Preached at Trinity Cathedral Trenton, January 2016
Weddings loom large in the bible because Bridegroom and Bride are a favorite way of imaging who God is to us and who we-the-people-of-God are to God! Marriage marks a new way of being in the world, not only for the couple, but for the entire network of people who care about them. In Jesus’ day, the groom was supposed to put on a week-long sumptuous feast for the whole village, as an outward and visible sign of his competence for stepping up to this new role, to manage a household and to provide. At Cana, there is a crisis in the making: the groom is about to be embarrassed. The supply of wine is exhausted. Mary is paying attention, and informs Jesus: “They have no wine!” Jesus replies: “Not our problem! Not my wedding! My hour has not yet come!” Everyone knows, there are some mommas that you don’t mess with! Mary refuses to take “no” for an answer. Jesus complies. Marching over to the six stone jars of purification, he commands: “Fill them with water!” “Draw some out and take it to the steward!” “Why have you saved the best to the last?”
The bible tells how even before creation, when Israel was only a twinkle in God’s eye, God had his heart set on an arranged marriage of God with the people-of-God. God’s purpose in making this world was life together. God was out to establish a Great Society in which the good of each individual harmonized with the common good, and no one had anything to gain by interfering with the flourishing of anyone else. God worked with Jacob’s family to form a nation to be the prototype of God’s social experiment. God befriended patriarchs, furnished commandments as guidelines for organizing life together, sent judges and prophets to teach best practices and to correct flawed policy implementation. God appointed priests and designed liturgies to focus the national purpose. Cleansing rituals were established to restore relationships when things went wrong. Washing hands and clothes and pots were meant to be outward and visible sign of their inward and spiritual commitment to clean living. Worse than individual sins were the twisted ways we organize life together that make us all party to privileging some and degrading others. Torah tells: God is allergic to social injustice; in liturgical language, “a holy God cannot dwell with an unholy people.” Social injustice acts at a distance to pollute the Temple. Cleansing requires animal sacrifice. Torah tells: the life is in the blood. The animal’s pure life symbolizes the pure life the nation and its leaders were supposed to offer. Splashed at the base of the altar, the blood “catches” the positive charge of Divine holiness which neutralizes the negative charge of systemic evil. Blood sprinkled on the altar in the holy of holies where God hovers and on the people, reasserts kinship: God and the people-of-God share the same life!
Mary protests: “they have no wine!” God the Bridegroom has made provision, but what God provided so far had not and has not yet established that Great Society, where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. All of us are still living in dysfunctional social institutions. We have learned how to survive them. We have learned how to work around them. We have learned how to work against them, to make a way out of no way.
Yet, adjusting to them, acquiescing in them, has cramped our style, forced us to trim our sails. Institutions are supposed to make it possible for us to do our work, to acquire the skills we need to make the most of our creativity. But when society is organized to benefit some at the expense of others, when powers-that-be force us to control ourselves not just in ways that will make us more effective but in ways that make us more convenient for others–such toxic social systems wound us, make it almost impossible for us to rise up to full stature. Here is a sure sign that God’s Great Society has not fully taken hold: that powers-that-be demand that some be smaller than they really are so that others can feel as big and as important as they think they need to be.
For so many, our society is still a cage, a prison incarcerating those who are held back and used for the benefit of others. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were just a dream for Travon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. “Liberty and justice for all”– is that even a dream for youth already criminalized for minor drug offenses? Don’t all dreams turn to nightmares for people in solitary confinement on Riker’s Island? When will the blood of the Lamb flood Wall Street to upend our economic priorities? Politicians are fixated on financial institutions that are “too big to fail.” But the bible’s God was supposed to protect the “little people” who are too small to tromp on. Mary protests: “they have no wine!” Whatever is going on with those stone jars of purification, it isn’t enough. “Don’t give me that ‘my hour has not yet come’ stuff! Your hour has, too, come, because they have no wine and it is past time to do something about it!”
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ hour has not yet come. The scene of Jesus’ wedding is not Cana but Golgotha. At Cana, Mary enlists Jesus to save the bridegroom’s face. But Calvary mocks Divine competence for setting up house-keeping, God with the people of God. Religious leaders are so resistant to Jesus as Way-Truth-Life that they murder the bridegroom. So far from celebrating the Great Society as God’s crowning achievement, Golgotha mocks Jewish kingship in three languages, and scars Jesus’ forehead with a crown of thorns. Irony saves the plot: the Word becomes flesh to make those stone jars of purification obsolete by filling them with the wine of his blood. Which being translated means: Holy God can’t wait to get married until the bride is all cleaned up, because the only way to turn the likes of us into fit citizens of the Great Society is to move right in with us, to flood us with Holy Spirit, to cohabit with us as teacher and partner for life!
The Spirit of God is the Spirit of prophecy. Until the Great Society is fully manifest, the Spirit of God is at work, nudging us all to be prophets. In today’s Gospel, Mary shows us how. Mary is sharp-eyed to recognize. Mary is bold and relentless in calling attention. Mary refuses to take ‘no’ for answer. Mary models the prophetic impatience: “your hour has, too, come. They have no wine, it’s past time, and you have what it takes to do something about it!” Put otherwise, until the Great Society comes, it is our job to make nuisances of ourselves and to nag!
Job nagged God, Mary nudged Jesus until they got action. Don’t think that nagging God is blasphemous. God knows that our sense of timing is out of sych with Divine calculations. Jesus encourages us to pray with importunity (with chutzpah). The elect waiting the end time constantly sigh: “how long, O Lord, how long?” God wants us to screw up our courage, knows that incessantly demanding that God do something, is one way of sharing God’s own impatience to establish the Great Society once and for all.
Especially in a democracy, we are called to nag our elected officials. It is our job to stay alert, to spot social evils ripe for uprooting, and to demand that they use their power to do something about it. We are the watchers God has set to “call a spade a spade,” relentlessly to protest when they “play politics” instead of governing and cater to campaign contributors at the expense of the common good. When legislators become callous, when governors mock human misery–so far from saving their faces–it is our job to expose them, to put them to shame for their failure to provide.
Finally, in this election year, we are called to demand candidates who dream dreams and see visions, “yes-we-can” leaders with the skill and intelligence to make dreams come true. As Christians, we should refuse candidates who pander to the worst in us, instead of working to bring out the best in us. As Christians, we should make it unmistakably clear that we will not vote for leaders who do not share God’s passion for justice. We will cast our vote only for restless leaders who refuse to be satisfied until we all drink the wine of justice, the best wine that has been saved to the last!