When we sit down to read the Bible, it’s probably not very likely that we expect to find much, if any, humor. Frustration- sure! Anxiety- perhaps! Hope, thoughtfulness, and joy? Absolutely. But a good chuckle? Not really…
But those moments are present in Scripture, though we tend to miss them most of the time. Cultural nuances can get lost in translation, as well as little winks from the writers here and there. But also our reverence for Scripture as a whole, as well as our modern understanding of “comedy,” leads us to believe the two could not possibly coexist.
Yet there are plenty of opportunities for us to be amused by, even laugh out loud at or with, some of the characters and situations in Scripture. After all, laughter adds to our joy as human beings. And we find such a moment in this morning’s scripture lesson.
First we should set the scene. It is the third day at a wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee. We know that Mary is there though in John’s gospel she is only referred to by her relationship to Jesus. Interestingly enough, also in John, Mary only appears twice: here in Cana, and then at the foot of the cross as Jesus is dying, seemingly bookending Jesus life and ministry. We also know that Jesus was there with his disciples, having been invited by the hosts. We don’t know who was getting married; maybe a family friend or cousin, or some town official’s son or daughter who thought it would look good to have one of Nazareth’s favorite sons in attendance.
Whatever the case, on this, the third day, a disaster occurs: the wine runs out. In those days, wedding celebrations lasted about a week, and the hosts were expected to have food and drink enough for all the guests for the entire time. I think back to this past October when E and I were married, and the thought of running out of wine for our guests sends a shiver down my spine! Of course, had that happened, we would have nervously whispered to a close friend or family member to take the credit card and run up to the liquor store while no one was looking for a quick resupply. At the same time, don’t get the most expensive stuff! My credit card only has a finite limit!
However, David Lose points out that “in this time and place running out of wine too early isn’t a little embarrassing, it’s a disaster. Wine isn’t just a social lubricant, it’s a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality. And so when they run short on wine, they run short on blessing. Timing is everything. The wine has run out before the wedding has. And it’s a catastrophe” (Lose).
Which brings us to, in my opinion, the funniest moment of the story. I have enough experience with an Italian grandmother to know that Italian mothers and Jewish mothers are incredibly similar: both talk with their hands, both feel comfortable sharing the most intimate of details about you with complete strangers, and both know what’s best for you long before you do!
So I can feel Jesus’ pain when Mary approaches him and simply says, “They have no wine.” Oh boy, he thinks. She’s got that look on her face saying, ‘well? You gonna do something about this or not?’ And Jesus replies, “Woman,” taking an oddly formal tone- the only one would get through to a Jewish (or Italian) mother. “What concern is that to you and me?” In other words, “is that my problem?! They should have hired a better wedding planner!”
But Mary doesn’t back down; she doesn’t push Jesus any further, but she doesn’t back down. She looks at the servants, who she has presumably wrangled over to him, and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” She puts Jesus on the spot as only a mother can! If Jesus didn’t mutter “Oy vey!” at that point, I would be surprised.
She is a mother who sees a need and knows what her son is capable of. It isn’t just so that people will have enough to drink. It isn’t even to save the host family from the shameful embarrassment of running out. It is because God provides abundance and joy and blessing, and she knows that Jesus can offer that to those present.
We can see her, nudging him, urging him on, perhaps even helping him to find the confidence that, yes, you can do this. “It is more than poignant that the mother of Jesus… surrounds [his] earthly ministry. She is at the beginning of his career and watches him die. She is the nurturing force when he is the Word made flesh, a shared parenthood with God, the father” (Lewis).
“She was… the one who brought him into the world, the one who suckled him as a babe and watched him grow, the one who dried his tears as a child and followed him when he became an adult… we shouldn’t be surprised if Mary recognized that whenever her son was on the scene, it was no ordinary time” (Lose).
Of course, Jesus does perform his first miracle here. John actually does not call them miracles, but “signs.” Karoline Lewis points out that “the word ‘grace’ occurs only four times in the Fourth Gospel and only in the Prologue (1:1-18). Why?” Well, “if we take the incarnation seriously and suggest that once the Word becomes flesh, the rest of the Gospel shows you what grace tastes like, looks like, smells like, sounds like, [and] feels like” (Lewis).
When I teach students the art of writing, a refrain I say over and over again is, “Show me, don’t tell me.” This is especially important in creative writing, but really for all types. Writing that shows us events and actions, even lessons and morals, is much more interesting and engaging. So when Jesus slowly reveals himself to us through signs, we are being shown the grace of God’s love for us. “Turning water into wine is revealing of abundant grace in this season of Epiphany” (Lewis).
One more thing I would like to note is the type of blessing being given. The best wine at an event like this was normally reserved for the beginning of the wedding, so early in the week, while people were still able to taste what they were drinking, before they were, how should I put this, fully enjoying themselves.
But here we are, three days in, and the wine Jesus miraculously provides is the best of the best. This is better than a top shelf Chablis or Cabernet, and far from the boxed wine someone might pull out on a weekday night (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
And not only is it the best, it is present in abundance! “Six water jars, each 20-30 gallons, filled to the brim, of the best wine” (Lewis). As is the case in the entire gospel story, everything points to the cross. This is the third day of the wedding celebration; Jesus mentions that his “hour” has not yet come, meaning his death on the cross; even the wine is symbolic of the blood and cup in the Eucharist. “For every moment that we live in Jesus, testify Mary and John, has the capacity to mediate the divine. Bread and wine can bear Christ’s body and blood. An ordinary hug can convey unbounded love and blessing. The smallest donation of food or money can tip the balance between scarcity and abundance. A simple act of kindness can make all the difference in the world. And a smile, shared at just the right time, can shed light into the darkest of places” (Lose).
When Jesus is present, anything is possible. Where Jesus is, the best of life is present, in abundance. So this morning, I want to encourage us to think about where we have experienced this type of grace. Where has God shown us His overflowing, abundant grace? If we pause and look around, I suspect we will find that we ourselves have already been changed. Amen.
Lewis, Karoline. “Commentary on John 2:1-11.” John 2:1-11 Commentary. Luther Seminary, 20 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Jan. 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1556>.
Lose, David. “Learning to Tell Time.” Learning to Tell Time. Luther Seminary, 13 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Jan. 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1770>.