What’s the one commonality between most (if not all) superheroes? They can’t say no. If someone is in danger, the superhero doesn’t have a choice about responding. It’s part of the “superhero code.” Let’s take Superman, for instance. When Superman sees a plane full of people about to crash, with its engines on fire, spiraling toward the ground; he doesn’t look skyward and debate the ethics of saving each individual life. Superman doesn’t do a cost-benefit analysis weighing the economic risks to the airline, the families impacted by the loss of a primary breadwinner and possible property damage on the ground. No, he does none of those things. If Superman did do them, they would be done so fast that none of us would notice. Remember, he’s Superman. Superman doesn’t do risk assessments. When he sees a need, what does he do? Clark Kent finds a phone booth (or other suitable location) and changes from his mild-mannered alter-ego into Superman. This usually happens in the blink of an eye. He doesn’t ask questions about who is on the plane, are they behind on their taxes, is the airline good to the employees, or is on time record into Chicago on par with Delta or American? Clark, or should I say, Superman, doesn’t care. In our hypothetical Superman scenario, the plane and everyone onboard is saved. To Superman, it doesn’t matter who they are but “that” they are. That they were human beings, people, and lives in peril and unable to save themselves; this is what mattered most.
The critical thing to remember is this: Superman always says yes. There is nothing too mundane or ordinary for a superhero.
This is what bothers me about the story of Jesus and his disciples attending the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. I’ve been thinking about this all week. It is a wedding reception. It’s nothing to write home about. We’ve all been to receptions. Some are fancy some are on a budget. No matter how much money you spend on a wedding reception, it’s still a wedding reception. As civilization goes, they are ordinary affairs. Yet, Jesus, the superhero of our story, refuses to get involved. Do you realize how rare it is for Jesus to turn down getting involved in anything, mundane or not? It never happens. It would be like Superman walking away from a kitten stuck in a tree.
We know Jesus eventually comes around and decides to get involved. Nonetheless, his reluctance and the reasoning behind it run through the entirety of this story. Why was Jesus so reluctant to save a wedding? Doesn’t it seem like a wedding he didn’t really want to attend in the first place? I picture their conversation in the run-up to the wedding went something like this:
Mary: You know she’s getting married next week.
Jesus: I haven’t seen her since middle school.
Mary: Her husband is really nice. He has a boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus: Who doesn’t have a boat? Simon Peter has a skiff.
Mary: Peter. Is he your new little friend? You can bring him and the others.
Jesus: Mom, he prefers to be called Simon.
John is the only one who tells this story. So it’s unique. His mother is there, probably helping with the wedding. There might be other family members there. John tells us Jesus was invited. He is not a wedding crashing, a moocher, or any form of an uninvited guest. The disciples are also present. Their invitation seems to be included under Jesus’. I think this is important and we’ll come back to it in a moment. They are not caterers. They are official guests of the wedding party.
The action moves very quickly. As with the crisis in a comic book or graphic novel, something has gone wrong. The wine “gave out.” Wine drinkers “give out.” Wine goes dry because the drinkers pour it out. I never cease to be amazed by the vagaries of translation. Whatever will we do? Will Jesus rip off his glasses and duck into a phone booth? No, he most certainly will not. The wine drinking mooches need to be taught a lesson. Jesus refuses to help.
This was his first response. Two people do not say no, Jesus and Superman. Its part of the deal, when you wear the sandals or the long red cape, you say “yes.” I think this bothers me so much because I know some of the other situations Jesus said “yes” too. There was a woman, caught in adultery, who was about to be stoned to death. He said, “Yes” to this very messy and awkward situation. He’s healed every blind man between here and Jericho. Yet the overindulgence of wedding guests and empty wine vats is not something worth Jesus’ time. It bothers me.
Jesus has a reason. While this may look and sound arbitrary, it’s not. Jesus tells his mother, “Woman, what concern is this to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” He comes right out and says. Is this really any of our business? We didn’t drink the wine dry. It’s not our party. Then the second half of verse four takes his reason up a notch. “My hour has not yet come,” says Jesus. What does that mean?
Is he saying, “I don’t officially go on the clock as Jesus until next Tuesday, so I can’t do any miracles until then.”? No. Jesus doesn’t have an on/off switch. There is never a time when Jesus is not Jesus. The word “hour” is a little bit of a clue. That’s the same word Jesus uses when he’s praying in the garden of Gethsemane.
I hear in Jesus’ reluctance a bit of what Jesus says on the night before his crucifixion. Jesus says, “May this cup pass from me.” In other words, “Does this have to be my time?” Here Jesus looks at the emptied vats and says, “Is this really my time?” In both moments, Jesus is overwhelmed. I know what that feels like. We all do. It’s comforting to me to know that Jesus feels swamped and sometimes even he doesn’t seem to know where to start.
How does Jesus move beyond this impasse? What changes his mind? Is it the guilty looks from his mother? I think he realizes something we see time and time again in the text: miracles do not happen in isolation. It takes a community to make a miracle a reality. Whether you’re feeding 5000 people or turning water into wine, it’s never a one person job. We need a community to make miracles come to life. We do not build the kingdom of God by ourselves. Superman works alone. Jesus always reaches out to others. Look at how the rest of the story unfolds.
The people who he grabs, those who are in his line of sight, become part of the miracle. There is his mother, a coterie of servants, the chief steward, the groom, and I’m confident the disciples were involved. Probably 20 people and that’s a rough estimate, helped make this miracle happen. Here’s the point I want you to remember: the body of Christ is intimately involved in the miracles that Jesus performs. This is true in the 1st century, and it’s true today.
What we need to ensure that we’re keeping the path clear and doing everything we can to facilitate miracles both big and small. As this story shows, it is always a good time to be involved with a miracle. There is some way for us to plug into the larger plan which Jesus is doing. We must heed Mary’s words, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus will give us something to do. We get to be the miracle. We help make the miracles. To me, that’s more amazing than turning water into wine.
Richard Lowell Bryant