Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Year C, RCL
1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
As a college student, I remember being at parties where the beer ran out. This moment marked a clear time when people knew that the party was over and it was time to go home. Running out of alcohol was likely a good thing because many of the students already had too much to drink. To me, this wedding party seems to have many of the characteristics of a college house party. But in this case, when the wine runs out, sweet innocent Mary asks Jesus to make more. Of course, we know that he doesn’t just make a little more he makes a lot more 150 gallons, or 750 bottles worth of wine; of great wine.
We can get focused on what seems to be a frivolous miracle of gluttony and drunkenness. After all, alcoholism is a real problem. In our society alcohol has torn families apart and killed people on our roads. Alcohol was also a problem back in Jesus’ time as well. We know this because there are many passages that speak against drunkenness. So to understand this passage we have to step beyond the negative aspects to see what John is really trying to tell us in this story.
Jesus’ ministry, in John Gospel account, is carefully crafted to show us the signs of Jesus. A sign is a type of miracle. As where miracles are the unexplainable works of God, signs are miracles that point to a revelation or epiphany of God. Since Johns tells us that Jesus making water into wine is a sign, than this miracle must be telling us something about God.
We find that John’s Gospel account is filled with symbolism. And throughout the Bible, wine is a symbol of joy, celebration, prosperity, and abundance. A symbol that holds true for us today. Many of us have wine during celebrations. At more intimate gatherings, wine may lighten the mood, enhancing the joy that is already present. From Psalm 104
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart. (1)
This Psalm shows that God gave us wine to gladden the heart.
The Prophet Amos tells us, abundant wine is a symbol of God’s kingdom and the Messiah.
On that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old;
The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. (2)
Abundant wine is exactly the image we have. These six large jars at the party were holding water for the people to maintain their purity by washing throughout the days of the wedding feast. These jars contained water that was to be used and discarded but now all are overflowing with wine. This abundance saves the host from embarrassment, brings joy to the people, and most importantly, this sign points to Jesus as the Messiah. The Messiah is the one who reestablishes God’s kingdom on earth; a kingdom full of abundance and joy. Later in the Gospel, we hear of the feeding of the 5,000; the abundance that comes from God out of a few loaves and fish. And let's not forget the abundance that we see in the net full of fish that almost swamps the disciples’ boat.
Jesus opened the doors of God’s kingdom to all people, not just the Israelites. In doing so we not only receive abundance and joy but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is only one God; one Father, one Son, and one Holy Spirit. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Paul does not give us an exhaustive list of gifts but just a few examples of the gifts that people may receive from the Spirit. Each of us has at least one gift whether we recognize it or not. This gift was given to us so that we can let Christ work through us, bringing God’s kingdom to fruition.
In Paul’s time, the gift of tongues seems to be the most sought after gift. But Paul is clear that not everyone receives this gift and each gift is equally special. We know this from our own experience. Not everyone can be great at sports; if so who would take care of their injuries. Not everyone can be a doctor; for who would teach them. In our lives, we count on people who are good with numbers, good with mechanics, good with rules and regulations. And each of these people, through their gifts, brings us joy; and hopefully, they receive joy in using their gifts.These gifts are given to us so that we can recognize God in our lives and in the world around us. A world in which we use our gifts to spread God’s kingdom of abundance and joy.
A mindset of scarcity causes us to contract, to pull in and put up barriers so that others can’t share in our joy, share in what we have. Abundance is an outpouring of what we have and can manifest is self in many ways including radical hospitality. Of course, God isn’t calling us to make poor financial choices in which we jeopardized our family’s well being. But we are called to be generous with what we have. Abundant generosity can be given even in small ways.
I remember being at Walmart not too long ago. I was standing in line and the lady in front of me didn’t have enough money to pay for her groceries. She needed an additional $2.30 and was trying to decide if she should put back a package of cheese or a loaf of bread. Yes, she had a bag of chips and a few other items that I thought were frivolous. But these “frivolous” items were not the ones she was debating about.
For reasons unknown to me, chips were more important to her than what I viewed as necessities. At this moment my cynical side thought that she could be making a better decision. I could have been like Jesus’ initial thought and said what concern is this to me, and stayed out of it. But instead, I pulled three dollars out of my wallet and gave them to the lady in front of me. There was a look of surprise from the cashier and both surprise and gratitude form the lady purchasing the food.
I don’t tell this story to puff myself up but to show how such a simple act relieved a burden and filled a person with joy. And of course, I was filled with joy as well. There are many ways in which we can help others in giving of our time talent and treasure. Being generous does not need to jeopardize our lifestyle. For even little acts of generosity spread the joy and abundance of God’s kingdom.
1 Psalm 104:14-15
2 Amos 9:11, 13-14