January 18, 2004
WUCADE @ EDBC
© John M. Connan
Everyone loves a mystery. Detective yarns sell well. Detectives on TV do well. Forensic science shows have the added appeal not only of providing you with a mystery and a resolution of the mystery, but of also giving you a scientifically based explanation.
Miracles provide us with the same mystery. The first miracle / sign in John’s story of Jesus is especially fascinating because of the way that John presents the miracle.
The mother of Jesus – never called Mary in John’s gospel – suggests there’s a problem: a very embarrassing problem at a wedding feast where extravagance should be the order of the day.
Ever been to an Italian, Greek or Indian wedding? If you have, you know what I mean! The problem is that the wine’s run out – far too early.
Mary asks the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them – however unusual the request may seem.
Six large stone jars are standing nearby – ready for use in ways foreign to us but familiar to Jews and Muslims. They hold fresh water for cleansing of mouth, ears, eyes, nostrils and feet. These six jars were each large enough to hold 100 litres or more.
“Fill them,” Jesus says. The waiters do it. The M.C. tastes it – and is astonished. There’s a mystery about this wine. The waiters “know” the explanation. The M.C. doesn’t. His immediate explanation is scientific: cause and effect. Obviously, the wine had always been there.
That provides another mystery – and another “explanation.” Obviously, the host’s hospitality is unprecedented in providing wine of such quality in such quantity. And that leads to another mystery. Why serve wine of this quality when the guests are already “merry”: no longer capable of knowing the difference between quality and plonk?
The M.C. sounds surprisingly modern. If the setting had been the 21st century, he’d have been a fan of Silent Witness, or C.S.I.
But John has let us in on the mystery – to a point. We know the M.C.’s missed the point. We know that what’s happened at this wedding reception goes beyond conventional understandings. It’s – literally – “out of this world.” It’s a sign of the miraculous, superabundant love and grace of God.
The M.C. doesn’t see it. The disciples do – and they believe in Jesus – as the One who has revealed God to them – and in doing that has revealed the absolute and total extravagance of God.
John had years to reflect on the story of Jesus. His good news story was written some fifty years after the first Easter. In this extravagant, extraordinary act of Jesus – as John tells it – he wanted us to glimpse God’s grace and something of “the greater things to come.” He wanted us to share in the wonder of the miracle and to become part of the joyous celebration Jesus had made possible. He wanted us to see what the disciples had seen, that in the extraordinary graciousness and overflowing abundance of Jesus’ gift, we catch a glimpse of the identity and character of God. For John and for them it wasn’t just a matter of words, it was a confession of faith that “from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”
This isn’t a story for those with sober-sided “wowser” backgrounds. How can it be, as a story that’s based on the joy and conviviality of wine at a wedding feast?
It’s not a story for those who live as if their faith in Jesus is some sort of penalty that requires them to be sober and serious and dull. It’s a story about joy and celebration of unprecedented quality and unprecedented quantity.
It’s a story that ought to make us wonder about the presence or absence of such joy and celebration in our lives; whether the celebratory joy we once knew has faded; whether we’ve ever known such celebration and joy.
It’s a story that ought to make us wonder about how we can discover or rediscover the grace upon grace, the sheer extravagance of God’s love.
It’s a story that invites us to hear – really hear – what John intended us to hear in this story: the miracle of God’s love revealed to us through what Jesus did and who he was.
It’s a story that invites us to believe as the disciples did – and to follow Jesus and his way of celebration and joy, and of extravagant love. And to work for all those things that belong to the way of Jesus – righteousness, justice and peace: to be biased towards those on the fringes of society; to love unreservedly and unstintingly as he loved – whether people “deserve” our love or not.
The point about grace is that that’s just the way it is
And our reaction to such extravagant grace can only be that of Ignatius Loyola from close to 560 years ago.
“Teach us, good Lord, to serve You as You deserve: to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to ask for rest; to labour and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do Your will.”
We began with mystery.
Let me end with a mystery: why others do not find the joy and celebration in the open secret of God’s love and the joy that comes in following in Jesus’ way. But the, it could just be that the resolution of that mystery lies in us.
 John 1:50.
 John 1:16.
 "Prayer for Generosity" (1548), St Ignatius Loyola.