Water to Wine

Epiphany 2C- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers

And just like that plain tap water from the camp kitchen became cherry-flavored Kool Aid (or as we called it at summer camp, “bug juice”)

They saw it with their own eyes! Well, considering no one on camp staff had the ability to perform miraculous” water into Kool-Aid signs” we simply put drink powder in the bottom of the pitcher and pretended.

Playing the role  as a Biblical times servant,  I carried the plastic pitcher of barely mixed “wine” to the counselor playing the bridegroom, then to Jesus and Mary.   

The bridegroom delivered his line.

“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.”

Our Thursday night passion play continued and more miraculous signs were performed and acted out in front of that week’s campers. Jesus calmed a tempest and saved the disciples who were canoeing in the swimming pool. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus walked right out of the arts and crafts supply closet and took off his burial shroud. Unfortunately, the counselor playing Jesus could not walk across the creek, but he did miraculously multiply loaves and fishes thanks to the extra bags of saltine crackers the actors had hidden in their robes.

As a camper, and as a counselor, I never quite understood these miraculous signs. I simply viewed them as unexplainable miracles that were intended to “prove” that Jesus was in fact God and therefore we should believe in him. This is perhaps a very rudimentary understanding of signs, and for a starting place there is nothing wrong with that. 

But as is the case with faith and our faith we can’t stop there. We have to dig deeper into these stories or at some point, we end up with a Jesus who is not any different than a magician capable of performing unexplainable tricks. 

In fact turning water into wine, walking on water, healing the sick, raising the dead are so much more than wonders…they are signs. 

Signs point us towards something that only God is capable of. Signs point us heavenward.

Anyone can explain water into bug juice, but does point us towards the kingdom of God? 

Not really…we have to remember, what’s really important here is relationship. As we are now in the season of Epiphany, Jesus first miracle at Cana reveals God in relationship to humanity…The sign starts small. A wedding gathering in Cana in front of family, his first few disciples, guests and the married couple gathered for a party.

This is important and it’s not just because Jesus was interested in having a great party. Afterall he did make 150 gallons of really, good top shelf wine. That’s around 375 bottles! 

Weddings are an opportunity to provide hospitality to loved ones. When planning a wedding hosts want to offer the very best they have to guests – a really nice meal, dancing, music, drinks. 

We offer this hospitality to show guests their presence is an honor.

Perhaps one of the biggest fears of a newly wed couple and their families is running out of food. This would be an embarrassment for us today. In ancient Middle Eastern culture the stakes were a bit higher. 

In this culture society was driven by a system of honor and shame. In our culture and understanding shame is still a negative emotion. It tends to be used to mean that the person is flawed – the whole self being unfixable. It’s a form of self hatred. 

In the context of the Gospel of John, and in fact the Bible at large, shame had additional connotations. It was tied to being cut off from the proper, pure, and civilized honorable people. It meant being an outsider. Shame was also tied to family lineage, passed down from generation to generation.

Honor could also be lost. One of the easiest ways to slide from public graces was to provide poor hospitality. Running out of wine at a wedding would have been an absolute disaster.

This system of honor and shame is central to the sign that Jesus performs.

Mary recognizing that the wine was running thin, recognizes the impending embarrassment and tragedy that awaits the family. 

At first Jesus is not convinced and even says, “What is it to us is they run out of wine. My time has not yet come?”

Mary doesn’t relent and gets the servants to follow Jesus’ instruction. 

What is also interesting about this story is that Jesus does not make a big public show about this sign. Only a few – his disciples, his mother, and the servants – know where this good wine is from. The steward of the wedding pulls the bridegroom aside and congratulates 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.” 

The family is not only saved from tragedy, they experience extravagant honor that they didn’t even deserve.

The wedding at Cana is a sign that points to what would happen ultimately on the cross and resurrection. 

Shame, abandonment, separation from God is removed. It is annihilated and we are brought into a relationship with God that is described as the very best, most lavish and extravagant wedding feast.  

As was the case for the bridegroom and bride, this extravagance is beyond our knowledge and certainly not depending on our deserving. 

It’s a gift. 

It’s your gift too.

If it is a gift, undeserved, we need to move past trying to justify or explain the incomprehensible. We can’t explain God’s grace anymore than we can explain how Jesus turns water into wine. We can simply trust that love is God’s nature and in doing so deepen that trust. 

 “Do what he tells you.” 

“Fill the jars with water”

“Heal the sick.” 

“Feed the hungry.” 

“Open your eyes”

But right before the ultimate sign.

Jesus washes his disciples feet. The work of a servant.

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

There can be no unclean, barren, cut off, lost, or rejected people. 

Shame has no place in this world because shame does not exist in the world God desires.