A Provocation: Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 20, 2019: John 2: 1-12

1   In the third day it happened in Cana of the Galilee:
        it was the mother of Jesus there.
2      She was called
           (and also Jesus
               and his disciples)
        into the wedding feast.
3       When they ran out of wine,
        she says,
            the mother of Jesus does,
         to him:
             Wine,
             wine they do not have.
4      He says to her,
       Jesus does:
           What’s this to you and to me,
               woman?
           My hour has not yet come.
5      She says,
           his mother does,
        to the deacons:
           Should he say something to you,
                do it.
6      There were there stone water jars,
           six of them,
               according to the purification of the Judeans,
           standing there,
               each holding two or three measures.
7      He says to them,
        Jesus does:
           Fill the water jars with water.
        They filled them.
8        He says to them:
             Draw now and bring to the feast master.
         They brought.
         When he tasted,
9            when the feast master tasted the water
                 (become wine),
         he did not know whence it is.
                 The deacons knew,
                  the ones who drew the water.
             He calls to the bridegroom,
                 the feast master does;
10          he says to him:
                 All people first set the beautiful wine,
                     then,
                         (whenever they are drunk),
                     the wine not yet aged.
                  You have saved up the beautiful wine until later.
11        This he did,
                the first of the signs,
            Jesus did this,
                in Cana of the Galilee:
            he made visible his glory.
                They were faithful toward him,
                     his disciples were.
12  After this he went down into Capernaum,
         he
         and his mother
         and his brothers
         and his disciples.
     There he stayed not many days.


A Question or Two:

  • If the wine is somehow a symbol of the messiah, or the Dominion of God, or some such thing, does it matter that it is identified as older than the poor wine (τὸν ἐλάσσω, v. 10: “the younger”) that is usually served later, after people are too drunk to tell the difference?
  • Wouldn’t that reverse the usual sermonic cliche about “new wine?”

Some Longer Reflections:

Near the beginning of the story, Jesus puts his mother off: he tells her that his hour has not yet come. At the end of the story, the storyteller informs us that the thing with the water and wine was the first of Jesus’ signs.

And in between, Mary hears Jesus’ refusal, and ignores him.

It matters that she ignores her son addressing her as “Woman.” Interpreters sometimes argue that this is not disrespectful (though I’m guessing they wouldn’t talk to their own mother that way), and they point to other instances in ancient texts were women are so addressed. I have read those same texts. Some, to my eye, are actively disrespectful. Others are indeed not obviously insulting. But as I read those texts, that way of speaking to women reveals a way that a patriarchal culture had developed to brush women aside. Which suggests (to me, at least) that even if Jesus’ words were not an angry insult, still what he is saying carries in it a subtle slam: “Why should I do what you say? A: It’s not my time; and B: Women don’t tell men what to do.”

I was just now watching an episode of Doctor Who from last year, the episode involving Rosa Parks. Mrs. Parks asked a young man a question, and he answered, “Yes.” She replied, with a quiet ferocity that was inspiring to see, “Who taught you your manners? I’ll have a ‘Yes, ma’am’ from you.” To which he gave the only possible reply, “Yes, ma’am.” Both my mother and Jesus’ mother would approve, I think.

That’s not all that Mary ignores. She pays absolutely no attention to Jesus’ refusal to help. “Should he say something to you, do it,” she says. This has to be the best “Whatever” reply in history. And then she vanishes, leaving Jesus with the servants looking expectantly at him.

I’m guessing that this was not the first time Mary won an argument with Jesus.

She did not tell him what to do, though her words make it clear that she assumes it will be enough to identify the problem and leave him to draw his own conclusions. You can play this as a kind of passive-aggressive manipulation. That works. But it also works if you play her words as a straightforward delivery of relevant data, a necessary task when a delicate or complex problem needs solving. I have heard nurses and physicians talk like this. I heard my boss in the butcher shop talk like this, too, especially during Christmas rush times. “We’re out of Swedish sausage,” Amos would say. “I’m on it,” I’d reply. By the way, it didn’t occur to me to say to my boss what Jesus said to his mother.

After she speaks, Jesus performs the first of the signs of his messiahship: he helps the family celebrate the wedding feast. That’s worth thinking about: wine for celebration is a sign that the world is being turned right-side-up. Sounds like Isaiah 25, the feast on the mountain for all peoples.

But maybe even more: think about the narrative fact: Jesus refused to do this sign, and his mother declined his refusal. Her declining is also part of the first sign that the messiah did in Cana in the Galilee. In fact, it wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Think about that.

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