LIVING THE GOSPEL 2

I intend to present some thoughts on the Lectionary passage that I am using this week. As I have the sacrament of Baptism on the 23rd I will use the lectionary material for the Baptism of Jesus on that Sunday, and will therefore use the material for the second Sunday after Epiphany this week.

Before I do so, however, it’s fair to note that I wasn’t altogether convinced by my use of the Magi material yesterday. I think my emphasis on the journey of the Magi, that is, on the importance of searching, moving out of one’s comfort zone in matters of faith, was ok in itself, but needed more practical examples, to be convincing to the congregation. That was probably true also of my use of the “true king being found among the common people rather than the rich and powerful.” More time needed, more examples. It’s easier to explain a text than to “execute” it, as the German scholar Ebeling has put it.

The Cana wedding story, John 2:1-11, is a complex mix of a village wedding tale, a Jewish belief about the Messiah, and the lesson the gospel-writer wants to give.

1. The source is a tale passed down about Jesus saving a family from disgrace at their daughter’s wedding by supplying excellent extra wine when their own supply was running out. Where did he get it? Well, he may have known the local supplier and persuaded him or paid him to send over some of the best. Or he might have had some he’d bought as gifts for his best carpentry customers. Yes, the story we have says it was a miracle, but we don’t need to take that too seriously.

2. Jewish people talked about their Messiah as the bridegroom of Israel, and believed that his victorious rule would be celebrated in a great feast. At some stage the village story has been mingled with this belief in Jesus Messiah. The writer takes it for granted that Jesus has power to do something miraculous.

3 John the gospel writer adds the bit about the stone vessels used for Jewish rites of purification. He wants to tell us that the water of Jewish religion is turned into the wine of Jesus- faith: the ordinary becomes pleasurable, the routine becomes marvellous. God could have given the best religion first to Abraham and Moses, but he has kept it for now, to be offered through Jesus

The question is: what can this story mean for people now??

Well, the contrast between water and wine is still comprehensible. If people thought the church was offering wine, they might be more interested in it. So, can we say that what Jesus was offering was like wine rather than water? In fact the story of Jesus involves not only plenty water, but also another liquid, blood. He not only lived through ordinary tasks and events, but also through rejection and suffering. George Herbert a poet of the 17th century reflects on this in a couplet:

“Love is that liquor sweet and most divine

Which my God feels as blood, but I as wine.”

But actually anyone who loves knows that it’s not all wine : readiness to suffer with the loved one is a mark of true love. So,perhaps we should say that the water into wine story points to true love as the wine of life, which nevertheless includes suffering (blood) at times. The love does not reduce the suffering and the suffering does not destroy the love. In the Christian communion service the wine has the double meaning of love and suffering.

In the Cana wedding story the emphasis is on the wine: Love is the best wine. If wine is on offer who is going to want a watery religion? The vital thing is to link the love Jesus stands for with actual human love, the red-blooded relationship that is the wine of life.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus describes his ministry as new wine which requires new wineskins, meaning new ways of thinking and acting. Here he is contrasting new, fizzy wine with older, smoother stuff. There is a dangerous edge to his ministry.

The image of wine is used by the gospel writers to suggest a celebratory and unruly aspect to Jesus’ life which was a challenge to his contemporaries, and should be to his followers today.

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