To be honest reading the text of John 2:1-12 earlier this week, a narrative of transforming water to wine, it made my stomach turn a bit.
Our news cycle here in the US has been dominated these past few days by stories of Las Vegas. Personally speaking it’s tough to see how Jesus changing H2O into something with a higher alcoholic content fits into any of that. But still, it’s difficult to get the events that went down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay safely at bay from our collective conscience.
On the surface this water-to-wine narrative, done at a wedding celebration no less, almost makes the savior of the world sound like a frat boy, going out to restock with another keg, to make sure everyone has enough to drink for the big bash. The text tells us that six jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons, were suddenly filled with wine. That’s no small amount, 180 gallons, that’s about 1,000 bottles of vino. And this isn’t just any vino, it’s the good stuff, even better than the wine that had just run out.
To me it almost sounds excessive. It sounds almost scandalous.
Now this scripture does have scandal, tho I’d suggest it’s not in the miracle being performed, but in the need for it. In biblical times marriage was celebrated not with a honeymoon but instead with a seven-day wedding feast. To the family that’s responsible for keeping this celebration going, running out of wine, only three days into the week-long event, well, that’s a scandal in the making.
The mother of Jesus, aware of the cultural scandal of empty wine glasses, mid-celebration, petitions her Son. “They have no wine,” she says. There’s a problem here, Jesus, she suggests, please fix it.
The response of Christ, at least initially, is not quite what maybe we’d expect. Here Jesus replies, “what concern is that to you and me? My time has not yet come.” Now, to be fair, the identity of Jesus as Christ was not yet known to many. This story comes very early in his ministry; that identity isn’t fully revealed until Christ’s death and resurrection, which is still several years away.
Yet here we have the mother of Jesus, petitioning him to solve a very real problem. A problem staring them right in the eyes.
Theologian Carol Lakey Hess refers to this as the scandal of divine reluctance, and it is indeed enough to raise an eyebrow.
Despite this possible hesitation, and not being one to let her petition go so easily, mother Mary carries on, asking the wedding servers to do whatever Jesus tells them.
You know the end to this story, Jesus takes action. The 1,000 wine bottles miraculously appear. The week-long wedding festivities continue. The potential cultural embarrassment of this moment has been averted. The God of abundance has shown up, bringing new life, new hope, new celebration for all of Creation. It is a happy, happy ending.
So what do we do, when, culturally speaking at least, our wine has run low? What happens when the party is unexpectedly, tragically, cut short? I’d suggest that’s exactly what happened Sunday night, right there, in the middle of a music festival on the Las Vegas strip.
In these moments, perhaps mirroring an approach found in scripture is in order. So if you find yourself wondering how to feel, what to think, what to do, consider this basic game plan.
Be like the mother of Jesus: petition our Lord. Cry out to the heavens at the injustice of the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history. Ask God to fix this.
Also be like Jesus, grapple with the issue at hand. Ask yourself, candidly, what concern is that to you and me? Keep asking until your answer becomes clear. Wonder aloud, as Jesus did, has your hour not yet come? Or, is the hour for you, and for our society, now here?
And then be like Jesus again: take action. Participate in the conversations, the process, the policy discussions, the – let’s be honest – the miracle needed, to end this unfortunate reality.
For when we do, we refill our supply of not just wine, but the good wine, the divine wine. A divine wine that gets us back to a grand party, together, as the God of abundance, the God of peace, and the God of unexpected miracles, intends for us all. AMEN.