January 16, 2022, A Guide to Abundant Living, John 2:1-12 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
The final words of John’s gospel say: “Now there are many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” John had a wealth of memories to choose from when he sat down to give his own account of the life of Jesus. But of all four of the gospel writers, he was the only one who decided to set down this odd little story of this very first miraculous sign that Jesus performed.
There’s all manner of symbolism and deeper meanings that can be found in the various elements of the story of the wedding at Cana. The stone jars that Jesus had the servants fill were there for the purpose of purification rites, the cleansing of hands and vessels and things according to the Law of Moses. So there is the symbolism of Jesus creating something new, this miraculous wine, out of the old forms of the Law. There is the symbolism of cleansing itself, pointing toward the forgiveness of sins, and the washing of baptism. And there’s the symbol of wine, foretelling the blood of his sacrifice and the wine of the new covenant. There’s the symbolism of the wedding itself, foreshadowing the marriage supper of the Lamb and his Bride, the Church. St. Augustine even thought there was great significance in the meaning of the number 6, the number of stone jars at the wedding.
There are layers upon layers of meaning in this passage, as there is in all of Scripture, so that a scholar could write whole books on it, or we could meditate on it for hours. That is true, and good. But this morning, I want to pull out one particular thread of the story that is very important – one particular word, really. Later on in John’s gospel, in chapter 10, where Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, he says this, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” I want to think about abundance this morning. Because the story of the wedding at Cana, this very first sign, reveals something about the abundant way Jesus lives.
Abundance is sort of the climax of the story – the moral, you might say. Mary notices that their hosts are experiencing a crisis – a houseful of guests, and no wine! – and she puts Jesus on the spot. And Jesus makes wine. But he doesn’t make just enough wine to get them through the feast, he makes something like 150 gallons of wine. And not just any wine, but wine of such excellent quality that the steward takes the bridegroom aside to exclaim about it. “People usually serve out the good wine first, and then, when the guests have gotten a little tipsy they bring out the cheap stuff. But not you! You saved the very best wine for last!” Where on earth did all this amazing wine come from? The bridegroom must have wondered. That’s what John remembered, when he decided to write this story down for us. Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, his abundance. And that is the reason, John tells us, that his disciples first believed in him.
Human beings have generally been willing to accept a god who does just enough for us. We’d happily settle for a god who provides enough food and enough clothing and enough shelter, who zeroes out our debts, who turns his righteous anger away from us. That’s what most religions are all about, really, humans trying to figure out how to do and say enough to satisfy the demands of a perfect and distant being. We build our temples and give our offerings and perform our duties in return for the things we expect god to do for us: to give us enough forgiveness so we can escape punishment or condemnation, enough righteousness so we can make it into heaven or at least not go to the other place, enough comfort and hope meanwhile so we can keep going and not be crushed by the troubles of this life.
But the God who made 150 gallons of the most excellent wine, just anonymously, for a neighbor’s wedding, isn’t a God who has any interest in that kind of religious barter system. I think one reason John chose to include the story of the wedding at Cana is because he was telling the story of a God for whom just “enough” is not enough – a God who is a God of abundance, even extravagance.
Jesus famously tells the story of a young man who runs off and squanders his whole inheritance with partying and prostitutes and goodness knows what else, until finally, and predictably, he’s forced to head back home in shame, penniless and miserable and starving. And all he’s hoping for, as he walks along, is that his father will take him on as a servant, so he can have something to eat and a roof over his head. That would be enough, he thinks.
But his father is watching for him. The father goes running out to meet his son, and he has absolutely no intention of giving his son enough. No, he embraces him. He wraps his own robe around his son’s filthy body. He puts his own ring on his son’s finger and he starts joyfully shouting out orders, “Fire up the grill! Put on the music! My son was lost, but now he is found! Let’s get this party started!” The most unworthy son receives a welcome of the most extravagantly, ridiculously, abundant kind. Because abundance is the way of life for the God who has revealed himself to us.
How often do we feel like God is judging us, keeping a record of our good works – and our bad works – like Santa Claus, waiting for us to finally become good enough, waiting for us to finally do enough of the right things to make up for our failures. And we are afraid to hope for too much, just enough – enough forgiveness, enough patience, enough reward for our little victories, such as they are.
But Jesus didn’t come to measure out rewards and punishments in careful little doses. He said, “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged; don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” His whole life was about teaching us how to live abundantly. “I came,” he told us, “that you might have life, and have it in abundance.”
The story of the wedding at Cana is an odd story because it isn’t a work of healing or casting out demons or raising someone from the dead. It wasn’t even a very important thing, really, to rescue a bunch of party guests from running out of wine. It’s an odd story, too, because except for the servants who hauled 150 gallons of water from the well to fill up the jars, and Jesus’ own little group of friends and family, nobody at that wedding even knew that anything miraculous had happened. And it’s an odd story because it seems like Jesus only did what he did because his mother made him do it.
It was quite possibly the last thing the world was expecting from the Messiah of God. The opening salvo of Jesus’s saving work on this earth wasn’t the violent overthrow of the Roman forces and making Israel great again, like people were expecting. It wasn’t even an act of awesome power – raising the dead or healing diseases or casting out demons or walking on water – though Jesus would go on to do all those things in his short life on this earth. His first great sign was this: he obeyed his mother.
That was the beginning of the ministry of abundant life. Because having submitted his will to the will of his mother and to the need of his friends, Jesus didn’t stop at doing just enough. He obeyed in abundance. He took plain old water and he made it into an abundance of the most excellent wine. He submitted his will, with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind and all his strength, because the heart of abundant living is not power, but love: love of God, and love of our fellow human beings. That wine was abundantly good because it was created in love. Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and on that day he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. +
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