The story of the wedding at Cana of Galilee has been read in Epiphany for a very long time. That's because the theme of Epiphany is the manifestation, the showing off to the world, of Jesus-of who he is, of what he is about. The business of changing water into wine was the first of Jesus' miracles, the first time he gave a real sign to his disciples of what was going on with him. I want to talk about that for a minute this morning, especially from the perspective of the other lessons.
Now, when it comes to theology, this reading contains an embarrassment of riches. In John's Gospel, one of the things Jesus does is replace the Jewish feasts with the reality of his presence. Here, the Jewish rites of purification are somehow superceded, and superceded in abundance, by who Jesus is and by what he does. Also, there is a real connection between this scene and the material in Isaiah that likens the return of the Messiah to a wedding, and the joy of God's people to the joy of a bride and bridegroom. And there is much, much more.
But it's also a story, and a great one. Mary starts out as the real hero, telling Jesus do to something for these folks who are in really serious trouble. (By the way, an ancient legend says that Mary was the aunt of the bride and might have been the person responsible for the wedding. That would certainly explain her interest.)
Anyway, Jesus says to Mary that all of this is none of his business and that he has other plans about revealing himself. His time has not come. Mary pretty much ignores that and assumes that Jesus is going to be a good Jewish boy and listen to his mother-and he does.
Now, the folks who are experts on what society was like in those days make it real clear that running out of wine at a wedding was not a minor social inconvenience. It was not like, "Well, the wine's gone, so we have to switch to scotch." Instead, this was a major breach of the demands of hospitality; it was a disgrace and it would be devastating for the couple. Everywhere they went, for the rest of their married life, they would be known, ridiculed, and talked about. The strain on their life together would be enormous. (After all, there wasn't that much to talk about in Cana of Galilee.)
So, knowing something really important, at least in the lives of the people who were there, is going on, Jesus has to decide what to do. He has to decide whether to change his timetable-whether to wait before making himself known, as he had planned, or to act right then, for that need. Jesus acts, the wedding was saved, and the bride and groom were given a new chance.
Now, this story is not about the bride and groom, it is about Jesus. It is about all that theology I mentioned a minute ago. But it is very important to realize that the first time Jesus made himself known, even to his disciples, he did so-not according to his own plans, but in response to real and important human need.
Think about it. Jesus' first manifestation of his glory, the first of his signs, was not for or about Jesus. He didn't throw a great big "Jesus of Nazareth Epiphany and First Miracle" party, invite everyone in the neighborhood, and then haul off and do a miracle. Instead, the signs of his calling and of his identity were drawn out of him, not by his own plans and schedule, but by the needs of those around him. What it means and what it looks like for Jesus to be the son of God is given expression as his response to the realities of human life and need.
Jesus' identity, the Father's gift to him of who Jesus was, this was not something that Jesus understood or held to for Jesus' own sake, for his own satisfaction, or his own fulfillment. Jesus revealed himself, indeed Jesus spent his life, for the sake of others. Who he was and what he had was not for him. It was always and only for others, from the very beginning.
Keep that in mind and turn for a minute to the Epistle. That section from Paul is about some of the interesting and peculiar things that were going on in the church in Corinth in the first century. There was some pretty weird stuff, and some pretty selfish stuff, and some pretty evil stuff. In the middle of it, as is so often true when religion goes bad, there was a strong sense of "who is best," and a strong sense of mine. They were having a bunch of different spiritual experiences and encounters with God-which is probably fine-but they were getting possessive and competitive about all of that. They were saying things like, "this gift is mine, this way of doing things is mine, this spirituality is mine, this special something is mine."
What Paul says to them is what Jesus discovered when the wine gave out. What Paul says to them is, "what you have is not for you. What you have is for others." To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. This is a fundamental religious truth about the nature and purpose of God. Then and now. What you have is not for you. What you have is not even about you, not really.
The folks in Corinth could never get their religion right, indeed their lives right, until they realized that what they had was not for them or about them. It was given to them so they could use it to give, and to build, and to help, and to create.
What Jesus had, who he was by gift of the Father, what it was that made him special, and unique, this was not given for his own sake. It was given so Jesus would have a choice, so that he could choose to give all of himself for others.
What we have is not for us. Not really. All that we have, whatever sort of thing it might be, all that we have is gift. It is given us so that we might be givers, so that we might build up, so that we might help, so that we might be a part of something greater, so that we might serve our neighbors and build up the larger body. In one way or anther, that is the purpose of our lives, and everything in them.
This is good news. It is good news that we do not live for ourselves alone, that what we have is not for us.
We are not created to live closed in upon ourselves, protective, possessive and defensive. We are not at our best when we try to live that way; we impoverish ourselves when we try to live that way. And we do not have to live that way. When we live beyond ourselves, for others and for the larger whole, then something wonderful can happen, something greater can be created, and there is more of us than there could ever be otherwise.
At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, Jesus chose to abandon his plans and his schedule, and to reach out. In doing that, he shows us what human life can be like.
And there was plenty of wine at the wedding.