Jesus’ Mom Embarrasses Him At a Party
Today in our gospel reading we celebrate Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana.
I’ve always wondered how our beloved Protestant brethren who believe in the virtue of teetotaling deal with this text. Moderation with alcohol is indeed a virtue, and alcohol can be so destructive at times that many good clergy have preached that it’s a sin to touch it.
But Episcopalians like wine at the altar and wine at the dinner table, so luckily it’s one of Jesus’ miracles that I can openly celebrate.
This Gospel text has everything I love about good Bible stories—complex character interactions, people making non sequiturs, important Bible personalities doing things that make you work to understand them.
Why does Mary care that they’re out of wine?
Did she tell Jesus hoping he would run to the corner store and pick some more up?
Why does Jesus speak to his mother in a way that seems uncomfortably rude to our modern ears? Was he embarrassed that she expected him to solve the problem?
This is great stuff, thick and juicy with conflict and possibility.
From the first sentence of the story we are in an interesting set-up. John says, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.”
On the third day—well, that’s of course incredibly symbolically important.
Jesus rose again on the third day.
The third day is the day of new possibility and miracles and the world turning upside down before breakfast.
But it’s also significant because it means that the disciples had only been following Jesus for three days.
Things are very, very new.
Jesus has been baptized in the river, and gone around to some men and perhaps women in the area and said, “Follow me.” He hasn’t actually done anything yet.
And yet they are already known in the area as “Jesus and his disciples,” to the extent that they are invited to the wedding as a unit, as a group.
And we know the story from there. “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.””
Mary is so very much a mother in this story.
How many times has your mom encouraged you to do something for your own good, you insist you’re not going to do it, and she proceeds as though she hasn’t heard you?
“Whitney, please wash the dishes.”
“But Mom, I have too much homework!”
“And take out the garbage when you’re finished.”
That’s exactly what Mary does.
Jesus says he’s not going to do anything and Mary just proceeds on the assumption that he will and tells the servants to obey him.
I love this moment. It’s one of those rare moments of vulnerability that so endear me to Jesus.
He’s thirty at this point, and still hanging around the carpentry shop, and he kind of gets an attitude with his mom when she embarrasses him at a party in front of his friends.
Mary is perhaps wondering if he needs a nudge to start fulfilling his potential.
He has gone to be baptized and started gathering some friends to talk about God with, but she knows he has more than that to offer, and she’s not afraid to be the one to give him the final push out of the nest.
But the interesting part is that Mary is about a greater work here. There is more to this moment than simple family dynamics.
Consider our lesson from Isaiah today, and what Jesus means to Israel, how vitally important it is that he fulfill his role.
Israel has always had ups and downs, has lived through brutal wars and exiles, but by the time Jesus is ready to step onto the stage, there is a dangerous waning of hope.
Some people have started to wonder if God really does love them, if there really is a future for their people.
Mary knows this. She knows how vital it is for her son to take up the mantle of leadership prepared for him.
There has been so much work and effort over long years to get to this pivotal moment, this seemingly unimportant situation of the wine running out at a party.
It began when she heard an angel’s song and said yes to God.
Then the hard work began.
Hoping that Joseph would trust his dreams.
Praying that her body would be strong enough to bear a child while traveling.
Racing out of the country to avoid Herod’s plots.
Trying to guard her little boy from the accidents and mishaps all children face but which could prove disastrous for the world if her son fell while climbing a tree or died of a childhood illness or got lost when they visited Jerusalem.
She knows he is worthy of the power caged within him, but he has not yet loosed it upon the world.
This Mary’s final task as a mother, for her beloved child and her beloved people.
And she will take it up boldly. We hear her say to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” but underneath those few words we can hear her voice in Isaiah’s text for today.
Jesus does not want to step out onto the stage yet, but she pushes him forward, proclaiming with her simple command of the situation Isaiah’s words:
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.”
Mary knows she is right, she knows this moment matters, and she acts.
And Jesus does not disappoint her.
He heeds her call, obeying his earthly mother one last time before striking out on his own, and as the gospel story says, “his disciples believed in him.”
This story is about seeing the important moments in life and stepping up to plate to make them count.
I find it very poignant to me today as I remember someone I knew and admired who died far too young.
I don’t know if I could call her a friend, we only met in person a handful of times, but she was a good friend of my parents and I was always hearing stories about her.
Her name was Desiree, she was an organ scholar at my home parish, and she died of stage four cancer at the age of thirty-three.
Having gone through a cancer scare myself last year, I am thinking a lot about how different my life would be if I were looking down the barrel of a year of chemotherapy in 2019.
Desiree was a larger than life person. She took everyone within her orbit, even someone like me on the outer edges, and engulfed them in a tornado of energy and humor and zest for life.
She loved everything and everybody, from the most elegant organ music she perfected as her offering to God, to the high heels and hairstyles she paired with her choir robes.
On her facebook page where it said “About Desiree” she simply wrote “Happy.”
And it was true. She even, amazing as it seems, found joy in mustering her fight against cancer.
She gathered friends and resources and energy and tools around her for her battle against her disease like she was planning a combination invasion of Normandy and the most fabulous dance party ever imaginable.
It was so hard to see her light go out of this world.
But what inspires me about Desiree is that not one moment of her life on this Earth was wasted.
She grabbed life with both hands and lived it with a passion and intensity and faithfulness to who God created her to be that is rare and beautiful.
We see Mary encourage Jesus to do exactly that in our gospel story today, and that encourages me to ask those questions of myself.
Am I living true to God’s purposes for me in life, unafraid to be who I am because that is how I will become a vessel of grace?
Or am I hiding behind fears and assumptions and worries about what others will think that really are such weak and fragile excuses when I stop and think about them?
These are questions all of us should be asking.
Where are we at the Wedding at Cana?
Are we hovering at the edges like wallflowers, like Jesus was at first until he found his courage and embraced his purpose?
I know where Desiree was at the party—out with the people on the dance floor, having a fabulous time.
And that’s where she is today, at the heavenly wedding banquet that awaits us all.
We only have one chance at the banquet of life.
May we hear Mary’s call to go out and make the most of it.
We’re at the party no matter what.
When the wine is running out, when we see a need that we are uniquely able to fill, let us boldly live into God’s special role for each one of us on this Earth.
The truth is that the party can’t go on without us, in this life or the next.
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