I began my message with a story about a surprise anniversary gift for Diane. Our 39th anniversary was this past Friday. For Christmas I had bought Diane a modest digital piano. She had tried to learn to play many years ago but had been told by her instructor to “Give it up. You are wasting your time.”
I am constantly amazed at how many people are harmed by the thoughtless comments others make; many of these statements leaving scars that never go away.
While driving up north on a wine tasting adventure I was singing old songs as a dear friend was sitting in the passenger seat next to me humming. I told her to join me in the song and she said, “I can’t. I used to love to sing but I was told by a nun that I couldn’t… and I haven’t been able to sing in public since.” We must remember that we have the ability to offer a message of grace or condemnation when we speak to/or about others; …choose grace.
Diane was gracious when she opened her Christmas gift but I also knew she was a bit cautious about setting herself up for failure. (I was wise enough to make certain there were other gifts!)
Now it is the week of our anniversary and I had what I thought was a great idea (insert smirk here). I would buy a book of piano music and wrap it carefully with a card outside the package. And INSIDE I would hide the real gift! It played out beautifully. Diane woke to find the wrapped book on the kitchen counter and again pretended to be happy with my thoughtfulness… (God bless her!) …and then I said, “Honey, there are some great songs in there. Check out the table of contents.” GIFT CARD!!!
Not everything is what it appears on the surface!
In our passage Jesus attends a wedding event with his disciples. At some point in the 7 day celebration the mother of Jesus learns that a great embarrassment had occurred; they had run out of wine for the celebration. In the Jewish society this was a crushing event that would forever mar the memory of an otherwise joyous occasion.
As an aside I remarked about the negative stigma that religious institutions have often placed on the use of alcohol. This has caused the twisting of scriptures suggesting that water was undrinkable in that part of the world; ignoring such passages as Jesus asking the woman at the well for a drink of water. Further, that wine was only consumed in a diluted form; ignoring the comment within our own passage when the chief steward tells the bridegroom that “…the inferior wine is served after the guests have become drunk.”
Jesus’ mother approaches and tells him, “They have no wine.” His response has made many commentators uncomfortable; “Woman, what has that to do with you or me. My hour has not yet come.” The use of the title, “Woman” by Jesus would never be an appropriate title between a Jewish son and his mother. I pointed out however, that Jesus uses this same title later in this very gospel. As he was dying on the cross Jesus looked down at his mother standing next to John and he says to her (apparently nodding to John), “Woman, behold thy son.” And to John, “Behold thy mother.” The gospel writer states that from that moment on he took her into his home.
The mother of Jesus assumes that he will intervene and instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. He tells them to fill the stone water jars that were used to store water for ritual purification and take a cup to the chief steward. In the process of filling the 6 stone jars holding up to 30 gallons each “…to the brim” we are witness to Jesus’ first miracle in the presence of his disciples; 180 gallons of wine to keep the party going. Now that is a good friend!
Now we read the comment of the chief steward who is so amazed at the quality of the wine that he pulls the bridegroom aside and states, “People serve the best wine first and when the guests are drunk they serve the inferior wine. But you have saved the best until now!”
I suggest that it is within the words spoken to the bridegroom that we find the deeper meaning of our text. To this point in time we have only the words of the prophets and the judgment and condemnation of the law to describe God’s relationship with creation. It is only now, as Jesus begins his ministry that we are to see that love overcomes the stigma of the law. The religious leaders repeatedly condemn Jesus because he does not act, “according to the law.” He heals on the Sabbath. He associates with people outside his own faith. He ignores dietary restrictions. Jesus will again and again lift up individual grace over the institutional judgments of the church.
In the verses that immediately follow our reading Jesus challenges the religious leaders by condemning their practice of commercializing the temple. He overturns the money changers tables. He drives out the livestock sold at a profit for offerings. He teaches of God’s grace and love and desire for relationship with us.
The chief steward’s words were indeed prophetic. “You have saved the best until now!”