Second Sunday After Epiphany: Jn. 2:1-11
The season of Epiphany is all about coming to understand who Jesus is. John’s gospel specifically says that Jesus is the glory of God the Father and then proceeds to explain what that means through a series of signs, written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ and have life in His name (cf. Jn. 20:31). This first sign is the “beginning of signs,” and it focuses on the connection between time and joy. Think about the phrases we say and hear: “time is money,” “waste of time,” “timing is everything,” “wrong place at the wrong time,” “a good time,” or “once upon a time.” These may just be short hand expressions for how things appear, but our view of time has an enormous effect on what we believe and how we act and live. This story presents us with the difference between time as despair and time as joy.
Do Whatever He Tells You
This episode is tantalizingly sparse. This is the “third day” apparently after Jesus met Nathanael, who incidentally was from Cana (Jn. 1:47-51, cf. Jn. 21:2, so perhaps the wedding was for a friend or relative of his). This “third day” is also the sixth or seventh day mentioned by John in his gospel (Jn. 1:1, 29, 35, 43, 2:1). John says that Mary was there, and that Jesus and His disciples were also invited (Jn. 2:1-2). John makes very little to do about the fact that the wine ran out, but most commentators agree that this really was something of a community crisis. Weddings were not merely family events, but community and civic events, often lasting many days. This would be perhaps something like the county fair losing electricity or the grocery stores all running out of basic staples the week of Christmas or Thanksgiving. In contrast to many other miracles, no one’s health or life is in danger. This is a significant community disappointment. Mary’s statement to Jesus is intriguingly understated, “they have no wine” (Jn. 2:3), and we are left wondering many things. What does Mary think Jesus can or will do? Perhaps there have been other moments like when Jesus disappeared for three days as a twelve year old boy (Lk. 2:41-51). But apparently Mary knows that Jesus cares. Likewise, the answer of Jesus seems almost completely off topic. “Why does this concern us? My hour is not yet come” (Jn. 2:4). In John’s gospel, the “hour” for Jesus often refers to His passion and death (cf. Jn. 7:30, 8:20, 12:23-27, 16:21-32), but it also refers to the “hour” when certain, significant events come to pass (Jn. 4:21-23, 4:52-53, 5:25-28, 16:2-4). At the very least, Jesus is saying it’s not time for him to do anything. And yet Mary’s response is an intriguing, “Do what whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5).
The Good Wine
The miracle itself is also simple and understated. Given the sparse nature of this narrative, the detail given for the jars and their filling is startling. This is the center of the story: six stone water jars for purification (Jn. 2:6). The stone water jars would have been fairly large, holding 20-30 gallons a piece, with a total of 120-180 gallons between all six jars (24-36 five gallon Culligan jugs). Filling those jars would have taken some time, and John says they filled the jars to the brim (Jn. 2:7). Given all the emphasis on time in this story, it’s hard to miss the moment when Jesus finally says, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast” (Jn. 2:8). Now it is time. Now is the hour. The words of the master of the feast are also loaded with meaning. First, notice that he indicates whose job it is to provide the wine for the wedding feast: the bridegroom (Jn. 2:9-10). Jesus has clearly played the role of bridegroom at the wedding feast. Second, the master of the feast underlines the timing of the bridegroom: “you have kept the good wine until now” (Jn. 2:10). Lastly, notice the subtle parenthetical comment of John: the master of the feast didn’t know where the wine had come from, but the servants who drew the water knew (Jn. 2:10). John says this the beginning of the signs of Jesus that manifest His glory, and it was on the basis of this first one that His disciples believed in Him (Jn. 2:11).
Timing & the Gospel
Broadly speaking, people believe that time is either cyclical or linear. But apart from a loving, sovereign God, time is either endlessly repetitive or it is endlessly chaotic. But in either case, there is little to hope for. In those cultures influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism, karma tends to dominate popular imagination. There may be some rearranging of the furniture, but everything ultimately repeats and balances out. What goes around comes around. Or if time is linear but is the end result of time and chance and matter, driven by the blind determination of natural selection, life is a crapshoot. And incidentally, this is why constant change and reinvention come to be seen as positive goods. Anything can become anything, and that’s the only way of survival. But this is ultimately still a worldview of despair.
When you hear Mary say, “they have no wine,” think about all of the disappointments of life, all the temptations to despair: “I have no husband,” “We have no children,” “My children are disobedient,” “My wife left me,” “I hate my job,” “My parents despise me,” or “I’m lonely.” We fear that this is just the way the world is. And perhaps the greatest fear beneath it all is that we’re running out of time, that we’re wasting our lives (or maybe it’s already too late). It’s no accident that the first miracle of Jesus is a wedding, perhaps one of the most universal expressions of joy in time, the culmination of waiting, longing, loving breaking out into beauty and glory. Jesus chose to demonstrate His glory here at this point where it seems natural selection and karma have struck again. And Jesus meets us there and doesn’t deny the significance of time. He doesn’t say it’s an illusion. He says “not yet,” and then He says, “Now.”
Christian Life & Timing
Part of the point of this first sign is seen in the jars of water for purification. Remember in the old covenant everything had to be constantly washed, cleansed, purified from ceremonial uncleanness. Part of the point of all the washing was to remind people that sin has a way of messing with everything, infecting everything. Deep down, everyone knows that it’s not just a karma problem or a random chance thing, but no matter how hard you try, you keep messing up. We have a sin problem. It’s no accident that Jesus turns that water into fine wine. Jesus came to cleanse us from all unrighteousness by His blood. The cup of wine we share is the blood of the new covenant shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. This cup is wedding wine, and He gives it to you knowing everything about you.
Lastly, notice all the ways that Jesus is making wine in your life. Are you raising young children? Are you single? Are your children leaving home? First, remember the faith of Mary: Tell Jesus when you run out. And then remember Mary and the servants. Mary knew to tell Jesus, and when He says it’s not the right time, Mary nods and (perhaps with a twinkle in her eyes), tells the servants: Do whatever He says. And they do. This is like Elisha telling Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kgs. 5:10). It is not our job to understand. It’s not our job to create joy, to fix everything, to come up with the wine. It’s our job to tell Him about the need and then do what He says up to the brim. He may often say it isn’t time yet, but do not doubt His care. His now will not be too late. He is able to work all things according to His good pleasure. He redeems all things. He makes everything beautiful in His time.