The activities of the Christian community should be no less vigorous as we enter the mid-month point in January 2016 and the energy of the Christmas Season has passed. In fact, it is on this Second Sunday after Epiphany (the Christian feast day and season known as "manifestation") that an honest evaluation of our situation locally, regionally, and abroad should be made.
This is a Presidential election year in America and the television program schedules before us will be full of presidential and congressional debates, political maneuvering and advertisements, pundit commentary, and ever polarizing rhetoric. How will we sift through this onslaught of confrontation, competition, and division? As this year starts, some people will continue to feel unsafe, threatened, and attacked because of their headdress, the name they call God, the color of their skin or their age, or the communities they are a part of because of the deeds of others.
It seems we are in the year of encounters. We are encountering strangers and friends this year in ways that will be charged with energy, some positive and life-giving and others that could be dangerous and hurtful.
The story of the Wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11 invites us to wade in these muddy waters of difference and the unknown with a particular end in the mind. It is a discourse narrative wedged between two narrated stories. On one side there is the story of John the Baptist's testimony about the Messiah who is to come and will call followers to Himself, which Jesus immediately begins to do in John 1:35ff. On the other side of the Wedding in Cana story is Jesus' radical public act of cleansing the Temple in John 2:12-23. Each represents an encounter of sorts with the unknown and not yet. They both signify an evolving discipleship and fellowship, in which those expecting God to do some mighty act through the Messiah are experiencing this new presence in the world for the first time.
John 2:1-11 ties this period of new encounters together in striking ways. Here, readers hear of "the mother of Jesus." While the proper name, Mary, is used in the other Gospels (i.e., Matt 1:16; Mark 6:3; Luke 2:16), in John it is not. In John's Gospel, she is defined by her relational proximity to Jesus. Mary appears twice in John's Gospel account: at the beginning of Jesus' ministry here in the Cana story and at the end standing near Jesus' cross (John 2:1-11; 19:25-27). She represents the epitome of one who awaits the fulfillment of the Messianic time, but as one who waits while doing.
We see her maneuvering, moving between her son and strangers in order to accomplish an outcome so that all will be satisfied. In this story we see Jesus' mother seeking to provide adequate, even necessary, hospitality to all even in the moment of lack. John 2:3 says, "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.'" It was Mary, not Jesus, who expected something good to be done. She acted on it by talking to Jesus and moving with the expectation that he can and will do it because she made him aware of the need.
Even in this moment when it is not yet Jesus' time to be revealed fully as the Messiah, Mary is actively living into what the Messiah represents. She is tapping into the power of God to fill a void and ensure others are included. She is confident that the end time of lack, loss, and conflict will come and be fulfilled, yet she is a big part of that fulfillment taking place. Discipleship, as embodied by the mother of Jesus at the Wedding in Cana is not just about waiting and doing nothing until SOMETHING happens. She epitomizes one who faithfully waits for divine encounters and divine timing by doing what she can now to bridge those voids of not enough, absence, and isolation.
When there is no sign that the Christ is among us, Mary exercises incredible faith that there is truly God among us now. Her insistence that something can still be done today, even if it is not the fullness of Christ's identity, is what leads to the first of seven signs reported in John (John 2:1-12; 4:46-54; 5:1-18; 6:1-15; 6:16-21; 9:1-41; 11:1-44).
Her action kicks off a domino effect in the story, causing different groups of people to have a variety of experiences and encounters with Jesus as the Christ. One group of people was the servants. They knew Jesus had done something but did not come to full understanding until they witnessed the reaction of their superior (John 1:9). Another group, embodied in the steward and bridegroom, represented those who unknowingly benefited from the sign-working of Jesus and the advocacy work of Mary. The scripture does not indicate they were ever made aware of Jesus' miraculous act or identity. The last group depicted in the story is those who had already committed to following Jesus before performing signs, the disciples. Jesus' miracle of changing water to wine (John 1:11) leads to increased belief among those who had already committed to follow him (John 1:43; 50-51).
It is Mary's act of radical hospitality, which is so impressive. Her commitment to the community, made a demand on Jesus--on God--to do something. Most people focus on what Jesus did here, but it is Mary's faithful act of caring about others in need at a communal moment that reminds us of what we should be doing this year. Who among us have we excluded and forgotten? Who among us will lack and be without if we do not speak up? Who among us is invisible and vulnerable and without recognition?
Indeed, L'Arch founder, Jean Vanier, embodies this radical life of hospitality. His commitment to creating community by organizing others to manifest it where there is typically none to be found is a lesson. It teaches us about what it means to accept and help others by inspiring people to participate in the act of community building. We learn the importance of looking around to see those we are not typically accustomed to looking for and attending to. Like Mary, Vanier's work teaches us what it means to believe in the calling of Jesus Christ so much that you identify a need and actively seek to remedy it.
The story of the Wedding in Cana in John 2 reminds us what following Christ is all about right now. Discipleship is not stagnate and inactive. It is about attentiveness. We are called to pay attention to when the wine has run out and others have yet to have their fair share and chance to join our communities. When that happens Mary's action should be our action. We should remind God of who God is. We should move to help those around us and make it right, even when others do not. As we move into 2016, we should care more, see more, and act more on behalf of others. In this way the hospitality and love of God is made more real and manifest in this world.
Bible Study Questions
1. Was there ever a time where you were in a Mary-type position where there was a lack or a need and you spoke up and things improved, even though you expected to be rejected or ridiculed? Was there a time you did not speak up but wished you had?
2. Describe an incident where you witnessed or experienced a radical act of hospitality?
3. What does service and hospitality mean to you? How do you align yourself to serve others as well as serving yourself? What alliances and services are you offering to others and yourself?
For Further Reading
1. Adele Reinhartz. Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John. Bloomsbury Academic, 2002.
2. Luke Timothy Johnson. Sharing Possession: What Faith Demands. 2nd edition. Eerdmans, 2011.
Craig L. Blomberg and Jonathan Lunde, eds. Christians in an Age of Wealth: A Biblical Theology of Stewardship (Biblical Theology for Life). Zondervan. 2013.
About ON Scripture
Learn more about the ON Scripture Committee
Like ON Scripture on Facebook
Follow ON Scripture on Twitter @ONScripture