It is the story from the Bible for which I have the strongest reaction.
The kind of story that makes me look around in church and wonder why people are nodding their heads at it.
This story, the story of the Wedding at Cana, makes me want to crawl under the pew, or just get up and walk out.
But it wasn’t until last Sunday when I heard a priest speaking from the pulpit and, having once been in the military, spoke about his subject at hand from the reference point of a chain-of-command, that things began to fall into place for me.
He also spoke of orders that come from outside the chain of command.
This week, as I mulled this whole story over, along with my lifelong reaction to it, I began to break it down into parts.
And, oh how many parts there are to this story.
So, let us begin.
Mary, her son, and his crew are invited to a wedding. Someone else’s wedding. It’s the second half of the wedding. We all know what that’s like. No one is on the dance floor except children, couples who can’t let go of each other or ones that just love to dance and will keep going until the music stops. Men have taken off their ties and cummerbunds, and have managed to get away from their wives to sit and talk shop. Younger men go in search of someone soft to push into. Women sit comfortably and exchange gossip.
And the waiters go to refill the goblets, and, alas, there is no more wine.
So, who steps up to save the day?
Mary. The mother of Jesus.
An invited guest.
Now I’m something of a professional at holding events. For many years of my life, I hosted a dinner party every Friday night. It was one of my most favorite forms of entertainment. The conversation of various people coming together, eating great food, drinking great wine, and just letting things in their lives drop away.
For me, if I am at an event where the wine runs out before the event is over, all this means is that the party drank heavily. Very heavily.
And now it’s time to supply some nice aromatic and very strong coffee.
But if someone came to one of my dinners and, joining me in the kitchen, declared that he didn’t like the sauce I was serving and was going to remake it to his taste so the dinner would be better, I would think him rude.
Now the wedding that the Christ gang attended was no small event at a poor girl’s hut where any offer of assistance would be appropriate and most welcome.
This was a banquet in a home that employed a steward. No, not a headwaiter or a caterer. An events manager. A man who coordinated the food, the entertainment, the decoration, the behavior.
And under this man, the wine runs out.
And who steps forward to solve the problem?
Mary. The mother of Jesus.
Who assumes the role of hostess for the evening. In someone else’s house.
So I will just stop right there and ask myself, Why? Why did she do this? What was she looking for in such an action?
Ah. So we dig a little deeper. In those days (a phrase oft used in justifying this whole ordeal), it would be shameful to run out of wine at a wedding. Really? How shameful?
Often it can be a sign that the party is over and people should be heading home to their own beds.
But this is one element that really sticks in my throat.
This is the first public miracle of Jesus. We can’t really say it’s his first miracle, because we don’t know that.
And it’s a miracle performed in order to accommodate the shame of running out of wine at a wedding banquet.
A miracle of God (let’s not forget that small aspect in all this) that is concerned with the shame of running out of wine too early.
The words, shame, and, ashamed, appear throughout the Bible.
They really don’t focus on the amount of wine there is in the cellar.
They focus on our relationship with God.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an Heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
How about that? Even God is discussed in terms of shame.
Not about how much wine he is providing us, though.
Fine. Enough of that.
This story is all about context. To understand the wonder of this story, they say, you MUST put it in context.
The water in the purification jars was turned into wine. Get it?
Why should I have to get it?
The importance of it all comes from its linkage with other mythical stories. With getting the ancient Jewish laws and rites.
The significance of it is such that only a very educated scholar can speak to it.
Who is able to grasp the depth of the wonder of this first public miracle.
Take a minute and look over all of the other miracles Jesus performed. Or at least the ones that we know of because they were reported.
See any context-needing skills in them?
Jesus healed a bunch of lepers.
One comes back to thank him.
Do we really need to go to school to get that?
How about feeding the crowds?
Again, are these acts so sublime that we need a teacher to walk us through them?
I’ve read this story in many-a different translation. Different Bibles. Different approaches.
And no matter who does the work at translation, no matter how friendly they want to make the storytelling, Jesus’s response always comes down to:
Who the hell do you think you are to tell me what to do?
(In all honesty, at this point I am always tempted to stand up and cheer.)
No. No. No. Jesus was not being rude to his mother!
Why and how is that exactly?
(Enter the scholastic. Who I see not as a real theologian but as fairy master, there to sprinkle fairy dust over everything to make it all rosy and sweet.)
I’m a mother. I know how sons can speak to their mothers. Rudeness really isn’t that hard to detect.
And it’s not even the first time Jesus slights his mother verbally.
In the temple, shocked that his parents had to look for him, Jesus asks, Why didn’t you know where I was? I was here. Duh.
The voice of a 12-year-old boy.
Impatient. Arrogant. Self-possessed.
Which, if you are the Son of God you really have a right to be.
Doesn’t make it any more polite, however.
Chain of Command
Ah, now to the good stuff.
The chain of command.
Who is in charge of the miracles Jesus performs? His mother?
The priest I listened to the other Sunday said it very succinctly: Someone outside my chain of command can give me orders. But it is up to me to know that unless that order goes to someone in my chain-of-command and then passed down to me, I am not obligated to do it.
In fact, the person issuing an order to a soldier from outside his chain-of-command should be referred to the soldier’s superior.
There is no reference to God in this whole story.
It’s all about Mary. With Jesus being her sidekick. Her servant that she can order about.
Mary is the hostess. Jesus is the supplier of wine.
Go there, she says. Do that.
And Jesus has to realize somewhere in his confusion and anger that he has to get it together and obey.
Obey his mother.
She’s the boss.
The Fruit of the Vine
So here is the deal for me: I ask, What’s in it for Mary?
There’s nothing really in it for Jesus. He’s not even thanked.
(And do you notice that? Normally after a miracle Jesus tells the miraclee to go and tell no one. Shhhh! Let’s keep this a secret between us. OK? But not here. It’s kept secret for no real reason whatsoever.)
Oh, right. This is the First Miracle of Jesus and this makes it significant.
Kind of like when a child rides a bike for the first time? Not much to see, but gets the job done?
There are a number of “take-aways” from this story.
One is that Jesus is doing the job of the bridegroom: supplying the wine.
Jesus is the Bridegroom. (He gets a capital letter in his title.)
So who is the Bride?
Israel. They say.
The church. That does not yet exist.
Or, Mary herself.
That’s right. One of Mary’s titles is, Bride of Christ. You can see it in all sorts of paintings. Jesus and Mary, sitting in a tree. That kind of thing. The perfect married couple.
Mary, mother and bride. Of Jesus Christ.
(This is truly the most uncomfortable part for me.)
Another take-away of this is the nature of the miracle.
What healing took place here?
How was God’s love manifested on Earth?
We’re talking about wine. A lot of wine. And a bunch of very drunk people. Except for a few servants, who were probably fairly smashed themselves, who is going to thank God for this great miracle?
Right. No one. Absolutely no one.
Who is going to wander about and tell people to follow Jesus because he’s such a good magician he can turn water into wine?
Where is God the Father in this miracle? Where even is Jesus, except as the guy with the magic wand?
What there is here is Mary.
The spotlight seems to be focused on her.
And yet we call this a miracle of Jesus.
As I wrote, The story always brings up strong feelings in me.