Preaching John 2:1-11
You know how weddings are full of joy, yet full of tension. Just when everything should be going right, something inevitably goes wrong. The best man's tux is too big or the groom's shiny shoes too small. The bride, getting ready for the ceremony in the downstairs parlor of the church, is having a bad hair day. The soloist is a little off-key today. The father of the bride is arguing with the mother of the bride over who was supposed to bring the bulletins that the brother of the bride has just run home to get. The church is half-full when he arrives back, so they must be passed out to folks in the pews.
You know how weddings are. With a few extra pins the best man's tux looks to all eyes as if it fits while he fingers the rings in his pocket to be sure they are both there. They are. The groom exchanged his size 8's with the size 10's they gave the smallish groomsman now standing at the end of the line. They are anxiously looking toward the back of the church as the bridesmaids march forward with a step they remember from their high school graduation. Then the bride appears on the arm of her father, resplendent in her wedding gown and beaming from ear to ear. Her hair, with the help of a few pins and enough spray to freeze-dry a horse, now looks lovely as ever. Father walks her to the groom, puts her hand in his, and coughs to hide the tears that want to come as he remembers the little girl he once tucked in with a story. He files into the pew next to the wife he had words with over the bulletins and takes her hand in his. She smiles at him as if it were their wedding so many years ago. Everyone has a bulletin. No one notices that the aisle runner is crooked or even cares. When the soloist sings as they light the wedding candle, she never misses a note.
At the reception the bride and groom arrive to cheers. Everyone is in a good mood. The food is a welcome sight to rumbling tummies. Guests are laughing and joking and enjoying the drinks. Every so often their laughter is interrupted by the sounds of spoons hitting glasses until the bride and groom kiss. Later there is music and dancing. If you were to name the feeling in the room, it would be "joy." We mostly forget where the joy has come from. We mostly forget the guest we most want to be there, the one who makes not only weddings but marriages come off. We forget that we have prayed, "Eternal God, our creator and redeemer, as you gladdened the wedding at Cana in Galilee by the presence of your Son, so by his presence now bring your joy to this wedding."1 Even now he brings that joy unobtrusively. For Christ is for us the life of every party (Jn 10:10) and the promise of the party to come which is also a wedding (Rev 21:1-2).
The thing that amazes me about this scene as a preacher is how very human it is. Jesus is just there. His invitation and that of his disciples, so newly made I might add, seems almost like an afterthought mentioned only after we have been told that his mother is there. If anyone is in high gear at this soiree, it is Mary. Perhaps the apocryphal tradition that she is the bridegroom's aunt2 is worth considering, because she acts as if she has somehow been appointed by someone to be sure everything goes right! How very human it is that halfway through the wedding reception, things begin to go wrong! It is Mary who notices because it is her job to notice!
How very human she acts when the wine runs out! She turns to her sonny-boy and says, "They are all out of wine!" the way a wife turns to her husband and says, "I can't get the lid off this jar of pickles!"3 In other words, "Don't just STAND THERE, DO SOMETHING!" A lot of ink has been spilled over the first word in Jesus' reply, "Woman...," when more of it should have been spilled on what follows that word. The NRSV has made, in my opinion, a particularly bad move in translating it, "...what concern is that to you and to me?" Becky Balestri in her exegesis connects our incident to the story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath whose cruz of oil never fails (1 Kings 17:1-16). If you follow the story beyond verse 16, the widow's son dies, and she runs to Elijah and says the very same words in the LXX of verse 18 that Jesus says to his mother here: Teemol Kaigol, which the NRSV translates, "What have you against me...?" The same language is used in several exorcisms by the demons who address Jesus (cf. Mark 5:7, e.g.). At the very least the phrase here means, "What business is this of mine?" Or, as we might put it, "Well, what do you expect me to do about it? How is this my problem?"
