John 2:1-11: Not Quite “The Big One”

January 9, 2022
Joanna Harader

My wedding party: July 5, 1997

Ryan and I saved money on our wedding by not hiring a caterer—which meant that my aunt was picking up the deli trays from the grocery store before the wedding and had some . . . issues . . . which meant our wedding started late. And because we had no idea how much food and drink we would need at the reception, we ended up with trays of extra food, but we ran out of punch (this was a good Baptist wedding, after all) pretty early into the festivities.

Unfortunately, Jesus was not around to turn water into wedding punch that day. And honestly, even if Jesus had been there (you know, in the flesh, so to speak), I wouldn’t have expected him to take care of our catering issue. I’m sure there were people at our wedding reception with more serious problems than an empty punch glass.

And I’m sure the same could be said for the people at the wedding in Cana. This was a Jewish wedding in the Roman Empire. So maybe Jesus could have, you know, quashed Roman oppression—or something. This was a time when medical care was rudimentary and people suffered terribly from various injuries, ailments, and diseases. Surely there were some people at the party that Jesus could have healed. Or, at the very least, if Jesus was going to insist on helping with the catering, he could have provided some hearty bread or other nourishing food.

And whatever Jesus was going to do at that party, he could have done it less subtly. He could have let people know what he was doing. “Look, everyone! Roman oppression shall cease! This woman shall walk again! I will provide this party sub for us all!” As it is, only the servants, the disciples, and, of course, Jesus’ mom, know that anything miraculous has happened at all.

Yes. I definitely think Jesus could have done something more meaningful, more substantial, more dramatic for his first sign. I think that’s what Jesus thinks, too. While Jesus calling his mom “woman” here isn’t as rude in Greek as it comes across in English, it’s still pretty clear that he is annoyed with her for bringing up the wine situation. He doesn’t think the lack of wine is any concern of hers—or his. He tells her, “My hour has not yet come.”

Here’s the tricky thing about Jesus in the Gospels: He’s God, so we assume that what he does and says is good and right and true. And he’s fully human, so maybe he has a bit of a learning curve?

“My hour has not yet come.” It’s a rather dramatic, self-important, statement. And it makes me wonder what Jesus is waiting for. When would be the proper hour—the right time—for his first sign?

Is Jesus waiting for more disciples? Does he want a more important setting—like maybe he should be at the Temple in Jerusalem rather than a wedding party in Cana? Does he want to do something more important than catering? That raising Lazarus thing is pretty cool. Maybe he wants to raise someone from the dead for his first sign. That would get people’s attention.

Whatever Jesus is waiting for, whatever he envisions as the miracle he will perform as his first sign to reveal to the world that he is the Messiah, making wine for a party in Cana isn’t it.

“My hour has not yet come.”

To which Jesus’ mother—God bless her—responds by telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” This is parental passive aggressiveness at its finest.

It’s difficult to know how much Jesus’ mother (who is never named in John’s gospel) knows about who Jesus is and what he will do. Roger played an instrumental version of “Mary Did You Know” for prelude. He was afraid the song was mansplaining, but I assured him it would fit in with the sermon. I think it’s a fair question, particularly in John’s gospel, to ask how much Mary knew about her son. Does she realize this little party trick is a waste of his considerable miracle-power?

Now, based on Luke’s account with the angel announcing Mary’s pregnancy and Simeon and Anna prophesying when she takes baby Jesus to the temple, it seems Jesus’ mother is pretty clued in to her son’s identity and purpose. I think it’s fair to assume Mary did know, and yet, she still wants him to fix the wine situation.

“Do whatever he tells you.” And those are the last words Jesus’ mother speaks in the Gospel of John. She doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for his concern that this is not the “proper” moment for his first sign. She doesn’t seem to care that what she is asking Jesus to do is a “waste” of his miraculous talents, a frivolous gesture when there are more significant needs at hand. . . .

You know, when I was younger—in college, in seminary, just starting my so-called “adult” life—I had big ideas about what I would do and how I would do it. I would write life-altering pieces and dismantle oppressive systems and be a great preacher and, you know, just generally change the world.

Then I became a mother, and I would go through entire days and accomplish nothing. It made me crazy at first. Why can’t I get anything done? Then I started being self-patronizing (if that’s even a thing): You didn’t do nothing. You took a shower. You ate a sandwich. You kept the baby alive.

And then, eventually, I started to realize that all of the “nothing” I was doing was, in fact, something. That the little things, even the very little, barely there, things—like filling a glass with water—were worth doing. That I might have a chance to do one or two BIG things in my life, but mostly I’d be doing these little things. And I needed to pay attention. And appreciate small opportunities. And get over myself.

Now, I’m sure plenty of people have come to this wisdom without being mothers. Some people need a little less guidance and instruction than I do. Still, it’s not surprising to me that it is Jesus’ mother who nudges him into this first frivolous sign.

She understands that providing wine for the party is not nothing. It is what the people around him need in the moment. And providing what the people around you need in the moment is mostly what we spend our lives doing–and Jesus is at about the right age to start figuring that out.

I think this is a good time for us to be reminded that little things are not nothing; that responding to the most immediate needs is one of the primary ways we participate in the kingdom of God. This is a good time for that reminder, at least for me, because COVID is awful. There are some things we just can’t do. And so many things that are, somehow, so much harder to do. And there are days when doing even the smallest thing feels nearly impossible.

“My hour has not yet come,” says Jesus. He didn’t think the time was right for him to act.

And our time—right now—is awkward and difficult. Maybe it doesn’t seem like the right hour.

But it is the time that it is. And maybe we do whatever it is God has put in front of us to do—whether it seems big enough or not; whether enough other people will notice or not.

The thing is—and you know this–sometimes the little things are not so little. Considering the struggles faced by people with attachment disorder, we know that holding a baby, feeding them, speaking kindly to them, is vitally important. Getting yourself out of bed, fed, showered—no big thing is possible without these little things—that sometimes don’t feel little at all.

For Jesus, as a guest at the wedding party, the lack of wine may not have been a concern. But I guarantee it was a concern to the bridegroom, who would have been terribly embarrassed to run out of wine in the middle of the party. And to the steward, who could have lost his job over such a mistake. One person’s shoulder shrug is another person’s tragedy.

Jesus’ mother sees all of this. And she nudges Jesus toward seeing it as well.

Jesus knows that his time has not yet come. That he is not yet supposed to make any grand public gestures or perform any life-altering miracles. The healings, feeding the 5,000, the showy walking on water, the resurrections—those will come later.

But it starts here, with a little thing. At a party. Providing wine. Not because it’s the perfect time and place for his big debut, but because it’s a party and they are out of wine. And because his mother says so.