“A Sign of Things to Come”
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, January 16, 2022
Reading: John 2:1-11
I want to read for you a few more verses, the ones that appear right before the passage that Orville just read for us:
45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
In an Easter Sunday sermon, St. Augustine once said: “The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make him withdraw; do not exclude him from your heart in any way. He is a good guest; he found you empty, and he filled you; he found you hungry and he satisfied you; he found you thirsty and he has intoxicated you. May he truly intoxicate you! The Apostle Paul said, ‘Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery.’ Then, as if to clarify what we should be intoxicated with, he adds, ‘But be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart’ (Eph 5:18–19). Doesn’t a person who rejoices in the Lord and sings to him exuberantly seem like a person who is drunk? I like this kind of intoxication,” Augustine concluded.
Now, there are many very good reasons why an individual may need to abstain from the consumption of alcohol altogether, and there were many biblical characters who did; and, certainly, overconsumption has always been discouraged. But Jesus himself often made reference to the consumption of wine with meals as an ordinary part of life at that time; he passed a cup of wine to his disciples, in fact, as a symbol of his own sacrificial blood when he instituted the Last Supper. So, although this passage is the source of many jokes and misinterpretations in society, the fact that Jesus gave people wine is about the least interesting part of this Bible passage.
I want to give a little background that I hope clarifies why this passage is so important to us.
In Chapter 1 of the book of John – right after the familiar opening verses about “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” that you’ve so often heard read at Christmastime – we find Jesus in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John the Baptist is baptizing people. The scene is somewhat similar to last week’s passage that I talked about from the Gospel of Luke about Jesus’ baptism. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist – as he did in the gospel of Luke – talks about Jesus in clear Messianic terms; but here there is no mention of Jesus being baptized by John or anyone else. There is a voice from the clouds, but instead of speaking to Jesus himself, saying “You are my son, the beloved,” it is John who sees the dove descend upon Jesus, and who hears the voice saying, “He on whom you see the spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus himself spends most of John chapter 1 collecting disciples with whom he has some bizarre and cryptic interactions. Various people, including Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael meet him and begin to follow him. There is some skepticism among them, as we heard from Nathanael. It’s understandable: there were others before Jesus who had claimed to be the Messiah. But these first disciples are convinced by the things John says, and ultimately by the things Jesus himself says.
After being in Bethany, we’re told that Jesus goes to Galilee, his homeland, and there, at the beginning of Chapter 2 we’re told that he attends a wedding. It’s fascinating, after reading about him being the word who was with God at the beginning of time; after reading about the things John says about him being the unblemished Lamb of God; after reading about Nathanael declaring him to be the Son of God; to then transition into an ordinary wedding scene, where Jesus is there as one of many invited guests. He’s there just as another member of the community. Weddings were a community event, and He’s there with his mother, his family, and his friends as an ordinary member of the Galilean community in Cana. This ordinary, community event, however, suddenly becomes the scene of Jesus’ first recorded miracle.
What is curious is that Jesus’ first miracle is not done to heal someone of a terrible disease or to protect those whose lives are in peril because of a storm at sea, but in order preserve a nameless host from embarrassment at a social gathering. At the wedding, the wine runs out; the festivities and merrymaking – which should have gone on for several days – come to an unceremonious halt; and the host is in what, for that culture, would be considered a truly humiliating position. What he has to offer the community gathered to celebrate his good fortune has turned out to be completely insufficient.
I suppose it may be this story that was in the back of my mind back in August 2018 when Chris and I hosted our own wedding celebration with our friends and family. Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I host a party, I am always anxious that I won’t have enough food. I always end up buying WAY too much food because I can’t bear the thought of disappointing my guests or sending them away unsatisfied. For our wedding, though, the food wasn’t an issue because we hired a reputable caterer and told him the number of guests we would have, and it was his responsibility to bring enough food; we trusted that he had the expertise to know how much would be needed for the number of guests we had invited.
It was different with the drinks, though. Because of the restrictions of our venue, we had to purchase and bring any wine, beer or spirits we intended to offer, and they would provide the trained bartenders; this meant that it was up to us to guess how many of our guests would drink alcohol and how many wouldn’t; and of those who did, would they want wine or beer or cocktails? This was a real challenge! What if we bought lots of wine and everyone ended up drinking beer, and we ran out?
One of our esteemed guests, a certain friend and former colleague of mine, has a well-known appreciation for single malt whiskey, so I wanted to make sure we had some for him to enjoy, even though I suspected that Chris and I would end up taking most of it home, and neither of us has ever acquired a taste for Scotch whiskey. As it turns out, it was the only thing we actually ran out of at the end of the night, and I happen to know that it was not the intended individual who drank it!
I’m sure this feeling of not having enough to offer is common, and probably many of you know what I’m talking about. There’s the worry about not having enough food to offer your guests at a party; but this worry is really a manifestation of our deeper fear of not being enough. I think that’s why we almost feel within ourselves the shame that the bridegroom must have felt when his wine ran out.
