Text Study for John 2:1-11 (Part Three)

The gospel according to John begins with a poem, a party, and a protest. The poem is the Prologue in chapter one. The party is held at Cana in the first half of chapter two. The protest is in the Jerusalem temple in the second half of chapter two. The poem does not have the utility of a shopping list. The party could be seen by some as a waste of both time and wine. The protest may have made lots of noise, but it didn’t appear to change anything of substance in that historical moment.

The first two chapters of the Johannine account could be regarded, in the words of Marva Dawn’s great old book, as “a royal waste of time.” Don’t get me wrong here. The events may not be particularly “useful” in any social, political, or economic sense at the moment. But they are deeply significant, both in the Johannine account and in our walk as disciples.

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In the previous post, we talked about time and its meaning in the Johannine account. I was reminded of the Ephesian reference to “getting the most out of the time.” As I reflect further, I think I’d like to take that translation back. I’m not sure it’s all that helpful. That translation can easily slide into a neoliberal, capitalist interpretation that reinforces our obsession with making every second productive in economic and political terms.

I’m reading Jenny Odell’s 2019 book, How to Do Nothing. She notes that her book is “a field guide to doing nothing as an act of political resistance to the attention economy…” (page xi). She argues that we live more and more in a system where what we do with our time can never be enough, how we accumulate our stuff can never be enough, and who we are as people can never be enough.

“The point of doing nothing, as I define it,” Odell writes, “isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive” (page xii). She wants us to wrestle ourselves away from the “attention economy,” where every waking second of our lives is available to be monetized by strangers in the virtual world and to replant our focus back in a public and physical space.

I think about an example which is not quite in Odell’s direct argument but makes the same point. Nearly twenty years ago, Andrew Fischer rented out his forehead to SnoreStop for over thirty-seven thousand dollars. This spawned a small industry dedicated to monetizing the physical geography of human bodies in order to promote a variety of products. It was a good deal for Mr. Fischer, and he made the whole enterprise into a business beyond serving as a walking billboard.

In effect, such an enterprise treats human bodies as spaces which can be commercially exploited for private gain. Let me be clear. No one forced Fischer to do anything. I’m not making that argument. But he viewed his body in the same way that our culture views time – as a tangible asset to be mined for everything it’s worth. And if we’re not producing something of economic value, then we’re “useless.”

The first thing Jesus does in the Johannine gospel, after responding to the curiosity of the first disciples with a call to following, is to attend a party. When he’s asked to do something “useful” at the party, he gets snarky with his own mother and says something like, “Hey, I’m off the clock, Mom.” Then when he does respond to the request, he makes a whole bunch of wine. He doesn’t give sight or hearing or anything else. He starts by being a bit less than “useful.”

And he does it for free. Now, that’s downright un-American.

In a neoliberal, capitalist worldview, regular worship makes no sense. Regular worship doesn’t produce any capital gains. We don’t make anything. We may not even learn anything. I had an inactive parishioner in a congregation once who finally came clean with me on why he didn’t attend worship. He couldn’t afford to waste time like that.

Sunday morning was a time when he could find lots of people at home. Since he was in direct sales, that time was one of his biggest earning blocks of the week. Spending a couple of hours getting ready for, traveling to, attending, and then traveling back from regular worship was, in his view, a bad investment. I thanked him for his honesty and stopped asking him questions.

Many folks deal with this lack of usefulness in worship and other church activities by turning these events into self-help or personal growth experiences. They may not be able to monetize their time at church, but they can justify the expenditure on the basis of “what they get out of it.” Consumerism remains the framework through which they understand worship and account for their time.

This is most obvious when someone changes churches (or synagogues or mosques or other communities, I assume) because “I’m not getting anything out of it.” The more spiritual and pious form of this complaint is that “I’m not being fed.” People have mismatches with faith communities, and I think people should participate where they can be of most service. But the arrow of causation tends to run from congregant as consumer to church as vendor.

“We live in an age and a culture that want instead to turn the worship of God into a matter of personal taste and time, convenience and comfort,” Marva Dawn writes. “Consequently, we need the biggest dose of God we can get when we gather for worship on Sunday morning – to shake us out of this societal sloth and somnambulism and summon us to behold God’s splendor and respond with adoration and service and sacrifice” (Kindle Locations 121-123).

But if our gospel reading is any indicator, sometimes making the most of the time might mean doing nothing really productive. “Worship is a royal waste of time that spirals into passion for living as Christians and back into more passionate worship,” Dawn argues. “It is totally irrelevant, not efficient, not powerful, not spectacular, not productive, sometimes not even satisfying to us. It is also the only hope for changing the world” (Kindle Locations 245-246).

Worship is such a force for hope because it requires us to pay attention for the sake of attention rather than to fill someone’s pockets. Worship is not a means to an end but rather an end in itself. It is an expression of our love for God “for nothing.” We might want to love God for what produces, but that is not love for God. That is really love for self. Relating to God for God’s sake needs to justification and provides no profit.

No wonder most people don’t care much for it.


Marva J. Dawn. A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World Kindle Edition.

Odell, Jenny. How to Do Nothing. Melville House. Kindle Edition.

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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