Humoring the Wine
By Pastor Daniel W. Brettell
At just about every wedding I’ve been to, there has always been some reference to the Wedding Feast at Cana. Sometimes the reference takes place as one of the selected readings. Other times it takes place as part of a blessing. But there always seems to be this one singular reference to Jesus’ presence at this wedding. Now, we don’t know much about the wedding. We don’t know the names of the bride and groom. And sometimes that makes me feel just a little bit sorry for them. It was their big day . . . or rather big week, as Jewish custom at that time called for a feast that lasted six days.
And as the father of four children—two of whom are girls—I just want to go on record as saying that I’m very grateful for the fact that we have not adopted that particular custom into our culture. Can you imagine the amount of food and wine that the father of the bride would have to provide for a six-day feast! You’d think that if the names of the bride and groom weren’t mentioned, at least the name of the bride’s father would be mentioned—because that poor guy was going broke paying for that wedding.
So, Jesus goes to this wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The Gospel says that he was there with his mother, Mary. It also indicates that Jesus’ disciples were there. But it also indicates that Jesus had not yet begun his active ministry. So, we can conclude that while Jesus had begun calling his disciples, he was still living either at home or at least close to home—near his mother.
Now, the plot—if you will—of this story is made apparent in the third sentence “When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no wine'” (2:3). The bride and groom ran out of wine for their guests—nothing worse could possibly happen! It was expected that the food and the wine would flow continuously during this week-long party. Now, we don’t know on which day of the feast this faux-pas occurred—maybe it was the last day—but the fact remains; they ran out of wine. Imagine being the young couple who would be remembered as the ones at whose wedding the wine ran out!
So, now—somehow—Mary has figured this out. Maybe she noticed the anxious steward or perhaps she noticed some guests who were getting a bit upset. Regardless of how she figured it out, Mary gets up from her seat and casually walks over to where Jesus is sitting with his disciples. And she says to him, “They have no wine”—meaning, “Son, this is serious. Do something.”
Now, I want to stop right here for a moment, because I want you to understand where I’m going with this homily. I want you to relax a bit and just sit back and indulge me a bit, because there is a message hidden in this Gospel lesson that we are likely to miss. It’s a message for us to be able laugh; to be able to find humor in the Bible. In the January 2010 issue of The Lutheran, there is article titled “Seriously Funny Bible Study” by Nadia Botz-Weber who is a Pastor in urban Denver. The article is about reading the Bible with humor. Basically, the article tells us—as the readers—to lighten up a bit. We don’t always need to be so somber when we read the Bible. Sometimes—ya know—it’s okay to laugh—or at least smile—just a little bit. And I think that this Gospel lesson is one of those times.
I’m not trying to make light of this Gospel message. There is an important message that we need to hear. But we also need to view it through the eyes of Jesus’ humanity—and his relationship with his mother—particularly with regard to Jesus’ relationship with his mother; because this moment is a priceless moment. Remember those Kodak film commercials? Okay, remember when cameras actually had film in them? Well, Kodak had a series of television commercials that highlighted moments that just had to be captured on film. They called such a moment a “Kodak moment.” In today’s Gospel, we read about just such a Kodak moment in the relationship of Jesus and his mother. It is a classic moment—the kind that often occurs between a mother and her adult son.
You really have to picture this situation. Here’s Jesus, sitting with his new disciples; they’re eating good food, drinking some wine, laughing, getting to know each other better—having a really good time. Mary’s been off with her friends eating and laughing and having a nice time, too . . . when somehow she realizes that the party has just run out of wine. So, what does she do? She gets herself up, tells the wine steward to follow her, she walks herself over to her son—who is, mind you, still sitting with his friends having a good time—she taps him on the shoulder, and she says, “They have no wine.”
Now, all you mothers who have adult sons and all you adult sons—try to visualize this moment. Try to visualize facial expressions and reactions that you are familiar with. Are ya’ ready? Okay. Let’s picture this interaction while visualizing our own interactions between mothers and adult sons.
Mary doesn’t say, “They have no wine. Is there anything you can do?” She just says, “They have no wine;” then she stands there staring at Jesus. You can almost hear the implied, “Get up out of that chair and do something.” She doesn’t just THINK Jesus might be able to do something; she absolutely, unquestioningly—KNOWS he WILL do something. That’s faith my brothers and sisters; that’s faith. But it is also just a little funny when you put it in the context of mother and adult son.
