In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Whether we are in danger of it or not, St. John doesn’t want us to forget the significance of Cana. It is the place of Our Lord’s first miracle, of water turned to wine.
That is a strange miracle, one of the least practical if not the most impractical, and certainly the most given to abuse. The wedding guests were well drunk when Our Lord provided more wine. Its beauty and nuance were lost on them.
In contrast, the healing of the nobleman’s son seems immanently practical. This is the sort of miracle Americans like. The kid was sick, dying, so heal him. That is real. That is important. That is not fancy wine wasted on drunks.
You might get a grant from the Lutheran Foundation to help sick kids, if you cooperate with the Methodists, but you will never get a grant to provide Cakebread to sem students.
Yet John sees a connection between the two miracles. He practically begs us to explore it. And the wine miracle is the more significant because it gives meaning to the healing and not the other way around. Every two-bit charlatan claims to heal people. Only Jesus produces superfluous wine of the greatest vintage and gives it to people who don’t and can’t appreciate it.
Both miracles are miracles of laughter and joy. Because children are the number one producers, both in themselves and in others, of laughter, and God has given wine to make glad the hearts of men. This isn’t just pity for a sick kid. It is pity also for the father. Its aim is to restore laughter to a house gone silent with fear and regret, like the giving of wine.
The wedding in Cana had a rebuke of St. Mary. “Woman, what has that to do with Me? My time has not yet come.” The whole crowd gets blasted for the nobleman’s request: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Yet St. Mary responds in faith, telling the servants, “Whatever He tells you to do, do it,” which is always good advice, so long as He is always Jesus. The nobleman likewise responds in faith. He “believed the Word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” I wonder what Walther would make of these faith responses to Our Lord’s rebukes.
But the great alliance in these miracles is that they both have something of a delay in them and of distance. At the wedding the servants are told to put water into the jars and then take them to the master of the feast. The master tastes the wine, without knowing what happened, and assumes the bridegroom is an idiot. The Word of Jesus heals the nobleman’s son in Capernaum. But there is no internet connection, telegraphs, or even smoke signals. So the attendants in Capernaum don’t know how it happened. They only know that it did happen and the hour. They must think the nobleman has gone off on a fool’s errand to fetch a miracle worker when one is no longer needed.
Our Lord’s reluctance to be a miracle worker is evident in both but more explicit in the second. Indeed, there is something like a mother’s anger in the rebuke: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe.” You might say it wasn’t anger. It was disappointment or frustration. But if you’ve ever brought home a report card with an “F” and be on the stinging end of a mother’s disappointment or frustration, you will know that from that end it is absolutely indistinguishable from anger. And which of us has never been yelled at by a yeller who did not raise his voice?
Don’t try to be a PR agent for God. He doesn’t need your help. In fact, it is this exact unbeleiving tendency to apologize for God, or explain Him away, that is the most responsible for heresy in the history of the Church. It is also blasphemous, as though you are nicer than God. Don’t do it.
In any case, the Lord does not really want to heal the nobleman’s son or provide wine at the wedding. But in both cases, He relents. He is moved by compassion. He is like a mother who tells her child “no, you can’t have a candy bar,” who then gives her child a candy bar anyway.
We fallen parents do that because we are weak. We are wore down. We want the kids to be quiet and quit begging. We do it, but we resent it, and wish we hadn’t. We wish we were more consistent, mpre patient, better parents. Or we do it because we feel guilty, because we know life is hard on these kids since we divorced their dad or since we don’t spend enough time with them or because we know we’ve just not been the parents that we should be. Or just because we want the kid to have some joy in his life and are hoping that somehow we can buy that for him with a candy bar. We do it because we are weak. The children beg, nag, and act shamefully, and our response is wrong and unhelpful.
But Our Lord is different from us. We beg, nag, and act shamefully, worse than children throwing a fit, but His compassion is legit and has no weakness. Because He has no guile. He is selfless. He does not want to be a miracle worker, not because He lacks compassion or doesn’t think we deserve it, but because He does not want to rot our teeth, which is to say that if He performs too many miracles He will spoil us and it will not be for our good. If He performs too many miracles we will lose sight of His mission and our real need. We will demand a bread king, one who meets our felt needs, one who looks and acts like us and lets us sing of favorite songs in church and strokes our egos along the way. That is a well-worn path to Hell. And Jesus is too wise to lead us down it.
The healing and joy that Our Lord brings is not so much for this life as it is for the next. The joy we have now is proleptic, anticipatory, based on the forgiveness of sins we have now and the promise for the future when our justification will match of sanctification, when we will not only be declared holy but will be holy in every way. The Lord Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, Creator of all things, has come to be a Sacrifice. He has come to suffer a bloody death, to become sin and a curse, to be forsaken by His Father as punishment for our sins. This is the Word that requires faith: “Your son will live.” It is true for all the baptized sons, even if those who have buried in the earth. This is the word that Jesus speaks still: “You and your sons will live because I live and have overcome death.”
So put that in your pocket. Or write it on your doorposts. Or make it your I-Phone wall-paper. Because that is a Word that brings comfort and joy in a world still full of chaos, temptation, pain, and death. Jesus lives so that you and your sons will live.
Jesus bestows the wine of His Holy Spirit that makes glad the hearts of men in the forgiveness of sins for He has reconciled all the world to His Father in order to have you. “Whatever He tells you to do, do it,” says St. Mary, prototype of the Church, icon of motherhood, first of the saints. “Whatever He tells you to do, do it.” He tells you, “Fill the Chalice with wine, not water, and take it to the Bride, not the master. For I give her my best vintage: My Blood shed for her in a Holy Sacrifice, a guilt and a peace offering. You put in wine. She drinks Blood, she drinks of My Holy Spirit and I cut with her a New Covenant. Her sins are forgiven and she is joined to Me that I might give her sons, sons who will live.”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen