal.
So, what is the deeper meaning of this story? What does the writer see beyond the literal story?
First, the 6 jars (or stone water-pots) filled with water symbolize the insufficiency of Jewish Law. In Hebrew thinking, the number 6 mean incomplete. The Law of Moses was incomplete. The love and grace Jesus brings to the Law (within his Jewish context) is a completion of the Law, a completion of God’s work of salvation.
Second, the water-pots hold 20 to 30 gallons each. Those water-pots would have yielded up to 180 gallons of wine. That is way more wine than any wedding feast would ever need. It symbolizes that God’s love and grace given through Jesus is not just for his people, the Jews. God’s love and grace is magnanimous. God’s love and grace is sufficient for the entire world.
Theologian William Barclay reminds us that John’s Gospel was most likely written for a community of Jewish converts to Christianity. They were facing the realities of ostracism from Jewish synagogues, Jewish society, and their loved ones. This Gospel tells that Jewish Law and its interpretation are imperfect, incomplete and insufficient. Yet, Jesus offers a new understanding. Jesus reveals God’s grace and love. What Jesus brings is perfect, complete and sufficient for all, including the Gentiles (non-Jews). (From William Barclays’ The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of John, Volume 1, Westminster Press, 1975, pg. 104.)
As mentioned before, a Rabbi once said, “Without wine, there is no joy.” For John and his community, without Jesus there is no joy of living in confidence of God’s unrestrained grace and love.
On the Road with Steve Hartman on CBS Friday evening (1/18/19) told a fantastic story. Two High School wrestlers met on the mat earlier this month. Marek Smith is a sophomore state champion. His rival was junior, Logan Patterson. Both practiced intently to beat their opponent.
“As expected, it was a great match. Until, with just about 30 seconds left, Logan
twisted his elbow. Up to that point, Marek had been losing. But Logan’s arm was now so badly injured, there was almost no way Marek couldn’t win. So Marek told his coach, “I got this,” and went back in to do what he says he had to do. All he had to do was stand up and pin his hobbled opponent. But instead, Marek did nothing. Marek just told Logan he was sorry about his arm and surrendered. Logan couldn’t believe it. ‘He just sat there. He didn’t move. I think it was goodness out of his heart. He’s a great person,’ Logan said.… The crowd watched on their feet and through blurry eyes as Marek lost the tournament but won the admiration of everyone in the gym, most especially from his Dad, Bob. ‘It’s not about winning all the time, it’s about doing what’s right. And he did,’ Bob said.”
To me, this is an example of grace and love in action. Even when we are weak
and broken, God compassionately helps us to win life’s battles, no matter what