2nd Thursday after Epiphany
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
That this is Our Lord’s first sign or miracle, is more than an indication of its chronology. It is His primary miracle, the defining sign. It sets the others in place. It shows the glory and character of the Messiah and His Ministry so that His disciples believed in Him.
It is the only miracle that fails to meet some physical need. That might be bad enough, that is if it was only for fun, if the Lord set off a miraculous fireworks show or something, but to make it even worse, it is not just some harmless display of power but seems to be an indulgence of sin. The Lord gives good wine to drunks. He gives good wine to those who not only cannot appreciate it, but who already have and will continue to abuse it.
To translate the stewards satanic statement as “drunk freely” or “well-drunk” is to soft pedal things so much as almost to be criminal, certainly misleading. What the steward says is that every one serves the good wine first, and then when the people are intoxicated the lesser.
The steward plays a satanic role here. Though he knows not where the wine has come from, he accuses the Lord of more than simple wastefulness but of criminal negligence. The Lord is pouring gas on a bonfire. That is the scandal. That is what the devil hates. All he wants is justice. Let the people die in accordance with the Law, let them get what they deserve. “Why should you go hungry in the desert, God,when all things are yours and the rebels, the people who hate you, have plenty to eat? Why did you provide bread from heaven for ungrateful people only to go hungry yourself? They don’t deserve you. They won’t appreciate you. They will abuse you. Let me have them.”
But the Lord will not. He says nothing of His grace or will to save, nothing of His love. Jesus doesn’t belong to the Missouri-Synod. So He doesn’t try to witness to the devil. He simply says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In the mouth of anyone else, it is another law statement. But it isn’t so in His mouth. Because this is God identifying Himself as a Man living by the Word of God. He was baptized, anointed for this. There is no going back. He stands in the desert not as the Lord of Israel, but as the scapegoat, as a Man, the new Adam, who will not take for Himself when He is hungry, who will not fail Eve, but who will suffer and trust and obey and wait on the Lord, who lives by every Word that proceeds from the Mouth of God – not just the ones that make sense. He doesn’t talk about how He wills to save ungrateful men. He doesn’t talk about love or mercy or the Gospel. He simply does it by being the Messiah, by being a Man in the desert come to be abused and sacrificed.
On the third day after that, after the temptation, He is at a wedding and those drunks blow through the wine. I don’t know what St. Mary wants. It is hard to imagine that she wants Him to give them more wine. All she does is make the statement: “They have no wine.” But she wants something and Our Lord knows it. We sometimes use this trick for deny-ability. If St. Mary had been talking to Joseph she might have pretended she didn’t mean anything, she was just making an observation. But you can’t pull that with Jesus. To her credit, she doesn’t try to, which again is an strong witness to her piety and faith. She knows better than to lie to God.
It could well be, as Chrysostom preaches, that St. Mary means this eschatologically, that Jesus had not ever performed any miracles up to this point. He never healed a sparrow or any of that stuff. But St. Mary knows who He is. She remembers well His miraculous conception and birth and the words spoken to her by the angel and Simeon and Anna, and by the Torah, the Psalms, and the Prophets. She knows what His Baptism was and meant. He has been anointed, Messiah-ed, and He has begun calling disciples. She is calling upon Him to reveal Himself, not to give them earthly wine, but to give them the Holy Spirit, to give them joy, to begin His redemptive work. “Those drunks have no wine, Jesus. They have no joy. The bride and groom are fighting. They don’t get it. Heal it. Fix it. Reconcile the world to your Father and each other.”
If that is the case, Our Lord’ s rebuke is doubly harsh and pointed. The miracle also takes on a new tone. His hour has not yet come – not His hour to rule over creation in His power but His hour of ending the great divorce and bestowing His Holy Spirit. That He will do from the cross, as His gift to the world, as the inheritance given to rebels. Nonetheless, He will give them wine. This giving of earthly wine actually makes more sense if that is not what she meant. Because then it is not a matter of His relenting but playing on the words and doing something good that she didn’t even think to ask.
In any case, this is the character of His Gospel: as awful as it seems, He gives wine to drunks. He blesses those who curse Him. He rewards sin. He not only forgives those who murder Him. but He bestows upon them His Kingdom. He is not John the Baptist. He has not taken a Nazaritic vow. He is not in the desert. He reclaims the city. When He is present, it is not time to fast, but to feast. And He bestows good things upon evil people and is merciful beyond expectation or imagination.
It is not hard to imagine the nay-saying that went on. This hardly seems a miracle fit for the Lord of Israel. It doesn’t seem actually helpful. It wasn’t an emergency. No one was sick or in danger or needed more wine. But wine makes glad the hearts of men. And the Lord is into glad hearts. My cup overflows. He bestows gifts not from the need of the beneficiary but from His own love and generosity.
This is the most essential character of His grace: it is undeserved. The other miracles seem more practical but this one is probably more illustrative. Because all the other miracles are meaningless and temporary unless connected to and flowing from this grace, from the undeserved love and mercy of God that forgives and accepts sinners.
We still get this criticism from the devil today. Hell want us to be practical. They want us to make people better – physically, emotionally, morally. In one sense, they want that because it is a false promise that fails to satisfy and leads to despair, but more significantly they want that because even if it succeeds partially and temporarily it tempts men to think they have something to do with grace, that there is something in them that sets them apart, that they are somehow better, smarter, more pure. The devil can’t stand it when we are utterly dependent upon God and give up, when just keep going about praising Him, confessing His Name and Truth, basking in the beauty and joy of creation, being forgiven, and trusting in Him to take care of it all because we can’t. Whatever He tells you to do, do it. That sounds like a Law statement. It isn’t.
There is something here also of agency. Like unto the 3rd day detail and the significant fact that they are at a wedding, the Lord uses deacons for this work. The word deacon, of course, just means servant. It is jargon word, a normal word taken over by the Church. At the time of the wedding, it just meant servant. Still, at the time John wrote this, it had become jargon and would have been heard as such by John’s readers in Greek. A deacon was not just any servant. He was a servant in the church, a man set aside by the Word of God, prayer, and the laying on of hands for the work of the Holy Ministry. The Lord doesn’t touch the water or vessels, nor does He take it to the stewards. He simply tells the deacons what to do. And in doing what He says they do both what He says and also what St. Mary says. They fill the jars with wine, draw some out and give it to the saints to drink.
The poor will be with you always. You will suffer hunger, wars, and rumors of war to the very end – no matter how hard you work and how many people you help. The Lord’s ethic is to enjoy what is before you, what He has given, while it is here. “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when He is taken away from them, and then they will.” This same ethic shows up in Romans 12: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
This creation, in its joys as well as its sorrows, is temporary. Wine doesn’t last. Its pleasures are fleeting. That doesn’t mean it should be despised. Quit the contrary. It should be embraced as a gift and enjoyed in the moment. For whether we rejoice or weep, feast or fast, we are the Lord’s, and He showers His gifts, His love, upon us not according to our worthiness or potential for good, but out of His own generosity and love. He gives wine to drunks – on the third day – at a wedding – in Cana outside of Judah – with deacons. He gives wine to drunks.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen