Friends, I will be launching online Zoom bible for six weeks on Paul’s Letter to Philemon, beginning on Monday, January 17, from 7 to 8 p.m. CST. If you’d like a Zoom invitation, please let me know and I’ll be sure you get one. Thanks!
2 Epiphany C, January 16, 2022
This Sunday we have a brief foray into the Johannine account before we get serious about reading the Lukan gospel. Once again, I wish we simply had a “Year D” in the Revised Common Lectionary rather than these hit-and-run encounters with the Gospel of John.
I have no interest in a lectionary which ends up serving as a sort of “Diatessaron by default,” an effort to create an impression of harmony among the gospel accounts. That harmony doesn’t exist. It is not necessary. Nor is it desirable. The Church needs the diversity of gospel voices without imposing an assimilation toward one of the accounts as the controlling narrative to which the other accounts are compared. Historically, for the Lutheran tradition, that controlling narrative was the Johannine account, but that emphasis has faded in the past few generations.
I appreciate David Ewart’s “Holy Textures” blog and would recommend it for weekly reading (see David Ewart, www.holytextures.com). Ewart notes that this is the Johannine account. We don’t get miracles. We get “signs.” He notes that signs, in the Johannine account, don’t point to what was done or how something was done. Instead, the signs point to who did it. And the who is always Jesus. The signs in the Johannine account reveal things about Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. And they reveal things about the character of God, the one whom the Son makes known (see John 1:18).
Karoline Lewis notes, in the current “Sermon Brainwave” podcast, that this sign includes lots of details to remind us that the Word becomes flesh ( https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/824-second-sunday-after-epiphany-jan-16-2022). Jesus has a mother, although in the Johannine account, Jesus’ mother is never named. Jesus’ mother shows up here at the wedding and again at the foot of the cross. Perhaps that means something.
Jesus and his associates are invited to the same local wedding celebration as Jesus’ mother. I appreciate David Ewart’s attention to detail here. He notes that the responsibility for having enough wine at the party was not on the host or the bridegroom. It was the responsibility of the community. The lack of wine “indicates that the host either has a shameful lack of friends who were socially obliged to bring sufficient wine as gifts…Or the host’s friends have shamed themselves – and the host – by failing to provide sufficient wine.”
I wonder if Jesus’ mother comes to Jesus about this problem (at least in terms of the narrative) because he hadn’t brought any wine in the first place. Jesus has a mother who experiences family shame, in that case, because her family is directly responsible. And she experiences community shame because the whole community has now failed the happy couple (and left themselves high and dry). Jesus may think that he has more important things to do, but his very human obligations don’t disappear as a result.
The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
“Since the wine was lacking, the mother of Jesus says to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus says to her, ‘What’s that to me and to you, woman? My hour hasn’t yet arrived’.” (John 2:3-4, my translation). I think many of us readers have been trained to hear the Johannine account as the most “spiritual” and elevated of the gospel reports. But the Gospel of John is filled with these moments of interpersonal tension and confrontation – moments that are intensely human.
If and when you read this text aloud in worship or study, how will you “play” it? What emotional tone, if any, will you apply to this bit of dialogue in the account? Does Jesus’ mother come with impatience, in a fit of pique, or filled with anxiety on behalf of “the women in the kitchen”? If Jesus has forgotten his contribution, is she scolding him for a failure in adulting? I don’t know for sure, but it matters in the reading and interpretation of the text.
Does Jesus reply with disdain or even disrespect? The “woman” part of the text certainly gives it that flavor. Or does he sigh with some resignation, knowing that no one – including his mother – “gets him” yet? Is he dismissive, derisive, or a bit dejected? Those are quite different readings and interpretations of what’s happening here.
I wonder if we miss some of the comedy of the text by holding Jesus up too high in a story that securely roots him in the small details of village life. His mother rightly calls him out for being a bit irresponsible and leaving the happy couple in the lurch. He’s irritated, not only for being caught out but more so for being called out – by a woman in a public setting. So, by golly, he’ll show her who’s bringing the wine. You want some wine? How about one hundred eighty gallons of the best stuff ever!
I can’t help but think about any number of mother/son exchanges in the sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. Playing the dialogue in the voices of Ray Romano and Doris Roberts might put the text in a whole different light.
Or does he respond playfully, as Jesus often does in the Johannine account? Yup, you got me, Momma. I know you left sticky notes on my door to remind me, but I really was a little busy and forgot. So, how about I make it up to everyone. Here’s enough wine, not just for an average party, but for the best…party…ever! You might think twice the next time you tell me we’re a bit short on supplies!
Perhaps there is an exuberance here beyond all expectation. You know, I don’t really do “exuberance,” so I’m speaking as an outside observer. But the amount of wine reported here is not merely in “abundance.” That would be a good contrast to the participle at the beginning of verse three, which speaks about scarcity or lack. Instead of offering mere abundance, Jesus provides far more than the party could every use. And it’s the kind of wine that a savvy host would use to impress the guests before their palates and their brains are dulled into a drunken stupor.
If this is a direction you might take in your preaching, then it could make sense to use the appointed psalm liturgically. These verses of Psalm 36 would make a fine call to worship, a good communal response to a confession and absolution, or a congregation affirmation of the eucharistic prayer. “Abundance” is a word used in the translation of the text. But the physical images are monumental in scale and exuberant in scope.
Even as I think about this theme, I pause and worry a bit as a preacher. It’s all well and good for someone like me – privileged, powerful, positioned, and propertied – to talk about the abundant provision of the Lord. I’m not as likely to celebrate that, perhaps, when I have very little exuberance or abundance to celebrate. Or is my prosperity messing up my gratitude?
At those moments when I have had the least, I have found myself most impressed by and grateful for the Lord’s provision. I have no time for the false promises of the Prosperity Gospel. Yet, in moments of greatest need – physical, emotional, spiritual – I have gotten what I needed and much more. In some such moments, I have gotten so much more that I can only shake my head in wonder. I find myself looking toward God and thinking, “Now you’re just showing off.”
Perhaps one of the epiphanies in this Epiphany is the reminder that God’s fundamental character is that of “Giver.” This is one of Luther’s insights to which I return over and over. Our God gives. Our God gives – not barely enough but far too much. Our God gives with exuberance, with delight, and with laughter.
The intensely human Word become flesh reflects the glory of God into a world enveloped in darkness. When we welcome that Word into ourselves, then we become mirrors of the mirror. That’s what it means to follow Jesus as disciples. That’s what it means to put our trust in him. If the fundamental character of God is to be The Giver, and if Jesus is the Revelation of that character, then we are most like Jesus when we too are Givers.
It’ not that exuberant generosity is the coin of the realm that pays an admission fee. Rather, it is exuberant generosity that forms us and shapes us into the image of God revealed in Jesus Christ. One of the insights of the Gospel is a simple one. Do you want to be happy? Then be grateful. Do you want to be grateful? Then be generous. Do you want to be generous? Then give yourself and your stuff freely to enhance the lives of others.
Lord, make me an exuberant disciple…or a least a happier one. Amen.
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