Life was not meant to be easy
Week of Sunday January 20 - Epiphany 2
Gospel: John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it.9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
In my Methodist childhood there were folk who had some definite ideas about the nature of the wine Jesus supplies at this wedding. I have since learned that no one who says “you have kept the good wine until now,” is ever referring to grape juice, let alone to the de-alcoholised pap served up by the Temperance Ladies.
This wine was the real deal, and that's the whole point of the story.
On the third day... John begins. On the third day after Jesus’ death God serves up the best wine of all! That's the reference.
The new wine is at a wedding, a celebration of new life together where the couple will abide with each other. There is a deliberate reference here to chapters 14 and 15 in John where abiding and the vine play such a great part. The celebration and the amount of new wine are extravagant. This is life abiding with Jesus.
The old rites of purification, with their huge jars of water waiting at the wedding, are inadequate. The old ways are done with. To enable the wedding party to be right before God, to enable the life of the couple to be made full of joy (John 10:10) there needs to be a new washing, and a new rite; new wine. It is not by accident that this is the first of His signs, coming soon after his baptism. There is enough wine here to baptise people!
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser is frequently remembered as saying life was not meant to be easy. He was quoting George Bernard Shaw's statement, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy, my child, but take courage: it can be delightful!” (I'm not sure if that was what Fraser meant.)
Contra what the heretic prosperity gospellers preach, Jesus did not say life was meant to be easy or full of money. Rather, life was meant to be full of joy and fulfilment. Life with Jesus will have its own cost, and take us to death and resurrection; often not easy. We who follow Jesus have no ticket of exception from life’s pain and sorrow.
But the wedding at Cana is clear; this discipleship is more wedding party than hair shirt. Life with Jesus, pruning and all, is life at a wedding reception.
Is this true? I once received a phone call from the parish while at a wedding reception. A friend had died. He was known to many at the wedding. I wondered what to say, and on the wise advice of my wife, we let the couple have their moment. There would be time enough to grieve on the next day.
I think back to that evening, and even then there was a bitter-sweet joy to the night; perhaps it was, in some sense, even more joyful for those of us who knew; a celebration despite all that we lose. We continued the evening, sobered a little, because even in the presence of tragic death, the wedding party goes on.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!