From Ordinary to Extraordinary
Jesus is a wedding guest. We don’t know who the bride and groom are. Some have speculated that one of them might have been a relative. We know that Jesus’ mother and brothers are present too, and his disciples are there. In first Century Palestine, wedding festivals lasted for days. They began with a feast on a Wednesday and then the ceremony itself took place that evening.
New Testament scholar William Barclay describes the festivities, “After the ceremony the young couple were conducted to their new home. By that time it would be dark and they were conducted through the village streets with the light of the flaming torches and with a canopy over their heads. They were taken by as long a road as possible so that as many people as possible would have the opportunity to wish them well.” They would not go away for a honeymoon. Instead they stayed at home for a week and hold an open house. Their parents would have saved and scrimped to provide wine and food for the guests for the week. It was a social disgrace to run out of wine. The Rabbis had a saying, “Without wine, there is no joy (Barclay).”
And they have run out of wine. Jesus’ mother comes to him. Now, you know what your mom wants when she comes and says, “So-and-so doesn’t have what they need,” and you have some. She wants you to cover it. Mary may have just not wanted anyone to be embarrassed and knew Jesus wouldn’t either. I wonder, though, if Mary saw this as an opportunity for Jesus to save the day, to show their friends and family his power.
Jesus’ answer seems a little harsh in our English translation, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” The Greek word that we translate “Woman” is the polite way of addressing a lady, so it really would be better translated in the South as “Ma’am.” And “why do you involve me” literally is “what to me and to you,” so he could have meant, “Ma’am, this is not our relationship” meaning you aren’t able to direct my actions. “My hour has not yet come,” and that time is determined not by you, but by God.
And since he is not going to make a big display of providing wine for the feast, Mary turns to the servants and tells them to do whatever he tells them.
This is the critical moment – Mary knows Jesus’ power. The ordinary becomes extraordinary when we do whatever he tells us. This is the life of discipleship.
Biblical scholar Gerard Sloyan writes about this exchange, “John knows from the experience…that to believe in Jesus as the Christ is to live a life within a life. [Everything in life is totally transformed, yet existence goes on as before.] Nothing is changed, but everything is changed. What had been water is wine. This is existence at the edge of the ages,….What will be is. What seems to be is no more. In this Word and Light of God who is a man, all is new….”
Jesus points to the stone jars used for ritual washing and has the servants fill them to the brim, 6 of them, 20-30 gallons each. And then has them dip some out and take it to the head waiter of the banquet, who drinks it and asks why the very best wine was saved back until now.
John’s first readers would have known the Jewish purification laws – that upon entering a home a person had to wash his feet with water from one of these purification jars, and before eating, and between courses, a person had to wash his hands with water from one of these purification jars. They would have known that pointing out that there were six jars is significant. Six is the number of in-completion. Seven is perfect and complete. And, they would have known why the vessels were stone jars – stone was used for holding the water of purification because stone was ritually clean and could not become unclean. Using the water jars for purification in a new way, Jesus signals that God is doing a new thing from within the old ways. Seeing six water jars, Jesus signals that another is needed for wholeness and perfection, and this one will not be able to be made unclean either. Purification is coming for the Jewish people and for the world in a new way.
N.T. Wright writes of this passage, “The transformation from water to wine is of course meant by John to signify the effect that Jesus can have, can still have today, on people’s lives….remembering that transformation only came when someone took Mary’s words seriously: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
It is when we do as Jesus tells us that the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Water becomes wine. Our lives become purposeful. Water in the Middle East is not something that is superabundant or taken for granted; neither are our lives. We are each unique, unrepeatable miracles of God. Each of us was created by God with a dream, and idea of what purpose we can fulfill. But it is only when the servants follow Jesus’ teaching that the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
Shirley Cherry is the museum director of the Dexter Parsonage Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived as he served as pastor of her childhood church and began his quest for civil rights. She says of her childhood pastor, “When people walk in the footsteps of Dr. King and visit the parsonage where he stayed, I want them to know of his love, his character and that he was an ordinary man, who accomplished extraordinary things.”
Martin Luther King was like water in the Middle East. He was a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, where he lived with his wife and children. He was, like each of us, a unique, unrepeatable miracle of God, created by God with a dream, and idea of what purpose he could fulfill. And then, one day while he was praying at his kitchen table, he heard an inner voice speak to him. ‘Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness and love.’ And he began a movement that would in just a few years organize the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It was when he listened and followed that the ordinary became extraordinary.
You may be thinking, great example, Rebecca, but I’m no Martin Luther King. And you would be right. You are a unique, unrepeatable miracle of God, created by God with your own purpose. We all are like water in the Middle East, and each of us has the potential to be drawn out of the waters of purification as extraordinary wine as we study the life and words of Jesus, take seriously his instruction, and live as he teaches.
Mary told the servants to do whatever he told them, and the ordinary became extraordinary. This is what Jesus tells us, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
We all are like water in the Middle East, and each of us has the potential to be drawn out of the waters of purification as extraordinary wine as we open ourselves in prayer to God and listen for the God’s voice guiding and directing us, nudging us to take up our own, unique, unrepeatable crosses. Discovering God’s dream for yourself, for most of us, doesn’t happen all at once.
The life of faith is like going sailing. Studying the life and teachings of Jesus, the Word of God in Scripture, and opening ourselves in prayer are all ways that we lift our sail and hope to catch the wind of God to give our boat direction. We know which way is the right way to be blown because all the winds align – Jesus’ life and teachings, the Word of God in Scripture, and God’s whisper in our inner voice all blow us in the same direction. And when our sail catches the wind, the ordinary becomes extraordinary!