Text Study for John 2:1-11 (Part Two)

Back to John 2:4 and translation/interpretation issues. First, there is the phrase, ti emoi kai soi, gunai? Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) examines this sentence under the heading of a “Dative of Possession.” The dative functions like a possessive in certain circumstances. These circumstances include times when verbs of being are in or implied in the sentence, and these circumstances are relatively rare.

The literal translation, according to Wallace is “What to me and to you, woman?” He regards “the entire expression as idiomatic” and permitting of a variety of renderings. “If this construction is a legitimate dat[ive] of possession,” he writes, “the idea is ‘What do we have in common?’” That’s why I have translated the sentence as “What’s that to me and to you, woman?”

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The “that” is the fact that the supply of wine has given out. The implication is that such matters are of no real importance, unless Jesus’ “hour” has indeed come (which, apparently, it has not). This is the first time in the Johannine account that Jesus talks about his “hour.

The word for “hour” (Greek = hora) shows up at twenty-six times in the Gospel of John. One instance is in the phrase, on the lips of Jesus, of “my hour.” We find that in our current text. The word is coupled with a possessive referring to Jesus in John 13:1, where Jesus knows that “his hour” has come to exit the world and go to the Father.  Those texts bookend the Johannine “Book of Signs” and mark transitions from the introduction of the gospel to that first “book” and then from the first book to the “Book of the Cross” in John 13-20.

That possessive usage also appears in John 7:30 and 8:20. In both cases, the narrator tells us that Jesus either avoids arrest or is not arrested by authorities “because his hour had not yet come.” In both of those cases, the word for “not yet” is the same as in John 2:4, the Greek word, “houpo.”

The term can be used to specify clock time. Four times the Johannine author tells what time of the day it is. We also find clock time usages in John 4:52-53, in John 11:9, and in John 19:27. I should note, however, that in those cases the Johannine author may well be relying on some double entendre. Each of these “hours” identities a significant event in the narrative. The “hour” is a way of telling the time of events.

But labeling the “hour” at which these events occurred may well identify them as important and revelatory moments. In John 11:9, Jesus talks about twelve hours of daylight as the time to walk without stumbling. Certainly, this is a measure of “clock time.” But it is also an encouragement to treat that time as filled with significance and light. If people know enough to do their walking when the sun shines, how much more so should people know enough to do their living in the Light of the Son.

The word for “hour” also identifies something that we might speak of as “the time.” We get this in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. In John 4:23 and 23, Jesus assures the woman that “the hour is coming” when she will worship somewhere besides Gerizim or Jerusalem. Presumably that worship will happen wherever Jesus is.

In John 4:23, 5:25 and 28, “the hour” that is coming will be the time when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and the ones who hear that voice will live. It’s interesting in John 4:23 and 5:25 that “an hour is coming and now is” when shall be hearing the voice of the Son of God. And the ones who have heard shall live. So, the “hour” as described here is both now and in the future.

“The hour” also describes moments to come in the experiences of the disciples. In John 16:2, the term points to those moments when Jesus followers may be expelled from synagogues and even killed for the sake of their Jesus following. Those who carry out such persecutions will see these moments as their “hour” of triumph. But Jesus speaks to the disciples to teach them that more is going on under the surface.

Jesus uses the figure of a woman in labor to illustrate what it means when someone’s “hour” has come. We can mark down the clock time of a birth, but that event has far more significance than being a mere calendar entry. Following this, in verse 25, Jesus notes that soon he will speak not in figures but plainly. And soon the disciples will be scattered and separate, but Jesus will not leave them alone.

Finally, in John 17:1, Jesus prays that the hour has come to glorify the Son. This takes us back to the words of the Johannine prologue and to the end of our current reading, when the disciples believed in and witnessed the Son’s glory.

You likely are aware of the different terms for time in Greek. There is “chronos,” the time that passes on clocks and sundials and measures the steady chain of events that we experience as the flow of time. There is also “kairos,” which means the significant time, the right time, the auspicious moment. The “hour” in the Johannine account almost always has the flavor of kairos rather than chronos.

We all experience moments in time when the world changes irrevocably. I write on the eleventh anniversary of the death of Ben Larson in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Ben was my pastoral intern and a profound gift to the life of the Church. When he died, life changed not only for the Church but for all the people who knew and loved Ben. There is no going back to the time before Ben’s death, and life for those who knew and loved him is colored by that event for the rest of our lives.

On a societal level, we can name such hinges of history. In my lifetime, as in any lifetime, such kairos moments are manifold. The assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy have all been such moments. The discovery of the Watergate break-in, the end of the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the September 11 attacks, and the Great Recession have also been such moments. There is no going back “behind” those events in order to recover some position of prehistoric innocence.

Jesus’ “hour” is when everything changes. While the sign at Cana is not that hour, it begins the process of pointing toward that moment when the cosmos pivots on the hinge of the cross. That hour is the basis for how we Jesus followers are called to treat every hour that follows.

Jesus’ mention of the “hour” makes me think of the words in Ephesians 5:15-16. “Watch carefully, therefore, how you walk through life, not as unwise folks but rather as wise folks, getting the most out of the time (kairos!), because the days are evil” (my translation). For Jesus followers, there is no “ordinary” time, no time that is empty of meaning and significance. After all, who knows whether the next moment will be “my hour” or not?

The writer of Ephesians illustrates this good use of the time, not with images of hard work and productivity, but with images of joyful worship and grateful living. Perhaps the Johannine author wants to make a similar point. The hour is getting closer, so the time for a wedding celebration is at hand.

I pray once again that I might receive the gift of exuberant joy to fill my “hours” with that worship and praise.

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