Isaiah 62:1-5 #180
Rev. Kit Billings
August 1, 2004
I find great meaning in the fact that The Gospel of John describes our Lord Jesus not only attended a local wedding in Galilee, but also that it was at that occasion where he chose to perform his first miracle during his public three year ministry on earth.
John's gospel is seen as set apart from Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are also known as the Synoptics. More so than the other three The Gospel of John is experienced as more of a MYSTICAL GOSPEL, simply because its "inner" sense shines out more noticeably. It has a noticeable increase of deep, internal intensity, as if the veil separating God's Kingdom of Heaven from this world is thinner somehow within its words and stories.
Allow me to paint you a little background picture of what went on at Jewish weddings in first century Palestine. Cana was a village quite near to Nazareth, in the northern region of Palestine. In fact, back then, you could visibly see Cana while standing in Jesus' home town. In Cana that day there was a wedding feast and Mary went to it. In fact, the story informs us that Mary had a special roll there. It reveals that she was worried when the wine ran dry. She had authority to tell the servants to do whatever the Lord wanted them to do for Him. We may gather that Joseph, Mary's husband, has already died, since he is not mentioned in this story, and also by the fact that Mary is described here as being alone.
That being the case, we learn that Mary's eldest son came with five of his new disciples, and unbeknownst to anyone else there that evening, something very special was about to unfold. The scene of our story today is a village wedding feast. In Palestine, a wedding was a very notable occasion. According to Jewish Law, the wedding of a virgin had to take place on a Wednesday. In Palestine wedding festivities lasted for far more than one day, however.
Typically, the ceremony happened at night after a wonderful feast. After the ceremony, the couple was conducted to their new home. This meant their journey home happened in the dark. But, all was not lost since the happy nuptials were guided by a procession of flaming torches underneath the traditional wedding canopy called a "whoopa." The couple would have been led along by as long a road as possible, so that as many local citizens as possible could congratulate them and wish them well. Unlike most of our modern day weddings in America, the newlyweds didn't go away for their honeymoon. Instead, they stayed at home. And for one whole week they kept open house! The bride and groom wore crowns; they would be dressed in bridal robes…treated like kings and queens…and were typically addressed that way too. And yes, if things couldn't be any better, their word, so to speak, was law.
In a life of poverty and constant hard work, in a life of powerlessness common to peasants in ancient Palestine, this week of festivity and joy was one of life's supreme occasions, as you can imagine.
And it was in a happy time like that in which Jesus gladly shared. Isn't that interesting? Are you surprised at all by this? Allow me to underscore that we need to note this truth with joy. God is most interested in being in our joy, our fun, and our celebrations. Christ was perfectly at home at this joyous occasion. Such times are a good and important part of our spiritual growth and renewal, and are occasions in which God can reveal himself to us in a very special way—that is, by creatively and innocently blessing our lives with glee. “Unless you become like these little children,” Jesus said, “you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus was no severe, austere killjoy. Not in the least. It was said of Alice Freeman Palmer, the great teacher, by one of her scholars: "She made me feel as if I was bathed in sunshine." God is ever so capable of doing this in the best of ways.
C. H. Spurgeon in his book, Lectures to My Students, wrote these wise words:
"Sepulchral tones may fit a man to be an undertaker, but Lazarus is not called out of his grave by hollow moans."
"An individual who has no geniality about him had better be an undertaker, and bury the dead, for he will never succeed in influencing the living."
"I commend cheerfulness to all who would win souls; not levity and frothiness, but a genial, happy spirit. There are more flies caught with honey than with vinegar, and there will be more souls led to heaven by a man who wears heaven in his face then by one who bears Tartarus in his looks."
Our good and precious Lord, you see, never counted it a crime to be happy. So then, why should his followers not do so either? But something had gone wrong that evening. The story goes that the wine went done. In case you didn't know, for a Jewish feast wine was essential. "Without wine," said the Rabbis, "there is no joy." Not that people were drunken, but in the East wine was an essential. Drunkenness was, in fact, a great disgrace. But in first century Palestine, it would have been extremely difficult to even get drunk on their wine. The Jews actually drank their wine: 2 parts wine to 3 parts water.