Isn’t that the heart of the shame that most of us experience at some point in our lives? That we won’t be worthy of love or belonging until we’re *blank* enough – pretty enough; skinny enough; successful enough; rich enough; talented enough; smart enough; feminine enough; masculine enough; productive enough; nice enough; strong enough, tough enough; popular enough; creative enough; admired enough.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brene Brown writes, “Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough” (p. 38). While guilt is the knowledge that we have done something bad, she says, shame is that feeling that we just are bad (p. 41). Shame was what the bridegroom was facing, because if he couldn’t provide for the community at the one moment of his life when it was most required of him, then he would lose the esteem of his community and the message he would send and receive was that he was not good enough to be loved and to belong in that community.
Although totally different on first glance, this is a continuation in many ways of the message of Chapter 1 of John’s gospel. Right before the wedding in Cana, when Nathanael meets Jesus for the first time, and despite what others have told him, he is skeptical about Jesus being the Messiah. When Jesus says words to Nathanael that convince him and lead him to declare his belief, Jesus responds “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these!” Nathanael believed and followed Jesus, but in a sense his belief was as insufficient as the wine that the bridegroom had brought to the wedding.
There are times when we feel like we are insufficient in the eyes of the world. There are also times when we feel like our faith is insufficient: we believe, but we have our doubts; we try to be faithful but fear we can never be “good enough.” We feel like there is no way that God could ever love “someone like me.”
What becomes clear both in Jesus’ interaction with Nathanael and in the story of the wedding at Cana, though, is that our worth is not dependent on our sufficiency, but on God’s. It is not whether we or anyone else determines that we are “enough,” it matters only what Jesus is able to do on our behalf. There is no concept of “enough” or “not enough” in the mind of God. There is only love, pure, self-giving love. God loves us, and that is enough. We are deemed worthy to live, to be ourselves, and to come into the presence of God regardless of our own feelings of insufficiency because of the all-sufficiency of the love of Christ.
The first indication that this is the message John is trying to convey is the first four words of Chapter 2: “On the third day.” As soon as the story begins, John is telling us that this is not a story about wine, or about parties, or about how to be the perfect host. It’s about what God is going to do on the third day. This first miracle is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead, his victory over death. The wine runs out and it seems like that’s the end of it all, but it was not the end. Just as this new wine that Jesus provides is better than the wine that had been served before, what Jesus does on our behalf is far better than anything we can do for ourselves.
It’s very important in understanding this passage to remember that the Christian community from which John’s gospel emerged is the same community from which the Book of Revelation emerged, and so we should expect a lot of symbolic language, and the language of this passage all points to the message that God’s sufficiency more than makes up for all human insufficiency; that this “first sign” which “revealed his glory” – as it says in verse 11 – is a sign of greater things that are to come. That’s what Jesus said to Nathanael – you will see greater things than these. Then, just to prove his point, he performs a miracle! But that is still just a sign of greater things that are yet to come.
We don’t have to prove to anyone that we’re enough. God himself doesn’t ask that of us. Jesus is enough. Believe in Him. Trust in his love for you. In John 1:12-13 it says: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.”
What we read right after that is John telling us about all kinds of people doing just that, believing in him: John the Baptist, Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael. In Chapter 2 we see that his mother believes in him. When she tells him the wine has run out, he declares to her, “it’s not my time,” but she’s not deterred. She believes in him and tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She believes in Him; she believes in the power of God!
The wedding at Cana is not just a nice story about a social event in Jesus’ life, then, or about how he interacted with his friends and community. It’s a feast that points us to the glorious banquet of the Lord from the book of Revelation, when all who believe in Him will share in his glory. It’s a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate victory over the cross and death. It’s a foretaste of the grace that is freely offered by Jesus to all who believe in him and receive it.
John urges us, throughout this gospel, to believe. It’s a call to believe in Jesus Christ, and not to rely on our own sufficiency. We’re told in Chapter 2:11 that this was the first sign, and he finishes the book with these closing words in Chapter 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” This is the message of the great Gospel of John from beginning to end: it’s not up to you to prove your worthiness; Jesus is enough: believe in that! Trust in that!
Our belief is important – it is by our faith that we are given the power to become children of God – but it is not by our faith that we come to the banquet of the Lord and see his glory. That is the gift of God’s grace.
What Brene Brown would suggest is that we accept our imperfection; that in those moments when we feel beaten down by our sense of insufficiency, we remind ourselves, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging” (p. 125). Be brave enough to believe. You are worthy of love because Jesus loves you; and you are worthy of belonging because Jesus gives you the power to become a child of God.
“Faith,” Brown suggests, “is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty” (p. 90). Jesus invites us to that faith. Jesus invites us to believe in His love.
This is an invitation that will transform our lives. It’s an invitation to let go of trying to prove to yourself or anyone else that you are “enough” and to lean into the gift of grace offered by Jesus himself. When we let go of trying to be “enough” and accept that Jesus is enough, then we receive a foretaste of the glory of God. Thanks be to God.