Inviting The Light: Showing Up at the Wedding
By the Rev. Carole Wageman
NOTE: This reflection is based on the story of the Wedding Feast from John 2:1-11
It was a wedding feast. The important merging of two families. A community-wide celebration. Anticipation…joy…excitement…ritual…dancing…singing…laughter…good food and drink and lots of it! There is a legend from an ancient Coptic gospel that suggests Mary might have been the aunt of the bride and possibly responsible for the feast itself. That would have made Jesus a cousin to the bride.
Mary approaches Jesus with the problem, knowing that he can do something about it.
No one is sure if that is true or not, but what was true was that the wine was running out and that would have been a humiliating calamity for the newlyweds and their families. In that scenario, it might have gone down in the community’s memory as “The Bankrupt Wedding” or something along that line—a disastrous and embarrassing occurrence at a special community event. What a way to begin a new life together! Mary approaches Jesus with the problem, knowing that he can do something about it.
Now I need to say something about the interchange between Jesus and his mother at this point. The translation we read says: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” Whenever I hear this translation, I mentally cringe because it makes Jesus sound like a stuck up brat who doesn’t treat his mother very nicely. Mary’s response seems to ignore Jesus’ comment because she goes ahead to instruct the servants to follow Jesus’ commands whatever they might be. It makes Mary sound like she is saying: “Thank you for sharing, son, but get on with it anyway.” In this imagined scenario, Jesus dutifully sighs and goes ahead with the miracle perhaps mumbling under his breath something about being all grown up now.
Now, I recognize that is a very contemporary 21st century layer to put on this particular section of the passage. It would be wise to avoid that pitfall, for this conversation and its translation calls for a bit more probing.
William Barclay, a renowned New Testament scholar, suggests that the words are translated correctly but we don’t have the language to express the tone of the conversation. He points out that the word “Woman” is not used as a harsh reprimand but might be thought of as “Lady” in English, a sign of respect. It is the word that Augustus, the Roman Emperor used to address Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen and that Homer’s Odysseus used to address his beloved wife, Penelope. It is also the term Jesus uses again to address his mother from the cross. Barclay translates the phrase as: “Lady [Mother], let me handle this in my own way. My hour has not yet come.” 1 (The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of John, Vol 1 p 97-98.) That gives an entirely different flavor to a conversation that could easily sound like a rebuke in our own culture.
It wasn’t about more wine for the party… This is a story about responding to human need with God’s love and compassion.
This suggested wording implies that Jesus would have been aware of the situation at the wedding and, even though it did not quite match up with his own timetable for his ministry, there was something that stirred his response—not out of self-importance, but out of compassion. It wasn’t about more wine for the party. It was about addressing a situation that would have been a serious breach of hospitality in that culture and would have publicly haunted and embarrassed those newlyweds and their extended families for a long time to come.
This is not a teacher who brandishes flaming rhetoric, hellfire and brimstone. This is a craftsman from Nazareth, an unexpected presence from an unadorned place who has opened his life to God-given gifts through which the holy one will serve the needs of others. Rather than being a story of an over-bearing mother and a reluctantly obedient son, this is a story about responding to human need with God’s love and compassion. Need shows up wherever people are…even at a party. God shows up, too.
These may not have been the circumstances Jesus would have chosen to disclose his ministry. He might have had some idea of how he wanted it to unfold and doing something about a wine shortage at a wedding wasn’t “the plan”. This was a situation put upon him simply because of circumstances. But sometimes the unexpected is the way in which the holy one slips quietly into our life events, unseen by most. Our choice, like the option Jesus chose, is to be open to the unpredictability that something else might be happening that would be better for the situation of the moment—to not be fixated on how something should go. God might just have a bigger idea at work.
1 Barclay, William The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of John, Vol 1 Revised Edition (Westminster Press, Kentucky, 1975) p 97-98
Copyright © 2018 Carole A. Wageman. All rights reserved. http://www.carolewageman.com
NOTE: Similar stories from Scripture are explored more fully in my newly released book: “The Light Shines Through: Our Stories Are God’s Story” by Church Publishing, Inc. Ordering available now at Hopkins Bookshop (http://hopkinsbookshopattrinity.com), Church Publishing (http://churchpublishing.org/lightshinesthrough) or Amazon.