And as you may imagine, the failure of provisions would have been, at any time, a problem. For you see, hospitality in the East is a sacred duty. But for provisions to fail at a wedding would be utter disgrace!, especially for the bride and groom. Our story this morning reminds us that God cares for us, and he prefers that we not experience unnecessary humiliation.
John's gospel tells us that Mary went to Jesus to tell him the wine had run out. And what was it that Jesus said to her in response? "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?" A closer translation would be: "Woman, what have I to do with you?"
Some people have wondered if Jesus was being short with Mary. But the context reveals that the words that Jesus used here were a common conversational phrase back then. In other words, it was more like the Lord was saying to Mary: "Ma'am, you don't quite understand what is going on; leave things to me, and I will settle them in my own way." That was the issue Jesus was talking about on the literal level of things. On the natural level, the Lord was concerned with the wine running out. But, on the spiritual level of reality at that moment, Christ was simply expressing what had been going on deep within his own mind, and would continue to happen as he gradually Glorified his natural humanity and replaced it with his Divine-Humanity.
Since His childhood years, Jesus had begun to deal with the "natural human" will, attitudes, selfish tendencies, and desires to rationalize truth into whatever we want to make it. In other words, the Lord here was expressing a clear demarcation point in his blunt words to Mary….he was offering a question back to her to imply that his power to help the world was in no way linked to his natural lineage with Mary. That power came from on high!! And his Divine Love was much more powerful and immense than anyone at that wedding in Cana could imagine.
There is a small phrase we hear our Lord using at times throughout his ministry, and is one that tells us a great deal about him, and about his deepest focus in life. It was a phrase he spoke to Mary after she told him that the hosts had run out of wine, and he said: "My hour has not yet come." From the beginning to the end of the Lord's ministry, the Lord maintained great focus on his ministry. He had the Divine Will of the Father within him, and Christ's steadfast and focused internal commitment was to serve that Will…in part to Glorify his own inherited natural humanity from Mary's lineage, which Jesus came into the world with. In doing so, Jesus would bring his Divine Love down into this natural, lowermost degree of life……and therefore make it accessible to every human being forever.
By saying to Mary, “My hour has not yet come,” the Lord began drawing those around him (at first in subconscious ways) to the truth that Christ's deepest mission of all was to Glorify and powerfully transform the natural human inclinations, weaknesses, evil and selfishness we all grapple with and suffer with every day. He came to take on our natural human tendencies and ways of pulling down our higher ability to think and reason. And the Lord knew, down into the marrow of his bones, that the only way that was going to happen was to let power-hungry people, people capable of tremendous cruelty, beat and humiliate him and lead him toward a terrible death—crucifixion—which was his “hour that had not yet come.” Everything natural in Jesus had to die, in order to be reborn again. Everything base and disorderly in Christ's finite humanity had to be let go of, in favor of Divine Life instead. Jesus knew full well, due to his mastery of Scripture, that what the world would call his most awful and dark moments would actually be HIS VERY BEST. Christ understood that the most severe attacks from the hells would be opportunity to experience tremendous victory…and the Divine Life within Christ's mind welcomed his hardest hours, since he knew the redeeming effect his victory over evil would have.
This, you see, was the large scope level of redemption (of saving the world from its terrible addiction to selfishness over altruism and love for God). What the Lord was subtly dealing with here, in this wonderful miracle at a wedding feast in Cana therefore, was a wonderful sign of the gradual transformation of Jesus' natural will and understanding, being changed into that which we might call, the "Son of God." So it was, at a village wedding feast, where Jesus began showing others of the great Divine transformation that would redeem humanity…revealing to us the general pattern of the spiritual regeneration of human beings that ultimately saves us.
