Following on from last week’s post, (“The Danger of the Familiar”), let me now share some thoughts about the familiar passage that prompted my pontifications; the “water into wine” miracle recorded in John chapter 2. There may be nothing new in what I now share, but as I explained last week, that doesn’t matter. It does our hearts good to hear the familiar again; it feeds our soul.
A couple of things struck me again as I read the story of this miracle last week.
Firstly, it’s not the kind of miracle I would have chosen as the Saviour’s first “sign” to the world. John tells us “it was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” (Jn 2:11). If I was scripting this movie, I can think of a dozen other kinds of miracles I would have organised Jesus to perform as a means of announcing his grand entrance to the world. Levitation on top of a mountain, perhaps? Maybe turning the Pharisees into toads. And, of course, you can’t go past a good, old fashioned, raising of the dead! Surely that’s the sort of thing that is called for. After all, this is the overture to the symphony of his ministry! This is the opening salvo in the Saviour’s devastating attack upon the enemy’s stronghold! This is the first glimpse of the redemption that has been promised from eternity and has now finally arrived!
As the moment for his first miracle draws nigh, the cinematic tension builds. The angels watch from above with bated breath. The audience leans forward in their seats, all thoughts of another mouthful of popcorn forgotten, choc tops melting in their hands. The music rises to a crescendo. The camera zooms in. And finally, here it is, the very first miracle …
Voilà! 600 litres of vintage Shiraz! (Or perhaps a crisp unwooded chardonnay). (Yes, 600 litres of the stuff – see verse 6!).
WHAT??? Am I in the right cinema? Did someone change the title to “Fun Times With Jesus And His Merry Men”?
I wonder if Jesus, too, had a sense that this would not have been his choice of a first miracle. His initial response to his mother when she asked him to do something about the wine shortage certainly indicates an initial reluctance:
“Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4)
The literal Greek transliteration at this point is:
“What to you and to me woman? Not yet is come the hour of me.”
In the early stages of his ministry, Jesus makes several other statements to the effect that his hour has not yet come. He appears to have a reluctance to bring himself to the attention of the Jewish authorities too soon; a desire to keep a low profile and not arouse their ire before the time was right for him to go to the cross. In fact, at times, when his miracles were arousing too much excitement and creating too much attention, he seemed to deliberately withdraw from the big towns and move into the regional areas.
At this wedding at Cana, all of that, of course, lay ahead of him. But his response to Mary indicates that he was not planning on doing anything spectacular just yet, and certainly not something as prosaic as knocking up some decent plonk!
Then why does Jesus do it? Certainly not because Mary has some kind of maternal authority over him. This passage does not provide us with a precedent for praying to Mary so that she can twist her son’s arm!
Jesus’ motive on this occasion appears to have been simple compassion for a bride and groom who were about to be embarrassed by running out of provisions for their party. In providing for them as he did, he demonstrated his willingness to put the needs of these simple folk ahead of his own preferences. It is a wonderful glimpse of the compassionate heart of the Saviour, following a script that he had not planned and that I would never have considered writing myself (thank goodness I’m not organising the salvation of the world!).
Whenever I am tempted to think that my trivial problems are below the radar of God, that he surely cannot be concerned with my everyday trials and frustrations, I remember this heart-warming account of the Saviour of the world helping a newly married couple with a catering crisis. God really does care about us, and no problem is too small or prosaic to bring to the Father in prayer.
MARY’S QUIET FAITH
There is one more aspect of the story that intrigues me. It’s that despite Jesus never previously having performed a miracle (remember, John identifies this as his first), Mary believes that he has power to solve the crisis. Her comment to the wait staff in verse 5, “Do whatever he tells you”, is an indication of her quiet, assured faith in her son’s power. In asking Jesus to do something, she is obviously not expecting him to nick up to the local grog shop and buy a few more cases of bubbly. Clearly, she is anticipating a miracle.
Where did this faith in her son’s as yet unproven divine power come from? One can only surmise two sources.
Firstly, she had the memory of the angelic annunciation at the start of her pregnancy, along with the additional prophecies during the months leading up to the birth. For 30 years she has lived with the memory of those events and has kept those words embedded in her mother’s heart. Her son was destined to be the Messiah.
Secondly, there is the inference of Jesus’ godly life in the years since his birth. Apparently, nothing in Jesus’ character or behaviour over the last 30 years has caused Mary to question the legitimacy of his messiahship. This is truly extraordinary! If someone had told my mother, prior to my birth, that I was to be the messiah, she would have been completely disavowed of that notion by the time I was crawling!
I can only infer that Jesus demonstrated not only a purity of life and a nobility of heart, but also manifested an aura of divine authority and power, such that his mother, despite having no previous evidence to draw upon, knew implicitly that her Son could work miracles. I suspect it is this same divine aura that drew the disciples to him, for they were already committed to following him at this point (and were present with him at the party) despite not yet having witnessed a miracle. It is this sense of the divine that drew many others to him as well. It is what caused the prostitutes and sinners to fall at his feet in worship and wash him with their tears. It is what caused the sick to come to him for healing. It is what caused the outcasts to cry out to him for mercy. And, ultimately, it is his overpowering goodness and unconquerable divine authority that caused the religious leaders to nail him to a cross.
This is the Jesus whom we follow and worship. And it all started with some Shiraz!