Taste And See
An advertisement in the Sentinel this week tells of the arrest of the two imposter chickens which were caught breaking the fresh label law. The chickens were arrested after a high speed chase while trying to cross the California border from Nevada. The advertisement is complete with mug shots of the “Foster Imposters.” Witnesses reported that the suspects used hair dryers and heating pads in a preposterous attempt to pose as California chickens. The imposters said they were only fluffing their feathers.
There were many imposter Messiahs during the time of Jesus and the early church. Some of them are mentioned in the Book of Acts. False gods were everywhere. Roman emperors claimed to be God. Idols were so important to the Ephesian silversmiths that the Apostle Paul’s preaching incited a riot. John’s purpose in writing his account of the life of Jesus was to show that, in a culture run amok with imposter gods, Jesus was the true Messiah, the one sent from God.
So John shows Jesus beginning his ministry with a miracle. The story is written in a form much like the Old Testament stories of Elijah and Elisha. It occurs in a tiny village located some nine miles north of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Weddings then were weeklong celebrations with the fatted calf and wonderful delicacies, with the wine flowing continuously. The parents of the couple had scrimped and saved to provide the very best. It would have been a great embarrassment to run out of wine. Worse than serving box wine.
When our modern minds come across such stories, we want to know the details. We almost miss the miracle for all our questions. Why are Jesus and his followers here? What is Jesus’ mother doing at the party? Who is being married? Why does Jesus speak to his mother with words that sound so harsh to modern ears?
It’s a simple story. Jesus saves the day and the party goes on. But there is something more important here. Water is turned into wine. It’s not the details, but the excesses of the miracle that are important. John’s attention to the number and the size of the jars emphasizes the extravagance of Jesus’ gift. Not just a little wine or enough wine for the party, but probably enough wine to keep this poor peasant couple in wine for all the parties of their married life. An excellent wine with a perfect bouquet, the winner of the Galilean Vineyards Gold Label in 20 A.D.
The story, like the jars of wine, overflows with meaning. It both begins Jesus’ self-revelation and functions as a clue, or signpost, of what is to come. The miracle shows Jesus’ authority over the natural order and his ability to transform and bring newness to whatever he touches. Jewish purification jars are filled with the gift of wine, symbolizing the in-breaking of God into the midst of Judaism. In the Old Testament, an abundance of good wine was an eschatological symbol, a sign of God’s new age. So, the miracle is both the first act in Jesus’ ministry and the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation. The extravagance of the wine anticipates the feeding of the 5000 later on in Jesus’ ministry, and perhaps the two events are meant to point to the communion supper.
The mention of Jesus’ “hour” anticipates the cross, and the revelation of Jesus’ glory indicates that God is present in the life and ministry of Jesus.
So, what are we to do with this Gospel story? Should we discuss the “miracle” and try to decide if it really happened? Should we try to rationalize such strange events, or to say that it happened a long time ago and that miracles don’t really happen anymore? Or, shall we simply take the account at its face value, accept it as it is written, and just believe in Jesus, as the disciples who were there that day did?
Nearly 2000 years after Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection, we live in a world that is not unlike that of the first century A.D. Imposter gods, such as materialism, run amok in our culture. Any number of “things” and fads can present themselves as god, taking the place of God in our lives. It’s a time when there is an incredible interest in the spiritual, and we are surrounded by ideas and philosophies that appear to be of God. Our world is hungering and thirsting for “the real thing.”
John wrote his Gospel so that we will know that, among all the imposters, Jesus is the Messiah, the true Son of God. In the miracle accounts, John shows us, again and again, that in Jesus, God is present in our world and in our lives.
The wedding wine of Cana reminds us to be aware of God’s extravagance in the ordinary day in and day out things of life. We are awakened to God’s grace in the blazing beauty of a sunrise. We are awed by God’s creative genius in the delicate petals of a rose, and our hearts fill with the delight of God’s humor when we watch a sandpiper at work. We taste the goodness of God with every bite of food, and we witness the love of God in the faces of those we love. To those who believe, God is present in a big way just in the ordinary things of life.
But, more than that, the miracle at Cana reminds us that God is present when things are difficult. When the wine runs out, and life gets tough, God is there. Just as Jesus transformed the water into wine, God will touch the hurts and the pain of our lives to bring something new. A woman who loses her job will look back and say that it was the best thing that ever happened to her, because God guided her in a new way afterward. A man who has endured the loss of a loved one will find his tears dried by the Spirit of the Risen Christ. A mother walking her newborn through the long nights of colic will find the strength to go on when she is comforted by the voice of God heard in the coos and gurgles of her child. A young man, disillusioned by puppy love gone sour, will later see that it was the doorway through which he discovered the love of his life.
Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: In a world full of imposter gods, Jesus Christ is alive and real. He walks with us and talks with us and fills our table wine glasses with a fine vintage, and we are made heady with the extravagance of his grace. Then, when the wine runs out, and our lives taste like vinegar, it is the Risen Christ who touches and transforms to bring newness of life in some extravagant way we never expected. In Jesus Christ, God is present. Taste and see. This new wine is good, very good. Perfect bouquet, well rounded, just the right touch of tannin, and a hint of oak and berries. And, it’s on the house! Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Janice W. Hearn