Swedenborg learned this miracle was representing and dealing also with a very deep form of marriage, which happened within Jesus' own inner mind, throughout his days on earth. His changing that water into wine that evening corresponded to the marriage of his UNDERSTANDING with the DIVINE LOVE/WILL of the Father (who was his very soul). Christ's presence at that wedding underscored that our finite, human growth, again in parallel fashion, depends upon the joining of my will and reasoning within the love and wisdom and Life, which the Spirit of God is. The wedding at Cana symbolizes the importance of this core spiritual growth issue for all of us. So we see that God's love and wisdom will call out greatly to both our feelings and out thoughts, to our intentionality and our understanding, which must find their full life in actions that are useful.
As a boy, Jesus learned and then understood the great spiritual truths of life, which are found in the literal and inner meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures. He learned, for example, how much God loved the ancient Hebrews, and so God led them out of bondage in slavery in Egypt. He learned how God's plan was to give His own children their Promised Land, the land of “milk and honey,” which represents God's desire to give all people a beautiful, strong, steadfast ownership, in a sense, of real, warm, courageous heavenly character—the kind we see illustrated in Jacob's son Joseph, who fearlessly followed God's will, and was able to forgive his cruel brothers who sold him into slavery as a youth.
As a boy, Jesus learned and intellectually understood these great and awesome stories. As a thirty-year-old man, however, Christ was coming into his great maturity, as his deep, inner will and affections (flowing from the Divinity in his soul) began to join with or “marry into” the many intellectual truths he had learned in the Word as a boy. As a child Jesus understood that God, his Father, loved humanity with infinite power. But now, now as a strong and mature man he had begun to powerfully feel that Divine Love coursing through his inner being…flowing into his heart…and out through his torso, his arms, and out through his hands, which is what performed those wonderful miracles and touched peoples' lives with grace and truth.
The water being turned into wine symbolizes, if you will, the great (and gradual) transformation of the Lord's mere human degree of understanding of what life's deeper purposes are and why we are here to learn how to love God and others more than ourselves, glorifying this into God's understanding, as Jesus' thoughts began vibrating with infinite power, hope, fearlessness, wisdom, and JOYOUS DETERMINATION.
In conclusion, we see here that our Lord God began his ministry in this gospel by coming to a simple, humble household. This first of Christ's miracles was wrought not in some huge national festival, but in a peasant's home. It did not occur in front of huge crowds, but in the background of everyday life. One author has said that Jesus "domesticated God." His ministry brought God right into the home circle and into the ordinary things of life.
If Jesus our Lord could bring his very best wine (his greatest perception and understanding Divine Love and Wisdom) into the ordinariness of the human home, then perhaps we should too. Christ reminds us in this beautiful and wonderful story of his deep design to help you to marry (or wed) the important depths of what is good and true in life—to help you to marry within yourself the golden “yummies” of love and angelic goodness with the spiritual truth of how to use them to bless others in prudence, as well as yourself.
On behalf of our wonderful Lord of Life, my friends, I welcome you again into the wedding feast of life! There is a wondrous and miniature “little Cana of Galilee” inside of your own mind, within the territory where Jesus is now ministering. The choice is yours to invite him into that symbolic “little Cana” that lives within yourself. And when you find yourself “running out of wine” for the many varied sorts of thoughts and interests that fill your mind each day, remember…remember that Christ will take your more natural degree of understanding of things (symbolized by the water sitting in those six big, stone jars) and will transform them into higher thoughts—higher wisdom. And he will do this by bringing his “choicest wine” (the very best wine!), living spiritual truth just for you, when you need it most.
Your invitation is all that he needs; your engagement with his Holy Word is the pathway for it to happen. You must fill your mind “to the brim” with God's thoughts that live in the Bible. You have a serious and vital role to play. And if you do your part, and invite the Lord and his crew of angels, then be prepared, my friend, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! The immense power of God's Love is what the Lord brings—the very same Love we see brought to life in the gospels in the Lord's Holy Word.
May we each dance with joy, as people do at wedding receptions, at the miracles of growth and regeneration our wonderful Lord does bring. Amen.