Without wine there is no joy
I don’t know how many of you have seen the film Titanic or even the Green Mile? Those of you who have may remember the story, in each case, is told by an elderly person, who recalls vividly a particular moment in time, because it was a special moment touched by a special love in their life.
I imagine the same happening with our gospel reading today, with a man called John telling the story…
He is a very old man writing towards the end of the first century, seventy years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
He searches his memory and he tells a story that everyone can see for themselves and understand, rather like gazing out over water and seeing ripples of time.
But at the same time he reflects beneath the surface and ponders at the hidden meanings, and at the symbolism of it all.
I make this analogy having done some snorkelling on holiday. Anyone who has not experienced that just wouldn’t believe the most wonderful world that lies beneath. It is beyond our imagining until experienced first hand!
Everything in John’s gospel means something, and everything points beyond.
John was a Jew, and in writing this gospel for Jews, he clearly stressed the divinity of Christ, who was also light and life.
But he also wanted to tell the Greeks around him, that here was actually God in their midst, not like their unattainable gods of the myths, but in the flesh. He had walked with him, talked with him, he had seen him for himself.
Backdrop: A wedding at Cana in Galilee…and there among the organisers it seems is Mary herself.
In some early prefaces to the books of the NT there is a suggestion that Mary was sister to the bridegroom’s mother. In the Coptic bibles it suggests that the bridegroom was John himself, and that his mother was Salome, Mary’s sister.
So it seems quite natural that it is Mary who reports to Jesus, that the wine running out.
There was an old Jewish saying,
‘Without wine there is no joy!
I’m sure there are those here today who would say, ‘Hear, hear’ to that!
But it is also worth nothing that it would have been considered a real disgrace to be drunk. You see then water would have been mixed in with the wine: two parts wine: three parts water, so there was less chance of becoming inebriated.
Story in book about Royal family at the back of church….
Queen mother to Queen Elizabeth on taking her third glass of wine at table.:-
‘Lilabet, ought you to be taking a third glass of wine, when you are reigning this afternoon?’
But to fail to make provision for one’s guests at a wedding would have been a BIG problem, for the bride and the bridegroom, who would have faced terrible humiliation,
for hospitality in the middle east was a sacred duty.
Jesus seems to answer with a mild rebuke to his mother here, but in the context of Jesus’ time if this sentence,
‘Woman what concern is that to you and me?’ was spoken softly and not harshly the meaning was changed to ‘Don’t worry, leave things to me, I’ll sort things out.’
The word woman (gunai) is also misleading, It was the same word Jesus used to address his mother when he was on the cross, when he left her in John’s charge. It was an endearment simply expressing the word ‘lady’ rather than woman.
However when Jesus spoke these words, Mary was confident he would be able to help.
She told the servants to do exactly as Jesus directed.
There were six great water jars at the door there, (so that water could be drawn off to wash dusty feet, and cleanse hands, before and during a meal.) They would each hold between 20 and 30 gallons. Jesus directed that they should be filled to the brim, and then he told them to draw out the water and take it to the ‘archi trik linos’; in other words the head waiter.
They did so and he was astonished to find that the very best and superior wine, which these servants brought to him, had been kept until the end.
Looking under the surface, there is much to see and so much to explore along with John.
First of all Jesus was no killjoy. He had accepted the invitation to the wedding and was joining in the celebrations like everyone else, not standing scowling disapprovingly in the corner of the room.
He wore no ‘undertaker’s face, no mask of pain or self-denial.
No he was enjoying himself, in the company of people, who were also enjoying themselves.
Just think of other religious leaders through the ages, the preachers of gloom and doom and the kind of influence they have had on people?
I think of Ian Paisley, passionate, but blinkered and bigoted.
Of Oliver Cromwell, who had Christmas and merriment banished,
I think of Abu Hamza and the accusations levelled against him of sermons of hate which are under the magnifying glass at present in court?
What good do people like this achieve?
In a well known cartoon called the Simpsons, Homer Simpson asks his fundamentalist neighbour where they have been on holiday, they reply, ‘We were at Bible Camp- we were learning how to be more judgemental!’
How would we describe ourselves, and our faces most of the time?
What kind of attitude do you think will lead more souls to heaven?A person with heaven in their face, or one who wears a scowl, and a fierce expression?
A famous preacher once said. ‘There are more flies caught with honey than vinegar’.
Secondly the whole scene takes place in a home, it’s personal. Jesus is not performing in the middle of a stage, but is performing signs where only a few a party to it. He doesn’t need to shout what he is doing from the rooftops.
It’s easy to do the big thing at a big occasion, here Jesus is doing something big at a simple, homely occasion, not drawing attention to himself, but fulfilling the Father’s will for him.
Through him, God is brought right into the home circle and the ordinary things of life, alongside ordinary people.
We too are called to fulfil that same purpose. To recognise God, to understand his love and make him known to others.
At the Emmaus course on Friday evening, we were reflecting upon the fact that God is everywhere and interested in every part of our lives, and a thought came to me about just how much God loves each one of us.
Like my grandson Luke, sometimes I can’t take my eyes off him…he’s a beautiful boy.
Thirdly ,Jesus acts to save someone’s acute embarrassment. He really and truly cares. He acts out of sympathy and a deep understanding for the affairs of others.
In today’s world there seems to be much rejoicing over someone’s downfall, so much interest in a life somehow off the rails, so much snooping into the private lives of others pure and simply in order to bring them down and disgrace them.
Quite the opposite here.
It is by such deeds of simple kindness that we too can show we are followers of Jesus. People don’t expect it today! Let us shock them with it!
It may be well worth mentioning that some scholars say there is great significance in there being SIX stone jars. Seven was the perfect number then, and they would deduce that the stone jars expressed something about the Jewish law being imperfect, and that Jesus with his law came to perfect it.,
Finally, for me John is making a statement here that wherever Jesus went, and whatever he did, people received life in abundance. 180 gallons of wine, that is superabundance more than enough for an entire town!
He demonstrated the love and generosity of God, poured out for us all with more than enough for each person!
Furthermore when Jesus came into a person’s life, there came a new quality, rather like that of water changing into wine.
Without him life was dull and stale and flat,
With him and in him, life became vivid, exciting, sparkling, thrilling, colourful and exhilarating.
If we have come here today feeling lifeless, dull, or that we’ve lost the plot somehow…then let’s take another sip of him this day.
As we receive our communion wine today, symbolic of the blood he shed for us all, let us drink in his forgiveness of things that are wrong in our lives.
Let us allow his perfect love to flood into our souls to cast out EVERY fear…
And let his joy, his compassion and his kindliness re-energise our souls, as he turns our ordinariness into something quite special, our water into wine.