Epiphany 2C: Water Plus a Miracle

Wedding at Cana
Duccio di Buoninsegna
1308-11

OLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 62: 1-5

Read the Old Testament passage

There are actually at least two ways to read this passage. Some hold that the prophet is speaking in the voice of God and reaffirming God’s promise to always act on behalf of the city. Others claim that the prophet himself is vowing to act as God’s intercessor, as God’s voice. Taken this way, the prophet, as he says, cannot stay silent. He is compelled to speak what he believes in the deepest part of his being. Either way, think about the context in which this passage was probably first said. God had made extravagant promises to God’s exiled people. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, God promised to build up the barren and war-torn city of Jerusalem. God promised to bring the exiled people home, and promised them the richest of feasts. And so they come home around the year 539, when Persia’s King Cyrus proclaims an end to the exile and allows them to leave.

But the reality to which the people returned was far from glorious. The land seemed to them like a desert. It was true that the land was not empty: people had remained in Judah during the years of exile, and others had moved into the area, making a life for themselves in Jerusalem and in the surrounding countryside. But none were able to undo the damage done by Nebuchadnezzar and his army some sixty and fifty years before. And when the exiles returned, it was all they could do to secure homesteads for themselves and try to grow crops to feed their families. The land had not remained untouched ready for them to return. It wasn’t like they just threw off the sheets covering their furniture and moved back in. Others had claimed their place. There was no place to go.

Times were difficult, and people were hungry. When prophets finally convinced them to rebuild the temple, it was clear that its glory could not match the glory of former days. The land still felt like a wasteland and so it was easy for them to assume that God had, in fact, deserted them.

The prophet, though, knows this is not true. The prophet believes that God has promised newness, transformation, and abundance in God’s time. But that reality is new; it is not a “redo” of the former things. It is a promise of new life. The prophet knows that God has promised new names for Israel, both for the land and for the people. This name—signifying a new destiny, a new hope—will be given by the Lord. A new name signifies a new and restored relationship with God. The name, “My Delight” says how God looks upon Israel and what God is promising to do. Emmanuel Swedenborg says that “Love consists in desiring to give what is our own to another and feeling [his or her] delight in our own.” So the prophet is calling the people to feel God’s delight, to live God’s delight, to be God’s delight. We proclaim that we rejoice in God. But this…this is God’s rejoice in us.

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does the premise of a “new name” mean for you?
  3. What does that mean for you to be “God’s Delight”, for God to delight in God’s people? Why is that difficult for us to think that way?
  4. What, then, would it mean for God to be “Our Delight”?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Read the Epistle passage

In this passage, Paul seems to deal with spiritual gifts by pointing to the Corinthians involvement in other religions prior to their becoming Christians. He points to what it means to live by the Spirit of God; it means more than just being “religious”. It means living to the true potential of what God has instilled in each of us.

The lectionary breaks this chapter into two sections (and two weeks) but the main focus throughout the chapter is on spiritual gifts. This week’s reading essentially proclaims that all are given unique spiritual gifts and asks the question of us all, “So what will you do with them?” “What will you do so that they serve to the glory of God?” Remember that in this letter to the Corinthian Church, one of Paul’s main focuses was their seeming lack of community, their perceived inability to care for every member. This passage strikes at the heart of that notion. We are all given unique gifts by God. Are we using everyone’s gifts? Are we engaging everyone in ministry? Are all the gifts just as important as the next? Do we even recognize all the gifts that God has given us as a community? God instills gifts into each of us and instills gifts to each community. But different as they are, they are all of the Holy Spirit.

And what does this say about our own gifts and the way we engage them in the work to which God calls us? This is God’s Spirit alive in us. And yet sometimes it is difficult for us to recognize gifts in ourselves.

In Stepping Stones of the Steward, Ronald E. Vallet tells the story of a poor Jewish man, Eizik, son of Yekel, [who] lived in the city of Krakow. One night he dreamed that, in the far city of Prague, buried at the foot of the bridge that went across the Vltava River, was a great treasure. When he awoke the next morning, he remembered his dream but did not think too much about it because it is not that unusual to have such dreams. However, that night he had the same dream again. This continued night after night, the same dream, until ten days and nights had gone by. Finally, Eizik concluded that he had no choice but to make a journey to the far city of Prague to see if a great treasure really was buried where he had seen it in his dream.

He set out on the journey to Prague, a journey that took many days and was very difficult. As he approached the city of Prague, he saw the Vltava River, just as he had seen it in his dream. Crossing the river was a bridge, just as in his dream. He hurried to the foot of the bridge, where in his dream the treasure had been buried.

