Sunday, January 14, 2007

Second Sunday after Epiphany

John 2
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, revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

If you are like me, you love to search for deeper meaning. Everything is subject to interpretation. Beneath every seemingly ordinary circumstance lurks some alternate way to understand. Maybe it's a quirk of human behaviour. Perhaps it's a recurring habit that points to something else.

Imagine someone that is quite taken with Sudoku. Day by day he wrestles with these complex little puzzles, with their array of blocks, and the disarmingly simple instruction “each three by three box, each row and each column all contain the numbers one to nine.” Imagine folded newspapers and Sudoku books strewn about the house, puzzles complete and incomplete, usually in degrees of difficulty ranging from simple to “diabolical.” Perhaps this same person has noted the fact that diabolical, meaning “of the devil” is the most apt way to describe the grip these little puzzles can have on a person.

Perhaps the deeper meaning is trying to create order in a sea of disorder. Or revealing the order that exists under the impression of disorder. Or the satisfaction of finding the simple amid the seemingly complex. Or avoiding household chores. Or proving to a cheeky 15 year-old that the old man is still mentally agile (and faster at Sudoku).

Or maybe there is no deeper meaning at all, save that fact that it would be wasteful to allow these little puzzles that arrive in the paper each day to pass by. Whatever is truly happening for this hypothetical person, the whole situation points of a quest for meaning, and the ongoing human desire to find meaning in even the most simple activities.


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.” [So] Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”

Sometimes we read and the meaning is obvious. Sometimes we read and the meaning can be easily discerned. Sometimes we read and we admit to ourselves that the meaning is largely hidden and it will take skilled interpreters to reveal the meaning. Sometimes the same passage can be all three.

Such is the domain of allegory: literal meaning points to a more complex layer of meaning that may not be readily obvious. George Orwell's book “Animal Farm” is a delightful children's story about a group of animals who take over a farm and try to run the place on their own. “Animal Farm” is also a detailed allegory representing the history of the first 30 years of the Soviet Union. It is a book that any 10 year-old will enjoy, but a book that few 10 year-olds would read and say “this character, 'Old Major,' he must represent Vladimir Lenin.”


It is a kind of scholars' rite of passage to write a commentary on John's Gospel. That is why they number in the hundreds. New Testament scholars will inevitably lend their voice to the choir of voices trying to find meaning in the signs presented throughout John. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of interpretations and forget the very intuitive act of reading and trying to understand the story.

Some argue that the water represents the end of Jewish purification rituals, rendered null and void by the first sign of water into wine. Some interpreters highlight Mary in the story, and name her the 'new Eve,' or a representation of the church. The wedding becomes the advent of a new era in Israel's history, with God as the bridegroom and the church as the bride. The water is baptism, the wine is communion, and the meaning-making goes on and on. Even the biblical literalists get in on it, arguing that any passage that portrays Jesus as a wine maker must be symbolic and not literal.


“Sometimes,” Freud said, “a cigar is just a cigar.” In other words, we sometimes get so caught up looking for symbolic meaning that we neglect to enjoy the story (or the cigar) in front of us. Imagine Jesus goes to a party and people are having such a good time that the wine runs out. The LCBO is closed (of course) and Mary (well aware of her son's unusual relationship with the physical world) asks him to fix the problem. As with any loving mother-son relationship, he gives her a hard time, and says “my hour has not come.” She ignores him (another feature of their relationship) and tells the servants to follow his directions. Water becomes wine and the party continues. As a clever end to the story the caterer stops by and says “why serve these drunks the good wine now, isn't it wasted on them?” It's easy to imagine wide grins on the faces of mother and son.

At some point we stopped enjoying scripture and became far too serious. Grim-faced interpreters don't laugh when Jonah gets eaten by a whale or wee Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a better look. We forget to read joy into a joyous occasion such as the wedding at Cana and instead burden the text with all sorts of deep and vexing meaning. Well, no more.

Or at least not as much. John is, after all, the “signs Gospel,” a Gospel that is filled with signs of the new age. And what is the new age? The new age is the beginning of a new relationship with God, a new way of being in God's world. Some will argue that the new age is still to come, that the Kingdom and its promises are yet to appear. But not John. For John the new age is here and we need only see the signs. Listen to part of his famous prologue:

10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him...but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. And we have seen his glory, described in stories of joyfulness and humanity. And we have seen his glory, revealed in moments of compassion and release. And we have seen his glory, shown in moments of healing and new life. And we have seen his glory, full of grace and laughter, playfulness and love. We are called to read these stories with new eyes, to find the divinity and the humanity, to see the zeal for justice and the desire to laugh. Tears of sadness and tears of joy. We are being invited into a new relationship for a new age. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home