Homily: Suprising Abundance
Our Gospel speaks to us today of a wedding reception by Jesus, His disciples and His mother and of extravagance and surprise. It tells us that Jesus has not yet begun teaching and working wonders among the people; yet his mother has confidence that he can help when a crisis arises at the wedding of a friend.
This Gospel provides a glimpse of Jesus and his mother as human beings who had friends, who ‘partied’, who fretted when something went wrong, and balked at leaving to others the burden of solving another’s problem.
The exchange between Mary and Jesus feels particularly familiar to any parent who has mentioned a need to her child, from a bicycle left in the driveway to a young relative who needs company at a family function. Not now, Mom, not me. And yet Jesus does indeed respond to the need at hand, with a simple kind of ordinary, earthy compassion for the hosts who are in a terrible predicament. But he responds with anything but an ordinary response!
The first part of Jesus’ response to Mary’s observation that the wine has run out sounds almost modern in its detachment: “What’s it to you and me?” But the second part of his answer sounds much more solemn and theological: “My hour has not yet come.” Don’t you wonder if Mary herself wondered what he meant by that?
The fact that there are so many women theologians today brings us deeper insights that were often missed in the past. We often hurried past the ‘Mary factor’ in the story. Her action here shows that she is a woman with all the compassionate sensitivity to other people’s needs often lacking in men, especially those in power. After all, they say, “Jesus did not grow up in a vacuum”. It was Mary who raised Jesus to practice ‘compassionate Justice’.
Jesus, in speaking about his ‘hour,, was referring to the Hour of his Death, the hour when he would save the world. The “hour” of Jesus was, in a sense, indeed already here, in this moment of need, that moment when the reign of God breaks in, as it does in every wonder worked by Jesus and indeed, by his entire life.
Abundance is quietly in the background of this scene, as it will be in the story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. This overflowing gift, six stone jars of wine, each one holding 15-25 gallons, when just one might have been enough, is a sign, too. And it produced the best-tasting wine served at the wedding.
This wine, overflowing like the grain and oil and bread that so often shows up in the Gospel stories, are signs of a golden age, and the guests would have known something important was happening when such wonderful wine flows at the end, not the beginning, of the celebration. But the real human thirst, like our deepest hunger, is for the life God offers us, the close, living relationship with the One who loves us.
It seems that we are so spiritually hungry and thirsty that we fill our lives with material “stuff” in a futile attempt to satisfy those needs. We even shape a distorted gospel, a prosperity gospel, that says that God actually wants us to have lots of stuff. That’s a very different kind of abundance than the kind Jesus shares, very different from the kind that God gave us at creation, and it invariably leaves us sitting hungry in the midst of excess and longing for the abundance of God, thirsting for God’s grace.
It makes sense, then, that many theologians see ‘drunkenness’ as more than just a temporary state of having drunk too much wine, but as a metaphor for all the ways we dull our physical and spiritual senses and perceptions. There are countless forms of ‘wine’ in our world, and they all have the power to hinder us on our spiritual path.
Several religious commentators struggle with one question that nags at our hearts and minds too, when we read this story. They call it “the scandal of divine reluctance” — when Jesus seems to balk at helping people in need. One could see a tension between Jesus’ hesitation, followed by such an extravagant gift of the finest wine, and God’s seeming absence or inaction in the face of human suffering and need in any age or place.
In a world where for so many there is no clean water — let alone fine wine –- where is the extravagance of God? In a world where children play in bomb craters the size of thirty-gallon wine jugs, why is God so reluctant?
Perhaps we, like Mary, have a role in the story. This text with its troubling reluctance on Jesus’ part, invites us to trust so much in God’s generosity and abundance that we, like the perceptive mother of Jesus, nudge God with our observation to God, our prayer: “they have no wine”. We are no more able to answer the troubling questions of God’s seeming absence in our generation than any that came before us, but we do have to keep the conversation between heaven and earth going.
It is still very early in a new year. But we have to ask: What is “the ‘hour’ for you and me? What call has come, what need will arise, what unforeseen opportunities lie before us, that might lead to a re-arrangement in our plans so that the reign of God might break in? What surprises might await us?
Every time we turn the page on the calendar, it seems, time is very much on our minds. We look back on the past ten years, for example, and we evaluate them and perhaps reflect on where we want to go in the next ten years, and we reflect on the challenges and possibilities now before us. Commentators indicate that the past ten years were experienced by many as the worst decade in their lifetime, and we don’t know what changes, for better or worse, lie ahead.
Of course, that can be said of our ancestors long ago, too, and we look to them in gratitude for their courage and foresight, and especially for their generosity in thinking of us long before we were born. Will we look forward too, and change the ways we serve and witness for the generations that will follow us? What hidden abundance lies within our future, ready to be transformed, in this hour, like the water in the great stone jars? Are we looking, as individuals and as a parish, for ways to make changes that will share abundance, through conservation, with generations yet to come?
When Mary went to Jesus about the wine shortage at the wedding feast, he said that his hour had not yet come, yet he provided the wine that was needed. When have you been surprised by an unexpected change in your life, especially when beginning something new? What could happen in the future to make our parish have to change its plans and adjust its timing? If so, will you be ready to respond with generosity and understanding? And what will you learn about yourself in the process?
What is a miracle to you? What is a work of great wonder, a sign? In our second reading today, Paul reminds us that “the Spirit is given to each for some benefit.” What can we accomplish as individuals and as a parish that will turn despair into hope, hatred into love, and violence into healing? Do you feel equal to the task? If not, what unseen power lies within you to give you the strength to do so? What are your gifts? How is God calling you to transform your world, the world around you, today ?