As he bent over and started to dig, he felt a hand grasp his shoulder and heard a voice say to him, “What do you think you’re doing here?” It was the hand and the voice of a soldier. Poor Eizik was so startled that he could think of nothing to do except to stammer out the truth. He told the soldier of his dream and of his long journey to Prague to seek the buried treasure. On hearing the story, the soldier laughed, gave Eizik a kick, and said, “You stupid Jew, don’t you know that we all have dreams like that? But it makes no sense to pay attention to them. I myself had such a dream. I dreamed that in the far city of Krakow, in the house of a poor Jew named Eizik, son of Yekel, a great treasure was buried beneath the stove. Now, wouldn’t I be stupid if I left my post and make a long journey to Krakow and went searching through the city looking for the house of a poor Jew named Eizik? Why, there are probably many Jews with that name.” With that, he gave Eizik another kick and said, “Not go on home!”

Eizik made the long journey back to Krakow, went to his home, moved aside the stove, and dug. There he found a great treasure of gold!

The treasure of gold did not lie in the far city. Instead, Eizik discovered that the treasure had been very near to him for many years. But the knowledge of the treasure involved a long and difficult journey. (Ronald E. Vallet, Stepping Stones of the Steward (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1989), 9-10.)

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How readily do we accept different gifts in the community?
  3. Is there such a thing as someone having the “wrong” gifts for a community?
  4. What does this say to you about your own spiritual gifts?
  5. What happens if we do NOT engage someone’s gifts?
  6. What happens if we do not engage our own gifts?

 

 

GOSPEL: John 2: 1-11

Read the Gospel passage

According to the Mishnah (which is essentially a redaction of the oral tradition of Judaism and the traditional understandings of Scripture), the wedding would take place on a Wednesday if the bride was a virgin and on a Thursday if she was a widow. The bridegroom and his friends made their way in procession to the bride’s house. This was often done at night, when there could be a spectacular torchlight procession. There would be speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. It is probable that there was a religious ceremony, but we have no details. The processions and the feast are the principal items of which we have knowledge. The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week (so, OK, that would be quite a lot of wine!).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is at the wedding, although her role seems to be more than that of a guest. Perhaps the couple were relatives or something. But she seems to be one of the first to know that the wine is running out. She instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they appear willing to take her instructions.

This was an embarrassing situation—the wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution. Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?) But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary. She expects him to fix it. Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things. Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this? I mean, really, wine? Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor? Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain? Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do? Now THAT would have been a miracle. But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, creates a party, a feast. Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more. Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life. And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself. It begins as ordinary grapes. Well, not really. If you go even farther back, you start with water. Everything starts with water. And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed. And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary. And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait. They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait. We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.

And Biblical theologians have over and over pointed to the relationship that this story has with the Eucharist. Think about it. We take ordinary bread and ordinary wine (or in our case, ordinary Welch’s Grape Juice), and through what we can only describe as a Holy Mystery, a veritable miracle, those ordinary things become holy. They become for us the body and blood of Christ, the very essence of Christ to us, for us, and in us.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine. Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift. Water and a miracle…

So this story of wine makes a little more sense. Wine is water—plus a miracle. But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water. No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself. Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation. No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine. Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.

And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different. God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us. We, too, are water plus a miracle. 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.” It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle.

So maybe this story of Jesus’ first miracle is not as odd as we thought. Our lectionary places it immediately following the remembrance of Jesus’ baptism and the remembrance of our own. It is the point where God’s Spirit, where the holy and sacred itself, was poured into each of us. So, yes, we are a miracles, created matter, Spirit-breathed. We are the good wine that God has saved for now. We are water plus a miracle.

 

  1. What meaning does this hold for you?
  2. In what ways does this speak of God’s abundance to you?
  3. How does this passage speak to you about our own faith journeys?
  4. How open to God’s abundance are we?
  5. What does it mean to see ourself as a miracle of God?

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

 

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit. (e.e. cummings)

 

Joy has no name. Its very being is lost in the great tide of selfless delight—Creation’s response to the infinite loving of God. (Evelyn Underhill)

When I die, God isn’t going to ask me “Did I create the Earth in six days or five days?” but “What did you do with what I gave you?” (Richard Cizik)

 

Closing

 

Where there was no wine, there was you

and you said drink, and there it was, startling and sweet.

And where there was no bread, there was you

and you said feed one another, and there it was, filling and strong.

And where there was no love, there was you

and you said touch, and there we were, our hands looking like yours.

 

Here’s to everyone: To fullness of life on earth and bounteous blessings for all humanity; To justice, compassion, and the warmth of the sun for all God’s creatures; To the golden health of loved ones everywhere, and the radiant glory of those who have gone before. God bless us now and evermore. So be it. Amen. (Jan L. Richardson, “And You Said”, in In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season, (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2000), 41, 157).

 
 
 
 

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