Mary is one of those mothers who is tuned in to everything that is going on. She’s watching the buffet table to make sure the stewed lamb and pita bread don’t run out. Making sure everybody has a place to sit, a napkin and silverware. Talking to the people who are hanging around the edges of the room by themselves, introducing them to others so they are not all alone. Even though Mary is not the one in charge of this wedding reception, she is one of those mothers who just wants to make sure that things go well, that every body feels welcomed and included and has a good time. Wedding celebrations are about love and Mary wants every body to feel the love!
And Mary is one of those mothers who believes that her kid can do anything. So when she notices that every last drop of wine has been drunk, she tells Jesus. She believes her son can and should do something about it. And Jesus basically responds by saying, “not our problem mom! Why should you or I care about this? You want that I should spend my energy providing libations at a wedding reception where I am the guest, and the host has planned poorly, and most folks have already had plenty to drink? Find the wedding planner. Tell the newlyweds. Talk to the wine steward. Not my gig. My hour has not yet come.”
I don’t know why Jesus responds like this. Maybe he just wants to be a regular guy at this party, without responsibilities, without demands on him, without having to care whether or not everyone is feeling included, or whether or not there is enough to go around. Or maybe Jesus was thinking to do something a little more significant as his first public sign. Something truly necessary, something that would change somebody’s life. Like drive out a demonic spirit. Or heal a dis-eased body. Or restore someone’s sight. Or raise a person from the dead.
We don’t know what’s going on for Jesus in this moment, but it doesn’t matter because Mary is one of those mothers who is always looking out for others, and doing whatever it is in her power to do. It is apparently in her power to tell her grown son what to do. Those were the good old days! Mary ignores what Jesus says and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Mary calls him out, and eventually Jesus chooses to make the lack of wine his concern. In the end, he transforms around 150 gallons of plain old water into wine. That’s like 750 full-sized bottles of wine. 3,500 glasses. And it isn’t just a superabundance of wine. Its the really good stuff. The best stuff. Not the kind of wine you waste on people whose taste buds and lips are already numbed out from drinking too much.
The spotlight in this scene shines on Jesus. Something is revealed about him in this story, and we’ll get to that in a bit. But I want to shine the spotlight on something else for a moment. Here’s the thing. The huge water jars which are filled with fantastic wine at the end of this story are sitting empty when the story begins. They are bone dry. Somebody has to fill them up. Somebody has to provide the water before it can be transformed into wine. And it is the servants who do this. They have to go out to the communal watering hole—there is no kitchen faucet to turn on. They have to high tail it to the well with their portable water jugs, and lower them down, and pull them back up, then hurry back to the reception hall with water sloshing around, and pour it into the empty jars. Then traipse all the way back to the well and do it all over, again, and again and again, until the ginormous jars are filled to the brim. If there were two servants and each could carry four gallons at a time, I calculate they would have had to make nearly twenty round trips to and from the well. Providing this water was no small thing for these servants who already had plenty of work to do so that others could enjoy the wedding feast. Jesus transformed that water into wine.
“Jesus did this,” writes John, “the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory.” John calls it a sign, not a miracle. A sign is something you see that directs you to something beyond itself. It points you to something more. Something bigger than the thing you can see with your eyes. John’s gospel doesn’t begin with a birth story for Jesus. John begins with the claim that Jesus, the Word made flesh and revealed in time, has existed from eternity with God and as God. With God he is the Creator of all that has life and being. Jesus performs seven signs in John’s gospel that echo the seven days of the creation story in Genesis. His life on earth is the beginning of God’s new creation. He will give sight to the blind, heal dis-eased bodies, and raise someone from the dead. When Jesus changes that water into wine it is the first sign of his divine power to transform nature, transform the material world, and transform human existence from unhealth to wholeness, from death to life, from darkness to light. Jesus brings into being that which was not.
On the third day of that wedding feast, a nicely decorated banquet hall is transformed into the site of God’s new creation. Then and there, human need is met with God’s superabundant provision and everything changes. The good wine flows, and everyone stops worrying and exhales, and the bride notices a woman she’s never seen before standing in the shadows against the wall, and she invites her to dance, and the music plays on, and the dance floor is whirling into the wee hours with all kinds of guests who experience the most extravagant love and welcome they have ever known. They feel more alive than they have ever felt. More free and joyful than they thought possible. And they hope that it never ever ends.
None of us is able, literally, to turn water into wine. We don’t have that kind of power. Mary can’t do it. But what she has the power to do, she does. She pays attention. She lives in concern that there be a place for everyone, and enough food and drink to keep the celebration going. She sees the need, and she calls Jesus out. She persists through his initial resistance, trusting that he can somehow turn scarcity into abundance. And the servants can’t turn water into wine, but what they have the power to do, they do. Even though they already have a lot of work on their hands, they schlep 150 gallons of water to fill those empty jars to the brim. Mary and the servants participate, they contribute to the transformation of scarcity into abundance, they have a part in the joyful unfolding of God’s new creation where there is more than enough for every body.
We don’t have to turn water into wine. We simply have to do what it is in our power to do. As a church, we have opened our space and give it away so that people can gather to support one another in overcoming addictions, gather to sing, to cook, to pray; gather to make art, to learn, to prepare foster and adoptive homes for children whose families are in trouble. We are paying attention and doing what we can to respond to the needs around us—the need for food, clothing, shelter, community, a listening ear, a warm hug, sanctuary, a place to rest and exhale the worry for at least a little while. What is in your power to do? What have you received from God’s abundant provision? What can you give? How will you participate today, and in the week ahead in the joyful unfolding of God’s new creation where there is more than enough for every body? How will your life be a sign, a manifestation, a revelation of the endless flow of divine life and love, freely, generously, and joyfully given to transform your being and your living?