Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mary did you know - and when did you know it?

John 2. Jesus heads off with his mom to a wedding. His disciples are there with him. But the wedding planner hadn't planned very well. Long before the party is over, the wine runs out - a disaster with immense social ramifications.

But Mary has an ace up her sleeve. She's got Jesus there. "They're out of wine, Jesus," she tells him. He pushes back. "Why me? It's not my time yet." Mary isn't one to back down, however. In fact, she ignores her son's question. Turning to the servants, she tells them to "do whatever he tells you to do."

You know how the story ends. Jesus has them fill up some empty stone jugs with water; when they draw the water back out, it has been transformed into wine of the finest vintage. The day is saved, and Jesus has officially performed his first miracle.

The thing is, every time I've heard this story told, from childhood Sunday school classes on up to adult lessons and sermons, it's related with the assumption that Mary was pressuring Jesus into performing a miracle. She knew his mad miracle skills, so decided to use him in order to fix this situation. In essence, she's asking him to do something miraculous, he says he'd rather not do any miracle, but being a good mother, she pushes him into doing one anyway.

But what if that's telling the story wrong? After all, there's nothing in her initial request that implies an expectation of anything miraculous. It seems more like a mother simply saying "there's a problem, Jesus. Fix it."

By this time, Jesus had ascended to the rank of rabbi - he obviously was an intelligent man. And he had a group of disciples; he obviously had leadership skills. Regardless of his divinity, he was a man who could make decisions and deal with difficult situations.

So what if Mary herself wasn't expecting a miracle? What if she was simply proud of her intelligent son with good leadership and problem-solving skills. What if she really expected Jesus to say "Hey Peter and Andrew - they're out of wine. Could you run over to Safeway and pick up a couple of those Gallo boxes? Maybe a '95; that was a pretty good wine. Oh, and take Judas - he has the credit card."

If you read the story without making assumptions based on the end, doesn't it make more sense that Mary's request isn't for a miracle, but simply a desire for Jesus to take charge in the situation? To figure out a (human) solution? And thereby, maybe to receive a little glory in light of her wonderful son?

I think so. In fact, I think it better fits the reading of the entire gospel of John. There's a theme running through this book of Jesus showing up in unexpected ways. Of Jesus surprising people. Of Jesus baiting the hook, and then pulling people in. From the opening salvo of Jesus coming and setting up camp among us, to the woman at the well, to Nicodemus, to the sick man at the pool. . .time and again, people mistake him for a 'wise man' or 'good teacher,' and then, when least expected, he lets his divinity shine through.

Maybe there's just a little bit of humor in this story of the wedding banquet. It might be reading a bit too much into it, but imagine Mary asking Jesus to 'fix it' - she's thinking he'll use his management skills - and Jesus thinking to himself, 'You want me to fix it? I'll fix it alright, and won't you be surprised. . ."

By the way, Ben Witherington has made a pretty strong case that the gospel of John was written by none other than Lazarus. And wouldn't this have been the very lesson Lazarus learned? Jesus was a family friend, a man with whom he and his sisters had shared meals. But then one day Lazarus had the entirely shocking experience of being raised from the dead by this Jesus. I suppose that was just a little surprising, but an instant revelation into the true nature of Jesus.

And what a good lesson for all of us. How often do we look to Jesus to manage our situation, how often do we treat Jesus just like a teacher or parent or our extra-capable child, the one we expect to deal with our little problems. But Jesus' true desire is to let his divinity shine through, to surprise us with little miracles here and there - if only we have eyes to see it. Maybe we need to go back and read this story with fresh eyes, to see Mary's utter shock when, instead of managing the situation, her son does the unexpected - he creates a miracle before her very eyes. Feel her surprise, sense the dawning realization in her heart that there's a lot more going on here than she thought. Watch the awe and wonder bubble up in her heart.

And let it teach us something new about this man. Perhaps we ought not take him for granted so much.


Pastor Susan Gillespie said...

Love it - I think you're right! And your last paragraph is very quotable - thanks for this. Very helpful in this moment for me.

Ann said...

Susan said it! This is wonderful, Dan. When we take the assumptions out of the Gospel of John, we really find ourselves in an upside down kingdom. Your reading seems to fit in well with cultural expectations of eldest sons, too. Thank you for your post!

Lori said...

Love your story telling, Dan. I love it. I think I have always kind of looked at that story as you do. Good stuff.

Btw, where can I read Ben Witherington's view on Lazerus as the Gospel of John writer. That would be interesting to me.