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Sunday, January 10, 2016

January 17, 2016, 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Quotes That Make Me Think

"For even as that which the servants put into the water-pots was turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. But we do not wonder at the latter, because it happens every year: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence."

From Augustine's Tractates on John: Tractate VIII (2:1-4)

"As John himself says in John 20:31, his goal in writing down this sign is not that we should be amazed, or even that we should believe in Jesus. Rather his goal is that we should bond with Jesus / abide in Jesus - and receive for ourselves the life that is in Jesus."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 2:1-11, David Ewart, 2013.
General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

O God of salvation, the people in whom you delight hasten with joy to the wedding feast.  Forsaken no more, we bear a new name; desolate no longer, we taste your new wine.  Make us your faithful stewards, ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 2:1-11
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we move into ordinary time, that time between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, we have in the Gospel of John Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana. We are going to see great things through the Gospel of John and we know that we will see and come to believe in even greater things after his resurrection. Remember, in John 1:50 – Jesus’ words to Nathanael: "You will see greater things than these."  Yet seeing and believing are only part of the work of John's Gospel.  John also hopes to draw us closer to Jesus, to love him, and to abide in him.

We begin our passage today with these words: "On the third day..." (v1) Theologically Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is the image through whom all creation flows, and comes to be. Jesus is the incarnation of God and inaugurates in all the Gospels a new creation time. Here it is very possible that John is tying this theme to the creation story and its seven days. The "third day" is the third day after the first followers were called: Philip and Nathanael. So we have the evolving creation story renewing the world with the calling of new disciples and now a recreation miracle is about to take place.  The world is being remade in Jesus' ministry.

The setting is of course a “wedding." (It was most likely a Wednesday.  If you are curious- the Mishnah (Kethuboth 1) says that the wedding of a virgin is to occur on that day. R. Brown, The Gospel of John, 98). What is perhaps more interesting is that in the prophetic tradition of Jesus' own time, one of the images of the fulfillment of God's work, the coming of God's reign, and the recreation, was a wedding feast. ( Isaiah 54:4; 62:4-5, Matthew 22:2-14; 25:1ff; Mark 2:19).  Heaven and earth are married in Jesus; just as man and God are married in Christ.

So it is that Jesus' first miracle is to take place at a wedding feast in Cana, just about 15 km outside of Nazareth, and Mom is in charge. It is possible that Mary's concern regarding the shortage of wine comes from the relationship with the families being married. Some might say that Mary is persistent, maybe to the point of frustration, because Jesus uses a word not customarily appropriate for a son to his mother. I believe this is a common misunderstanding and stems from the English translation. Interestingly, it is the same word he uses when addressing the Samaritan Woman and Mary Magdalene. Scholars remind us that this was actually a polite way for a man to address a woman at the time of Jesus and that it is attested to in other Greek literature of the day.  So, as a preacher don't be lulled into a side argument on Jesus' frustration with his mother.

This very much changes the English reading of the text and allows us to see that it is not Mary's involvement in Jesus' ministry that is important but rather the revelation of Jesus' mission. His response in verse 4 is: “My hour has not yet come" or "Has my hour not yet come?” Both readings are okay, and help us to understand that the work of Jesus in and throughout John's Gospel is seen as the work of Glorifying God most of all. The revelation of who he is and what he is about is already charted in the heavens and will be revealed in the few short years to come.  At the same time it is clear that in this small episode as upon the cross Jesus is focused on the nature of his ministry: all that he does is to glorify God. This helps me to understand that both in the seemingly trivial things of life and in the great episodes the Christian, walking the way of Jesus, has the opportunity to glorify God.

Mary of course is assuming that Jesus will do something to correct the situation (v. 5). See also 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1. So she says, "Do what he tells you."

There have been and will continue to be tons of paper expended on the ideas around the numbers given: six stone jars, and fifteen to twenty gallons. While the material they are made of (stone) may refer to Lev 11:29-38, the meaning of the numbers seems to miss the idea: a lot of water was turned into wine. A LOT OF WATER WAS TURNED INTO WINE; this is the point.  Some scholars further want to de-mystify the event by changing the amount or offering the idea that only the water drawn out was turned into wine. Again, this misses the point that Jesus turns a huge amount of water into wine quite miraculously.
Wedding at Cana, Paul Veronese, Louvre, Paris

This lesson was Friday, January 15, 2010's morning prayer New Testament reading, and a number of people in the office were struck by who the first witness of the miracle is and who proclaims the meaning of the miracle: the steward. The steward is the first to draw the wine from the containers, the first to taste the bounty of God, the first to see and experience the miracle.  In fact while those guests of the wedding party will enjoy the results - only the servants note that what has happened in miraculous.  

In this God is glorified. The greater glory of resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit following the crucifixion are foretold and we see a theme that will serve as a road map through this gospel. Perhaps a foretaste even of the Eucharistic feast.  God's work in Jesus Christ will be seen, experienced, testified to, and  born witness to by those who serve him and serve with him.  The intimacy of relationship between the steward who is drawn towards the Christ in this miracle is a paradigm for those not unlike ourselves who experience the miracles of Jesus and are even now drawn to him.

This story of Jesus' first miracle is dense and filled with theological themes and ideas about Jesus and his ministry. As I reflect on the passage I am reminded of the theological work of Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyprian. Each one of them sees in this miracle a tie between water and wine in this story and other symbols in the Johanine Gospel like water, light and food for God's providence in Jesus -- the gift of salvation.

Having said all of this, the themes that ultimately stand out for me are:

1. The charge as followers of Jesus to glorify God in the least and greatest of occasions along life's journey.

2. To embrace the call of others, the invitation to minister on behalf of Christ.  To be stewards of the good wine.

3. The expectation of the miraculous.  To see God's hand at work in the world around us.

4. To be witnesses, like the steward who tastes and sees, and proclaims the goodness and bounty and providence of God.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:1-11

A number of scholars believe that this portion of Corinthians is in answer to a question about the spiritual gifts.  It is perhaps a response to a group of people who believe they are special because they have been given specific gifts.

Paul says the Spirit gives many gifts.  And, not everyone gets the same gifts. People get many different and various kinds of gifts. They all are to be at work in the kingdom of God doing a variety of services.  Together these gifts make up the one body of Christ and act on his mission in the world.  They are not something to be boasted in personally.

Somehow, though we have gotten into the place of believing perhaps we need the gifts our neighbor has. Perhaps we covet other's spiritual gifts.  Perhaps we are rarely satisfied with the ones given to us.  That is certainly our scenario.  As Brené Brown says, "We steal worth from others."

Another part of the reality in which we live is that people feel they are not given gifts.  Perhaps we feel left out of the gift giving Spirit's work.  I believe people in our culture today more often feel worthless and powerless.

Lets face it: there are probably some communities that need to hear Paul's message directly - "don't brag about your gifts."   However, in today's western culture I think most communities need to hear that God has gifted them for the purpose of kingdom building.

Paul reminds us, as he does elsewhere, God's grace is sufficient. His gifts are sufficient and they are particular and unique to us as individuals.  We are sufficient with God's gifts and grace to do his work in the world.

So, perhaps today's lesson gives us the opportunity to "boast" in the gifts of others used for God's kingdom work; and to seek to better understand our own so that we might put them to good use for the sake of the Gospel proclamation - whether it be in word or deed.

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