How you understand this exchange between Mary and Jesus will determine how you preach on this text. We can go back as far as Augustine who wrestles over the same question on our minds and on the minds, surely, of those who come to hear the word this day: "What is this? Did he come to the marriage for the purpose of teaching men to treat their mothers with contempt?"4 We fail to understand what Jesus is doing here because we have considered this passage in isolation from other passages which feature a similar sort of abrupt exchange between Jesus and his mother. In Matthew 12:48 after Jesus has been told his mother and brothers are standing outside asking to speak to him, he says, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Luke records a similar exchange between a frantic mother and her 12-year-old boy who is found, after a frenzied search by both parents, in the temple. She says, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." Jesus replies, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:48-9). Luke goes to great pains to tell us he means no disrespect by this, for he goes back to Nazareth and is obedient to them (v.51). But more than Mary's son is here.
Mary's Lord is here, and ours as well. Chrysostrom thinks Mary is trying to push him into showing off his "glory."5 William Wharton in Dad follows his lead: "Next, there's the marriage feast of Cana...So Mary pushes Jesus into his career before he's ready; wants to show her friends what a hotshot son she's got. I wonder if he did a few parlor tricks at home first, to practice. Or maybe Mary was tired of having a thirty-year-old galoot of a son still hanging around the house."6 Augustine remarks: "The same both the Lord of Mary and the son of Mary; the same both the Creator of Mary and created from Mary...so also Mary's son after the flesh, and Mary's Lord after His majesty."7 She is pushing him to kill two birds with one stone: fix the wine shortage and make a public display of his majesty.
How very human of her, and how presumptuous. Jesus always seems to treat presumption as he does here. A pagan woman implores the miracle-worker to "fix" her daughter who has a demon. He tells her it is not right to throw the children's food to the "dogs," a reply that has always caused the same kind of consternation we have here. Pity we can't see Jesus' face when he talks. My guess is he had a habit of tossing off these rejoinders with a wink and a smile. Her reply has a wink and a smile in it as well: "That's true, Lord, but even the puppies under the table gobble up the children's crumbs."8 His answer at first sounds like, "No," but is "Yes."
So here. Mary's presumption as a mother dissolves before the Lordship of one who has a bigger parent to please. His wink and smile as he said what otherwise might have sounded like a harsh reply told her that where Mary's son might answer "no," Mary's Lord would respond with a "yes," even for what might seem a trivial sort of problem--a hitch at a wedding reception. David Redding says, "We could never guess that he would fling away his first miracle as a light hearted bouquet to romantic love and friendly laughter in the middle of a noisy wedding party."9
"Do whatever he tells you," disciple Mary says to the waiters. The wedding reception is in full bloom. The folks at tables are clinking their glasses for the wedding couple to exchange another kiss. Someone has just told a joke at the back table, and it erupts in laughter. No one notices what happens between Jesus and the waiters who fill the six stone waterpots to the full. Even the chief steward sitting next to the bridegroom doesn't know the marvel that has taken place--all he knows is the result. He nudges his friend, the groom, and quips, "You sly dog! At most of these things they serve the good stuff first and then after everyone has had a few, they bring out the cheap stuff. But you have kept the best wine until now!"
Wink and smile time again. Jesus winks at his mother and the disciples. They wink back and smile the smile of those who have found the best wine in the one who is Lord of the feast, and who sometimes brings his joy to our lives unobtrusively.
1. Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978 (Augsburg Publishing House: Minneapolis, 1978), p. 202. Service of marriage. 2. According to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (i-xii), The Anchor Bible (Doubleday & Company, Inc.,: Garden City, New York, 1966), p. 98. 3.John Brokhoff uses this example in Preaching the Miracles, Cycle C (C.S.S. Publishing Company, Inc., (Lima, Ohio, 1991), p. 53. 4. St. Augustine, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume VII (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, December, 1986), p. 59. 5. See St. Chrysostrom, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume XIV (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, May, 1989), p. 74. 6. William Wharton, Dad (Avon Books: New York, 1981), p. 175. 7. Augustine, op. cit., p. 61. 8. Chrysostrom makes this connection, op. cit., p. 77. 9. David A. Redding, The Miracles Of Christ (Harper and Row: New York, 1977), p. 3.