“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. (John 2:1-2)
A reoccurring theme in John’s gospel concerning Jesus’ ministry is that of fullness. Beginning in the Prologue, the Evangelist describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus embodies, manifests, and bestows God’s grace (i.e., His love and favor) in superabundance. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) Why might this theme be so important?
The world operates by the law, a system of reward and punishment (in some cultures, honor and shame). We begin to learn this mode of operating as young children. The result is that people generally expect to pay what they owe, receive what they deserve, and often value things based on what they cost. When God enters our world bestowing His grace as a free gift, it comes as a shock to our system. Grace is not only unexpected, but often uncomfortable to the recipient who feels indebted, or offensive to the bystander who feels jealous or self-righteous.
Our experiences in the world, even as Christians, can make us timid towards God. If God’s grace is free, the thought goes, should we be not too pushy? If we do not expect too much grace, we will never be disappointed. Or an even worse thought: Should we not repay him by our own obedience? Then hopefully He will give us more grace. These are the thoughts of the old Adam who sees God, not as Father, but as a task master. However, God does not deal with us according to the pattern of the world. He deals with us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for our sins to bring us as adopted children into His kingdom of grace.
Therefore, we need to have a metanoia (i.e., a change of mind). We must think differently about how God deals with His adopted children in Christ. Christ is full of grace and from His fullness He fills us with grace upon grace. The problem frequently is not that we ask or expect too much from God, but that we ask and expect too little.
Jesus began His public ministry at a wedding at Cana in Galilee where he performed his first sign or miracle. The Evangelist John shows us not only the fullness of Christ’s grace in action, but also a model for faithful discipleship.
“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ ” (John 2:3)
Given His mother’s knowledge of the wine shortage and influence with the servants, Mary was in a position to help the bridegroom avoid the social stigma of failing to provide sufficient wine for his own wedding celebration. Therefore, she made the implicit request of her Son – “They have no wine”, without specifying how Jesus might help. Mary simply prays on the presumption that Jesus will help by doing something to change the situation.
“And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ ” (John 2:4-5)
Jesus initially rebuffed his mother’s request. At this point, who would have blamed Mary if she simply melted back into the scene as if the conversation never happened? Did she overstep her bounds for a mundane matter? How do we react when we feel rebuffed by God?
But here Mary exhibited what commentator, Craig Keener, describes as the chutzpah of Faith. Mary had the audacity to ignore Jesus rebuff, telling the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary did not know what Jesus would do or how, but had faith that He would help.
(The Bible contains other examples of holy chutzpah. A couple that come immediately to mind are Jesus’ encounters with the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21-28) and with Mary of Bethany (John 11:31-32)).
“Do whatever he tells you” are the last words that we have from Jesus’ mother. They are simple yet profound words, and they apply to us today. We have God’s Word penned by the Prophets, Evangelists and Apostles. God’s Word is living and active. His words of Law and Gospel have the inherent power to convict us of our sin and engender in us faith in the Gospel. We would do well to remember Mary’s instructions.
“Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:6-11)
Ultimately, Jesus’ timing coincided with his mother’s request. Aware of the need, Jesus interrupted an otherwise perfectly good wedding to perform His first sign and manifest His glory. Consistent with the theme of fullness, Jesus told the servants to fill six stone water jars with water. So the servants “filled them up to the brim.” Jesus then turned the water into a superabundant quantity of high quality wine.
The characters in the story react very differently to the sign. The master of the feast looked right past the gift for the “real” story: Was the bridegroom holding out on his guests or was he merely ignorant of proper banquet protocol? The bridegroom, on the other hand, also looked past the gift, keeping silent to save face with the master. The master and the bridegroom were operating by the culture’s mode of honor and shame. However, God’s grace and truth do not fit the pattern of the world. Therefore, the master and the bridegroom received Jesus’ gift (of wine and preservation of their honor at the wedding) but did not acknowledge His grace or Him.
Jesus disciples, on the other hand were the recipients of the true miracle: “his disciples believed in him.” The wine was the sign to be sure, but the real gift was faith in Jesus made in the disciples. Making faith reveals Christ’s glory. What Jesus says happens! Therefore, “Do whatever he tells you.” And, one last thing: it is okay to do it with chutzpah. Amen.
“ ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ ” (John 6:28-29) Amen.