Second Sunday after Epiphany (January 20, 2019)
JoAnn A. Post
On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So, they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Leaning on the kitchen counter Friday night, listening to the radio—my dinner preparations idled on the cutting board. Off and on all day, I’d been tuning in to coverage of the Jason Van Dyke sentencing hearing, trying to read the judge’s mind. The facts of the case are relatively clear; at least a verdict has been rendered. But the sentencing? How was the judge to weigh the grievous harm done to Laquan McDonald’s family against the devastation visited on the officer’s family? How would justice be best served?
I was moved to tears by both the victim impact statements and by the officer’s wife, who wept over her children’s sorrow. But the judge?
When statements were completed, the judge cleared his throat and began to speak, my vegetable knife paused in mid-air. “This is a tragedy for both families. You can see the pain on both sides,” he said. And then he paused, “And I know everyone will be 100% dissatisfied with my decision.”
This may seem an odd way in to a gospel reading about unadulterated, inebriated nuptial joy. After all, Jesus, like a superhero, saved the day. It was a triumph, not a tragedy.
You know the story. Jesus was his mother’s “plus 1” at a friend’s wedding. They were seated in the cheap seats—they couldn’t even see the head table from where they sat. Instead they watched the wait staff juggle plates and glasses like acrobats juggling bowling pins. That’s why Mary saw the emerging emergency; that’ s why she poked Jesus and said, “Hey, they’re almost out of wine.”
Jesus was not concerned. Had he brought his own stash? Was he about to leave anyway? Or did he figure it was somebody else’s problem? We’ll never know. Because Mary wouldn’t let it go. “Do something!” she stage whispered, loud enough for others to hear.
What would he do? What could he do? His decision would be 100% dismaying to everyone who witnessed it.
Steering the servers to a collection of jugs intended for ritual baths, he asked them to fill the jugs with water. They didn’t ask why, but it was a head scratcher.
Once the jars were filled—which would have taken awhile—Jesus asked a servant to dip some of the water out and take it to the sommelier for approval. I pity the kid who drew that short straw—imagine approaching a stuffy, sweaty, snappy wine steward with a glass of Cana tap water saying, “Here. Try this. The guy in the corner thinks you might like it.”
What an odd decision on Jesus’ part. Water to wine? Why didn’t they just call Binney’s?
A lesser man, or a son with a less imposing mother, might have let it go, might have crossed his arms across his chest in amusement, waiting for news of the impending drought to ripple to the front table. Running out of wine was more than a fault in planning, it would have been a disgrace. It would have been a tragedy.
You see, weddings like that one lasted for days. The groom’s family was responsible for overwhelming guests with the best of everything—ridiculously rich food, the roundest of reds, the crispest of whites, bulging swag bags. To run out of wine midway through the festivities would have been a shame the family could not have survived.
But thanks to Mary’s persistence and Jesus’ obedience, there was no shame. Only the finest wine ever uncorked in that village.
And who got the credit for saving the day? Who got the applause for restoring their joy? Mary? Jesus? The waiters? The sommelier?
No, it was the groom. The clueless, nameless, stumbling sotted groom who hadn’t even known there was a problem. He received the wine steward’s praise as though he had picked and pressed the grapes himself. And he toasted his good taste with another round for everyone.
It must have been a real punch in the gut for Mary. Her son had both prevented shame and restored joy, performing a miracle never accomplished before. But no one would ever know. She was 100% disappointed–Jesus didn’t get the credit he deserved. But the wedding party danced late into the night.
After the sentencing decision came down Friday night, the court room was stunned to silence. No one had seen it coming. The judge had meted out a sentence significant but not draconian. It was far less than the Van Dyke family had feared; and, similarly, far less than the McDonald family had hoped.
Did Mr. Van Dyke get the punishment he deserved? Did the McDonald family get the justice they deserved? Was the judge right, that everyone would be 100% disappointed? Absolutely. Because the McDonald family returns to a world in which black lives seem not to matter. The Van Dyke family enters a world of poverty and incarceration and public shame.
What could a judge say to right all those wrongs? Was it possible, or even necessary, to give everyone what they deserved?
When we are wronged, can the one who harmed us be punished enough? When we do well, is there a medal big enough? Does anyone get what they deserve—that is, what we think they deserve?
Mercifully, the answer is “no.”
We hear this, the first of Jesus’ miracles, not in a courtroom but in a church. There is no illusion of fairness in these walls, no attempt to distribute either punishment or credit as we deserve. This is a decidedly odd place to be—this, the court of the Lord. To misquote Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Abandon hope of fairness, all ye who enter here!”
Unlike a court of law, or the court of public opinion, or the judge and jury that convict us in the silence of our hearts, no one who follows Jesus will get what they deserve. We call this wildly unfair system “grace”—the unmerited love of God for sinners.
No matter what have done or failed to do, what we said or failed to say, no matter how far we stray or how fast we run, God’s love is inescapable. No one deserves the love and mercy showered on us by God.
Here’s another uncomfortable but important little theological factoid. We believe that, unlike in a court of law where crimes are graded and rated, punishment assigned accordingly, among us, in God’s eyes, there is no ranking of sin. No first, second and third degree sins.
The thief who steals a watch and the murderer who steals a life are the same. The child who cheats on a test and the spouse who cheats on a marriage are the same. The victim of crime is the same as the one who commits it. The hypocritical church-goer is the same as the humble church-avoider. How can this be? How wildly unfair!
Indeed. Wildly unfair. How fortunate we are to have a God so gracious, a Savior so generous, a Love so magnanimous.
Jesus gave all the credit for a smashing wedding success to a groom who deserved none of it. Mary took private pleasure in her son’s magnificence, needing nothing more. The wine steward frantically reviewed his receipts, trying to account for the amazing un-ordered wine he had just served. The wedding guests, who would have been satisfied with Two Buck Chuck enjoyed the finest wine of their lives. The groom grinned at his bride, giddy at his undeserved good fortune.
Praise was mis-assigned. As was blame. Remember what we call that? Grace.
Courts of law labor under the obligation to give people what they deserve for their crimes. The world around us labors under the illusion that we should receive a trophy simply for breathing.
Jesus labors under no such illusions. He is the silent guest at every table—overlooking our poor manners, multiplying our joy, showering the undeserving with grace and the sinful with mercy.
Someone screwed up at the wedding in Cana, but no one was punished. Someone took credit that was not his, and everyone cheered. There was nothing fair or deserved about what happened in Cana. But that is Jesus’ way.
The world will always disappoint, 100%. But here? The wine of forgiveness is offered to everyone. The bread of salvation is offered to everyone. Regardless of our fault or our fame, we are all forgiven. We are all loved. 100%