Friday, January 15, 2010

The wedding at Cana

What a curious story this is, especially for the Gospel of John where Jesus is portrayed as confident of his mission and in charge of his life. Here, though, we have a story in which his mother sounds pushy and he sounds petulant and reluctant, maybe even downright rude. There is no consensus among the commentators I have read about how to handle this story.

I am enough of a historian to be fascinated by the discussions of culture then and now, language and religious practices then and now. But I don't really think knowing that the containers used for ritual purification being empty is a symbol of the emptiness of the old religion helps me understand this story. I'd really love to know why John put it in here. It seems so very out of place in this Gospel.

Carol Lakey Hess, in Feasting on the Word, suggests that Mary's comment about the lack of wine is her way of nudging Jesus/God to do what is needed to make the situation right. I like the idea of nudging God. Isn't that what we often do in our prayers? Don't we spend a lot of time talking with God about all the things that need fixing?

But does Mary think Jesus hasn't noticed the lack of wine? Likely he has and I think his reply about what that problem has to do with him is nudging Mary back. "How important is this to you?" he might be asking. And her response makes it clear that saving the family's face is very important to her. "Do whatever he tells you."

In order to nudge God, we have to be aware of what's happening around us. I wonder how many of the guests at the wedding were aware that the wine was running out. The story leads us to believe that many of them were too drunk to notice anything. But Mary noticed. She was watching closely the activity around her.

If we are going to make it a habit to nudge God, we need to be prepared to be nudged back. "How deeply do you care about this? What do you expect me to do?" And here's where we become less Mary and more servants of the house. Because if we want God to pay attention, then we must be willing to do whatever God tells us to do.

I like the fact that our epistle reading this week is Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts. We don't all have the same ones but they are equally important and all given to us by the Spirit. God nudges us to use our particular gifts in specific situations.

When we pray, we need to listen for God's response. We can even anticipate by checking the need against our gifts. Do I have what it takes to make a difference there or not? If I can't, then what can I do? Sometimes, the answer is praying for those who can to respond to the need. Sometimes, like in the response to the earthquake in Haiti, our role is in the background supporting those with the gifts necessary to help the people and the country recover.

Do whatever he tells you. Mary is speaking to us. So is Jesus.

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