A cartoon has been making its way through cyberspace that depicts stacks of bottles of wine, underneath is the caption: Jesus was here. Out of all the miracles of Jesus, or “signs” as the Gospel of John prefers to call them, the miracle of changing the water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana has lent itself to more jokes than we can imagine. For example: Jesus walks into a bar with his disciples and tells the bartender, “"Thirteen glasses of water, please!
Satan walked into the same packed bar a week later and shouts, “I'm fed up with hearing all about the wonders of Jesus turning water into wine so I'm going to spoil the fun and turn it all the alcohol into water." There was a blinding flash and all at once everyone’s drinks turns into water. "Cheers Satan,” a voice piped up, "I was drinking a bud light, so this is much stronger."
Finally there’s a modern version of Jesus walking into a Starbucks and turning the lemon water into a soy latte.
So this miracle, or sign, has gotten a lot of mileage over the years. According to John, it is his first miracle of his public ministry. From the sounds of the story, it wasn’t even a planned intervention. Jesus is an invited guest at a wedding in Cana, with his disciples, and his mother, Mary, is also there.
Weddings were huge social events in the ancient world, just as they are now, but then they involved not just the immediate family and friends, but the entire village. In dreary, grueling, monotonous village life a wedding was a break from hardships of routine living. So there was an expectation that the family would provide appropriately for the guests who had come to celebrate this marriage. Accommodations along with the best food and drink the family could afford signified not only the importance of the event and but conveyed the value of hospitality, the highest code of conduct people lived by. It was a matter of family honor to pull off what was often a week-long celebration. Families then as now saved for years, sold the prize cow, to afford a proper wedding.
But then an unthinkable emergency happened. Somehow, at some point during the celebration, the wine ran out. An unheard of miscalculation. A social catastrophe in the making. Even today we can imagine the embarrassment of a modern wedding couple if the liquor suddenly ceased to flow at their reception. No more booze? Let the wedding cake topple over, let the chicken be dried out, let the Let the DJ not show up, let the flower girls throw a tantrum, but friends, at a wedding, the alcohol must flow.
It is not Jesus, but Mary, his mother who notices the predicament. Recall that Mary once declared, in the song we call the Magnificat, “he fills the hungry with good things.” Out of this sense of goodness for those who would face great shame in their community, shame from which they would not recover, she turned to her son, says, “They have no wine!” Jesus is respectful but hesitant. His hour has not come, Jesus says. How often we seek the right timing or wait for just the right moment to make a pronouncement or take a desired action. Jesus, fortunately, realized like Dr. King once said, “the time is always right to do what is right.” So Jesus instructs the servants to fill the six huge stone water jars with water and take it to the chief steward. Upon tasting it, the steward declares it to be the best wine ever – the best saved for last.
Mary took a stand against humiliation and for compassion, and this interchange between Mary and Jesus reflects the encouragement for action between Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. By refusing to give up her seat on the bus on that ordinary day, December 5, 1955, in Montgomery, Parks set the stage for King’s entry into that civil rights moment.
In their joint action, his ministry to the nation was opened. She declared that the moment was at hand. Dr. King was the relatively unknown but rising force at the Dexter Street Baptist church, when he was called upon to head the Montgomery Improvement Association. Under Dr. King’s leadership the historic Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted 381 days, resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. Did Dr. King know his hour had arrived? Surely he had his qualms and indecision. But he responded to the situation brought forth by Rosa Parks, and others before her.
“While Martin Luther King, Jr did not change water into wine, he did change a movement into the new wine of commitment. Thousands gathered to hear him. He did raise those whose lives were decaying in death, he led the sanitation workers strike in Memphis, TN. King proclaimed to the educated of America that they needed to born again in mind and spirit to see the sin of racism and poverty. Writing an unforgettable letter to white clergy in a Birmingham jail, King lifted up the dead daughters of Birmingham, killed in a bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church. Yes King lifted up a cup of living waters, transformed to the wine of justice and compassion and we drink from it still."
“From his studies and years of activism, Dr. King further developed the concept of the Beloved Community as a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. Citing King’s papers, in the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”
[We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. . . .
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. MLK,Jr.“Strength to Love”]
Our scriptures lift up for us the wedding feast of Cana, the restoration of the land in Isaiah where the redeemed people are renamed, “My Delight Is in Her,” your land Married, so shall God rejoice in God’s people. These are the seeds of the Beloved Community. The scriptures abound with signs of marriage, culminating in the book of Revelation with the New Heavens and the New Earth as an image of the marriage feast with the Lamb, which will last eternally. So this most intimate covenant between a couple, their family and clans is now a sign of loving care among humanity. The first sign of this heavenly wedding is manifesting under the aegis of the Beloved Community, at which Jesus is at the center and prime mover.
The task has been laid before us. Sören Kierkegaard, the 19th century philosopher, once commented: "Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water." By our inaction, turning a blind eye to sin and injustice, by actively participating in evil, we have turned the wine, the first fruits of the kingdom, the glory of Jesus backed into water. We have disgraced the wedding banquet. We have toppled the cake, ruined the dinner, ran off the DJ, and stopped the flow of the precious wine.
However it doesn’t have to be this way. Our celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks, and through them the civil rights movement shows us the signs of the wedding are everywhere. They are there whenever we say no to oppression and yes to love and justice. They are there when we are invited to take action to help others, and we say yes, even if we are not ready. The signs are there whenever we take delight in what is right, good and just.
So let us be the signs of wedding by forging the Beloved Community wherever God plants us. Turn water into wine through our caring, our joy, our commitment to turn wrongs into rights, the tragedies and complications into celebration. This way, the glory of God will be revealed and God will take delight in us—and we as signs of the wedding feast – will be a delight to the world.