Thursday, January 11, 2007

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: John 2:1-12

[Look at the first pass for background and to learn what these "passes" are all about.]

A Few More General Comments
1. According to scholars, this passage conforms to the usual pattern for Biblical miracle stories. Here, we see:
  • Setting (vv. 1-2)
  • Preparation for the Miracle (vv. 3-5)
  • The Miracle (vv. 6-8)
  • Conclusion (vv.9-11)
2. But, as The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB) commentary points out, John, the writer of the Gospel, "hints that the story is to be read as more than a typical miracle story."

The reference to Jesus' "hour," a term frequently used to talk about what John calls Jesus' "glorification" (His death and resurrection) is one element that distinguishes the Cana incident from other miracle stories.

Another element distinguishing this from most miracle stories is its reference to faith (v. 11).

Finally, the most important difference between this and most miracle stories is that it comes at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry.

According to John, then, Jesus' earthly ministry gets kicked off with one the of the signs designed to demonstrate His Lordship and to thereby, elicit faith.

In fact, traditionally many scholars have seen John as "book of signs." John seems to confirm that the signs are the skeletal structure around which he built his narrative in the closing words of John 20:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
These three hints indicate that in Jesus, we have more than a miracle worker. Cumulatively, His signs point to His Lordship, His Deity.

Picking up on the Epiphany theme of my message last weekend, we find Jesus adding to our picture of Him as Savior and God at the wedding in Cana.

Verse-by-Verse Comments
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

1. This happens on the third day of Jesus' ministry, the third of His "going public," if you will.

On the first day, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. (Remember John the Baptizer and John the Evangelist, who wrote this Gospel, three epistles, and Revelation, are two different people.) That same day, He called His first two followers (disciples) to "come and see" what it would be like to follow Him.

On the second day, Jesus called Philip and Philip called Nathanael, inaugurating the Christian method of evangelism, what we call Each One Reach One here at Friendship. That means each individual Christian calling an individual non-Christian or spiritually disconnected person to come and see Jesus for themselves.

On this third day, Jesus is one of the invitees at a wedding.

2. Never in the Gospel of John is the mother of Jesus referred to by name. This is interesting for several reasons, which I'll go into later. But an interesting question is to ask, "Why?" Why isn't Mary mentioned by name in this Gospel? Given the care with which John tells the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, I believe that this omission was deliberate.

Very simply, the identity of Jesus' mother isn't important. (Although I'm glad we know some of what we can learn of her in Luke's Gospel.)

John, of course, could have thrown Mary's name into the narrative. But I can't help but wonder if he decided not to do that in order to blunt a growing reverence for Jesus' mother. She had her role in salvation history, of course. But she was a sinner like every other member of the human race. She too needed the Savior-Messiah she birthed to save her from her sin. John who can, by turns, flood the reader with details and then present information in the sparsest terms, appears here to be giving a warning: Keep your eyes focused on God-in-the-flesh not the woman who gave birth to Him.

Speculating a bit further, we might wonder if Mary herself might not be behind the way John speaks of her. Traditionally, the Gospel of John is attributed to the disciple Jesus loved, the person to whom He entrusted His mother while He died on the cross. This disciple--also unnamed--took the mother of Jesus, unnamed, into his home. The two may have decided that in any testimony about Jesus, the subject should be Jesus Himself. All the glory needed to go to Jesus.

3. Why were the disciples invited to this wedding celebration? We don't know.

4. Wedding feasts could last as long as a week. Wine was to be a continual part of the celebration, although drunkenness was deemed shameful. But everybody drank wine as part of their meals.

3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

1. The request of Jesus' mother is merely implied here. "They have no wine," she tells Jesus. According to my reading of various sources, running out of wine would have been seen as highly embarrassing and an insult to one's guests. It would have been seen as an especially great faux pas because guests often sent wine to the bride's family to ensure a sufficient supply for the celebration. Running out of wine could indicate that the host family was totally relying on their guests for wine or that they had failed to plan to treat people hospitably.

2. How the mother of Jesus knew of the crisis isn't clear. The most common speculation is that she was a close relative of the bridal family.

3. The crisis here is similar to the one that precedes Jesus' feeding of the 5000. In each instance, there is a daunting scarcity and it isn't clear what can be done about it. (John 6:5-9)

4. From Jesus' response at the beginning of verse 4, it is clear that the mother of Jesus is making a request. She wants Jesus to do something about the scarcity. Given Jesus' poverty, she clearly wasn't asking Him to cough up the cash to buy more wine. Equally implicit then, is her belief that Jesus is more than just her son. He is God.

5. "Woman" was the usual way Jesus addressed His mother in this Gospel.

He isn't being rude to her. But, the title does denote some distance.

From another Gospel, we learn that this distancing from her first-born was difficult for Mary to accept. She and her other children, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, alarmed by the growing opposition to Jesus, would "forget" His identity in order to try to prevent His arrest and execution. But Jesus would have none of that; there too, He distanced Himself from His mother, insisting that He had a more important allegiance to God and the entire human race than to His mother or family.

6. Jesus tells His mother that it's not yet His hour. In this, He makes an explicit link between the signs He will perform and His Lordship. His signs point to His Lordship. They confirm that He is God of the universe and the long-awaited Savior. It was Jesus' claims of being God and Messiah that aroused opposition and led the world to reject Him, the necessary preface to His "hour."

Mention of Jesus' hour in John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; and 17:1 all relate to Jesus' glorification. As I said earlier, in John's Gospel, the term glorification refers to Jesus' death and resurrection, seeing the two as part of one sweeping motion leading to Jesus' triumph over sin and death and His enthronement as King over a forgiven and renewed people.

7. In His response, Jesus is thus reminding His mother that, as NIB puts it, His "actions will be governed by the hour set by God, not by anyone else's time or will."

8. Nonetheless, I can't help but picture Jesus saying this with a whimsical attitude. He intends to comply with His mother's request--to answer her prayer, if you will. But He needs to remind her that His agenda isn't set by her, but by God the Father.

This theme of God's sovereignty over the hour of Jesus' glorification is hit on several times in John's Gospel, especially in the narrative of Jesus' passion (death). For example, when Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, for the second time, we're told:
Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:10-11)
And later, John says that Jesus decided when He would die. He gave up His spirit, indicating that He gave His life; it wasn't taken from Him:
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
By the way, to understand the whimsy that I think characterizes this interchange between Jesus and His mother: Picture the scene in It's a Wondeful Life that takes place in front of the Bailey homestead just after younger son, Harry, returns to Bedford Falls with a bride in tow. Ma Bailey tells her son, George, that Mary Hatch is back in town. Her implication is clear: George should settle down and wed Mary. "Mother Dear," George says, with a chuckle. "I can read you like a book."

Jesus really could read His mother like a book. (He can read all of us.) And while, just like George Bailey, who ended up that night at Mary Hatch's house, Jesus is going to take care of the wedding crisis, He needs for his mother to understand that His action has to do with His hour--His mission of dying and rising for the entire human race--and not just to make His mother happy. The miracle at Cana is the first sign of His Lordship and will be one of the reasons that a world that would rather worship other gods decides that Jesus must be killed.

[More tomorrow, I hope.]

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