“They have no wine,” Mary says.
Such an odd, indirect thing to say, “They have no wine.” Yet Jesus knows what she’s after. What he hears her say is, “Do something.”
He is in no mood to do anything. He doesn’t even make sympathetic noises about how mortifying all this is for the poor just-marrieds. He turns his mother down. “This has nothing to do with us, woman.” His ‘hour’ hasn’t come, he says; that mysterious ripe time we hear so much about in John’s gospel, an ‘hour’ that includes his death.
Mary is not eager for that suffering to come any more than Jesus is. Yet a long habit of pondering has only magnified the urgency: The hungry (and the thirsty) will be filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. How much longer should this revolution wait? His hour may not have come, but maybe his minute has—and a wedding seems like just the right place to kick off the great reversal.
That’s why, over at the servers’ station, she is acting as if he’d said ‘no problem’ instead of ‘no way.’ “Do whatever he tells you,” she says, which is good advice for servants of every time and place. So Jesus goes over and starts giving instructions, and before long, six stones jars are filled to the brim with water.
The way he accomplishes the miraculous changeover is discreet, but the results are showy: he makes exquisite wine in preposterous quantities. When the steward tastes it, he just about dies. Who is this who plies with liquid heaven undeserving fools who can’t discriminate between rotgut and Rothschild?
Who indeed? This is the question of every epiphany. Who is this waster, who produces more than the world can drink? Who is this prodigal, who doesn’t seem to know the price of things? This is the question that the Spirit keeps whispering to us in the hope that we too, like the steward, might come to find the answer, taste God’s surprising vintage, and go about tantalized all our lives.
The head steward has no idea where the wine came from. But the servants know. Good servants always know. So do disciples, and if you go back and read the first chapter of John’s gospel, you’ll see that Jesus had just called his first set, five to be exact. John says that it was at Cana that these first few “believed in him.” Not before the wedding, note; but at the feast they believed. And not because he performs any old miracle, but because it’s this one.
They’ve all heard the words of Isaiah read in the synagogue: “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you!” They’ve heard Wisdom, too: “She has set her table and poured her wine,” the wine of joy in the Spirit, free of charge and available to all in God’s New Day.
When Messiah comes, everybody knows, a giddy glee — not unlike inebriation (but safe ) — will grip the world. These disciples feel it now in Cana. Who is this? It must be Messiah. And they believe in him.
But they would not have been at the wedding at all, and would not have believed, if they hadn’t responded when he called days earlier, if they had not first followed him. Things happen in this order: Jesus calls, you follow, and then, in the course of following, of living with him, of going where he goes and doing what he does, you discover him as the source of joy, the fount of new wine, and you trust him, you believe.
So, in addition to being a story about the abundance of God’s New Day in which every creature’s watery old life is changed into a ruby red new one; in addition to being a story about the slap-happy joy of being in the presence of God’s Appointed One whose mission is to change mourning into gladness and keep the gladness coming in great unquaffable quantities; in addition to all that, this story is about belief and discipleship.
Between the lines we learn that it’s in the following that love, knowledge, and experience combine to make for faith. You’re a disciple if you go on the road with Jesus, go with him to weddings, and drink from the cup he proffers.
Today our nation commemorates the life, work, witness and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Chances are you’ll be hearing a lot about Dr. King’s dream today, as if he’d been only a dreamer, as if the dream had been precious and peculiar only to him. You’ll hear people quote from his March on Washington “mountaintop” speech, that what matters is the content of character, not the color of skin, as if that were all he ever said.
And that line will be repeated with astonishing denial, or astonishing cynicism, or astonishing naivete, since, to take only one case, skin color can still be the difference between life and death in our criminal justice system. You’ll hear that line repeated as if he’d never also made daring critiques of the demonic nexus of racism, poverty, capitalism, war, and prison.
You’ll hear a lot about dreaming, as if all we need to do is dream on, now that he’s dead, as if dreaming on honors him. But Dr. King was not only a dreamer: he was first, last and always a disciple. He got up when he was called, and he followed. He went to the mountaintop and he went to the wedding. His eyes had seen the glory of the Lord and his lips had tasted the wine of Cana. And his faith was formed, perhaps even discovered, and certainly strengthened, in a community, following the Liberator, on the road, on the march, with Christ.
To my knowledge Dr. King never preached on John 2:1-11, but there’s no doubt he lived this story; for only from a deep awareness of abundance, only from a conviction born of the experience of everlasting reliability, only in the company of God’s Christ who keeps providing us not with enough but with forever far more than enough, only in the company of fellow followers who had also tasted the wine, could any flawed human being stride toward his inevitable “hour” so unflinchingly.
Drinking deeply of the wedding wine is still capable of intoxicating God’s people with hope, against the odds. And the hope it instills is still able to yield in us the substantial fruits of courage and perseverance, forbearance and resistance. It is still powerful enough to reveal to us nothing less than the joy of the cross.
It’s a good thing too. For if we are following, like Dr. King, we are inevitably on our inebriated way to a mountaintop. Make no mistake, the mountaintop we are going to is an imposing hill called Golgotha.
You remember, don’t you? From Cana, Jesus goes directly to the Temple in Jerusalem. Flush with the wine of messianic joy, he strides to the money-changers’ tables. You know what happens next.