Preached January 22, 2012
St. John 2:1–11
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Epiphany season continues wherein we consider the revelation of Jesus Christ to the world. Our Lord Jesus was in the world for many years, almost completely unknown. He was revealed to the Magi and to the Judean shepherds at His birth, and then He was revealed again to the doctors of the Law in the Temple at age twelve, even though they did not understand what they were seeing. One might be inclined to ask, “so when does He start really being Jesus, the Messiah?” Last Sunday, we talked about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan river and the theophany that occurred at that time, revealing Jesus as the Son of God. But when does Jesus’ public ministry actually begin? That point occurs in today’s Gospel lesson, the Wedding at Cana in Galilee.
Before we get into the Gospel lesson, I would call your attention to the words of the Collect for the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It begins with a recognition of the power and timelessness of God who controls every thing that happens in Heaven and on the earth, and we ask God to see the weaknesses we have, which are truly many, even though we think of ourselves as sturdy people, and quite self–sufficient. We delude ourselves when we think that we can provide for ourselves without the aid of God; we are in totally over our heads! So we ask that the Lord reach out to us with His mighty hand to provide for us and make up for our deficiencies, to shield us in our weakness, to fill in the gaps wherein we are not able to provide for ourselves.
With these thoughts in mind, let us turn to the Gospel lesson for the day. There is a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and in making the statement in this way, the Evangelist is distinguishing this Cana, a town in the tribe of Asher, from another town of the same name that lies in the Samaritan territory. Mary, the mother of Jesus is there, and Jesus and His disciples are also invited to the wedding. This indicates that this wedding is that of a close member of the family of Jesus and Mary. We can assume that only four or five of Jesus’ disciples are with Him at Cana, but this is still quite a notable entourage. We may consider this to be the first Christian marriage, and the couple being married to be of good character; otherwise Jesus and His mother would not have been parties to this wedding.
Jewish wedding feasts typically lasted seven days, and in that length of time, you can imagine that a considerable amount of wine would be consumed. In this case, they ran out of wine before the feast was completed. At this point, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. (St. John, 2:3b) Doesn’t that just sound like a mother? She doesn’t directly ask Him to do anything about it; she simply states the problem, and implies, “fix it.”
But more than just a mother, that is just like any human, telling God the problem, and saying “fix it.” It is presumptuous and grossly overreaching. Who are any of us to tell the Lord of the Universe how to handle things? Jesus responds with Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. (St. John 2:4b) This is a serious rebuke. He does not address her as “Mother” but rather as “Woman.” How would that go over with your mother? And yet, it is not quite as harsh as that sounds either. The word used is the same word, “Woman” that he used later to address her as He hung on the Cross (St. John 19:26), a totally different circumstance, so we must not read too much into this. And He gives her the reason for the rebuke right along with it. He says that His hour has not yet come, meaning that the time for His public ministry is not yet right. She has forced His hand, and He is somewhat provoked with her.
But how does Jesus deal with Mary? How does Mary, in faith, respond to the rebuke? John 2:5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Mary responds in faith, respecting the Divine Wisdom, and accepting Its judgement. She responds expecting her need, the need of her relatives, to be met in one way or another, by whatever Jesus would choose to do. She know that her prayer, even her impertinent prayer, has been heard. Now she waits expectantly, in faith, to receive whatever is the best answer to her prayer.
The narrative says that there were six, large stone water pots standing nearby that Jesus directs the servants to fill with water. Note that He does not reuse the previous wine vessels, but rather turns to these water pots which were intended for the purification rites of the Jews. They were empty, so they have to be filled by the servants with water at that time. They are stone, the closest thing available at that time to what we moderns might think of as stainless steel or glass; they would not impart any taste or coloration of their own to the contents as a clay or skin vessels might do. All of this is done to avoid any hint of fraud in the miracle that Jesus is about to perform. If the old wine vessels had been used, or if partially filled vessels were used, skins or clay pots that might have been previously used and have some stain on the inside, any of these things would cast doubt on the miracle. When the servants draw from the newly filled vessels at the command of Christ and take it to the steward of the feast, they know exactly what they have put in to the vessels – just water. When the steward of the feast pronounces that what they have brought is the finest wine, they know that a miracle has been performed, and they are witnessed to it in every detail.
The steward of the feast praises the wine that the servants have brought from the six large water vessels, not knowing how it came to be there. Then the steward of the feast, speaking to the bridegroom says, John 2:10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This shows clearly that the steward has no idea at all where the good wine has come from, and of course, the bridegroom has no idea either. The only ones who know, besides Jesus and His mother, are the servants who have been witness to the entire process.
We do not know exactly how many servants were involved in filling the water jars, but you can imagine how rapidly word of the miracle spread among the servants at the feast. It also must have quickly gotten out to the wedding guest as well, because we have the final verse of our Gospel lesson for the day, John 2:11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. No one would have believed on Jesus that day had word of this miracle not gotten out, but of course it did get out, and his disciples believed on him.
This was the first of Jesus’ public miracles. It occurred shortly after the theophany following the baptism of Christ when according to Matthew 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Each of these are clear evidences of the divinity of Jesus, along with the powerful witness of John the Baptist, John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
In the miracle of the wedding at Cana in Galilee, we see Jesus as one with the Creator of the Universe, the One with the power to transform the dust of the earth and create from it life, our lives. By His hand, simple elements, such as water silently passes over to become the finest wine and the dust of the earth becomes human life. By His hand in the same way, baptism transforms the souls and bodies of men from the kingdom of Nature to the Kingdom of Grace, and the Holy Eucharist becomes the means by which we are fed on the very body of Christ, transforming us step by step, “Changed from glory unto glory.”
The wedding at Cana was a real wedding, the union of a man and a woman in marriage. One of the purposes for which God has ordained marriage is to provide the proper home into which children may be brought. The gift of children is a definite part of God’s plan for most Christian marriages, and they belong in a home with both a mother and a father to rear them. One of the great horrors of our age is the disregard for this gift of God, and the resulting societal willingness to allow the murder of children in the womb before birth, the monstrous act of deliberate abortion. In America, we have become a society in which thousands of abortions occur every day and no one thinks much about it. These children are God’s creations just as we who walk the streets are, whether they were created within loving marriages as some were, or not, as many are the result of casual sexual encounters. To destroy them in either case is murder, and we as a society have taken it upon ourselves to abrogate the commandment, Thou Shalt Do No Murder. We must pray for mercy for our sin sick society, and for a searing of consciences that this blight may be forever removed from our world. It can only be taken away by the power of Jesus Christ our Savior; it is too much for any man to overcome alone. Lord, have mercy upon us!
In terms of the Church, the marriage feast story teaches us that the union of the Bridegroom with the Bride, the Church, continues to provide for the needs of the Bride by the transformation of the most ordinary things into sacramental elements, for the regeneration of souls in the process. Jesus Christ continues to manifest forth His glory in every age, and to give us cause to believe in Him. The certainty that Christ is real, that He is with us now though the agency of the Holy Ghost, and that He will come again at the close of the age, should give us great peace, provided that we truly believe on Him. In Christ, the Father has indeed stretched forth His right hand to help and defend us, providing for us by feeding us on the body of the Son.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.