And how does Jesus respond? Well, it sounds more just a little rude, but here again, remember, this is mother and adult son. Jesus responds:
“Woman, what does that have to do with you and me?
My hour has not yet come.”
Now, I don’t know about the other adult sons here today, but from my own experiences with my own mother, the look that Mary most likely gave Jesus at that moment probably would have curled his hair . . . or singed it off. I don’t care how old you are, as a son one does not dismiss one’s mother with that kind of statement. There’s also that pesky little commandment . . . you know the one that says, “Honor your father AND YOUR MOTHER.” Jesus probably knew without any doubt at that moment, that he had better do something and do it quickly, if he knew what was good for him. Such is the power of a mother throughout one’s life.
So, Mary does what any good mother would have done—after giving him THE LOOK. She just puts him on the spot in a way that he can’t get out of. She turns to the servants and says, “Whatever he says to you, do it” (2:5). Then with another meaningful look at her son, she goes back to enjoying the party with her friends. Like I said, you have to let yourself read between the lines here and allow yourself to see the humor in the story. I can imagine Jesus’ friends—his disciples, sitting there with him, had a pretty good laugh about it.
And once we’ve understood the humor, we can go back and have better appreciation for the enormity of what has just happened here. Think about what Mary has just done. She has just kick started Jesus’ ministry—a ministry that will lead to our salvation.
You see, Jesus was hesitating here. God the Father had sent him into the world on a world-saving mission, but he didn’t yet feel that the time had come for him to reveal himself. But his mother knew. She knew that the time had come. She was pushing him into a place that he was still hesitating to go. He didn’t feel ready, but she knew he was.
Just as any mother knows her son; Mary knew Jesus. She didn’t argue with him. She didn’t cajole. She just said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it.” She knew that he would step up and help.
So, the moment came. Jesus began his ministry with a sign . . . a sign that may seem a bit innocuous in the grand scheme of things; a sign that may seem trivial when compared with other signs he gave. He didn’t think he was really ready yet, but his mother knew he was. He saw six huge, stone water jars designed for holding water—water that would be used for the rites of purification—for cleansing. Think of the rites as being similar to baptismal rites. So, being the good son and not wanting to get on the bad side of his mother, he tells the servants to fill the jars with water, and these men—who are probably also having a few snickers at that point—these men take these huge jars and fill them to the brim with water. Then Jesus says, “Now draw some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast” (2:8).
That’s it. That’s all he does. No prayers. No waving of hands. Just, “take it to the chief steward.” So the servants do. The chief steward—the man in charge of making sure that everything goes well at the wedding—kind of like the best man at a wedding today—the chief steward tastes the wine and says,
“Everyone serves the good wine first,
and when the guests have drunk freely,
then that which is worse.
You have kept the good wine until now!” (2:10).
The author of this Gospel finishes the story by saying,
“This beginning of his signs
Jesus did in Cana of Galilee,
and revealed his glory;
and his disciples believed in him” (2:11).
But there is so much more to this story. If there wasn’t something more, why did Gospel writer feel the need to include it? I believe the Gospel writer needed for us—the readers—to have an anchor point for what was to come. The writer needed us to understand—and I think he did it intentionally with some humor—he needed for us to have starting point that showed Jesus as being—at the same time—fully human and fully divine. From this point forward, it becomes more difficult to sort out the fully human when we view Jesus’ ministry. But here, at the very beginning, it’s readily apparent. And that’s important for us. It’s important because we need to understand that Jesus—in being fully human; God as human—Jesus knows who we are, how we feel, how we react; he knows what it’s like to be us.
That’s important for us to understand, because when we understand Jesus as being fully human AND fully divine, then we begin to better understand just what his sacrifice means for us. Because as fully divine—as God—he has the power to save us from our sins; but as fully human he knows exactly what it meant to suffer for us in order to save us. And that, my friends, is the greatest gift we could receive.
So, as we go forward in our daily lives, if you begin to lose track of Jesus’ humanity in the signs and miracles and parables and teachings; take a moment and go back to read about the Wedding Feast at Cana. It’s where his ministry began—with a little bit of humor.
Let us pray.
May the love of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; God incarnate, our savior and our redeemer. Amen
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible
Copyright 2010 Daniel W. Brettell. Used by permission.