Saturday, July 11, 2009

Crisis at Cana

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”

                        John 2.4

Our Living Example

We’re more apt to see Jesus as God than one of us. But one of His main purposes in taking on human flesh was to become human. The marvel of His sacrifice is seen in God’s lowering Himself to bear the sins of humanity. The wonder of His life, however, comes from His willingness to be born, to mature, and live an ordinary existence like ours. Philippians 2.8 explains it thusly: “[Christ] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” As our living example, Jesus deals with situations we all deal with—family, friends, financial pressures, housing issues, social and religious obligations, prejudice, personal loss, emotional conflicts, etc. Indeed, Hebrews 4.15 tells us He was “tempted in every way, just as we are.”

We remember the wedding at Cana most notably as the occasion of His first miracle, when He turns water into wine—in other words, as a “God” moment. Yet the circumstances leading up to His feat also reveal a very human moment in His life—a turning point, actually. While running out of wine at a party hardly can be viewed as a crisis (it might even be a good thing, if the guests have been over-served), there is a crisis at Cana we can learn from.

Unanticipated Need

You know the story. Jesus and His disciples escort His mother to a wedding. Over the course of the festivities the wine stops flowing. This concerns Mary, most likely out of embarrassment for the hosts, who’ll be criticized for not sufficiently providing for their guests. She turns to her Son, telling Him, “They’ve run out of wine.” Today, of course, we’d volunteer to dash to the local liquor store and pick up a few bottles. In Jesus’s time, though, wine is a commodity, much like gold or fuel. It’s part of each household’s financial reserve and not readily available for purchase. This fact exacerbates the situation, because the hosts’ inadequate supply also exposes their lack of wealth. Mary wants Jesus to do something not to keep the party going, but to spare the kind people who invited them any undue humiliation. Their crisis leads to a personal crisis for Him.

“What am I supposed to do?” Jesus asks Mary. “You know my time hasn’t come yet.” I love this, because it suggests the intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary continues into His adulthood. He’s confided God’s plan for Him. She’s tracking the moment for Him to reveal His miraculous gifts. She knows her request is premature. But here we also see parental maturity in action. Mary’s aware not stepping in to show compassion for His hosts will be something her Son will regret. Adhering to a timeline takes second place behind ministering to unanticipated need. Despite Jesus’s reluctance, she instructs the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” She forces Jesus into a dilemma. Does He disrespect His mother in public—an added thing He’ll be ashamed of—or does He jump-start His ministry on His hosts’ behalf? He spies six 20-30 gallon jars ordinarily used for bathing and dishwashing. He orders the servants to fill them with water. When their contents are decanted, they’ve been transformed into fine wine. The guests are floored, the hosts proud, and both crises—theirs and Jesus’s—averted.

Ready or Not

So often we view Christian formation as a timetable akin to secular education. We regard spiritual development in gradual stages, thinking some expressions of faith are appropriate for us while others are too “advanced.” For example, we may be at a point where everyday kindness comes easily, but we’ve got much more growing to do before we can fully forgive deep-seated wrongs against us. This perspective is not wrong. In fact, it’s a wise approach to take, as some believers make the mistake of attempting too much, too soon. We’re counseled in 1 Peter 2.1, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Like my own mother often reminds new Christians, “Learn to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.”

During our growth, though, we also happen on unanticipated needs we feel inadequately mature to address. We find ourselves facing a crisis at Cana. Our initial response may echo Jesus’s. “What am I supposed to do? My time hasn’t come.” Yet not doing what we can risks regret for having done nothing at all. Ready or not, we respond by faith, knowing the impossible for us permits God to prove what’s possible for Him. Forget presentation. All Jesus had to work with were kitchen jars. The immediate need left no time to impress the guests with fancy packaging. The pivotal moment comes at the story’s end.: “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (John 2.11) Cana crises can be intimidating. But if we rise to the need, God honors our willingness to serve. His glory is revealed in us, encouraging others to trust our witness.

We may not feel ready for what we’re asked to do, but God honors our willingness and reveals His glory in us. (Giusto de’ Manaboui: Marriage at Cana: 1376-78)

(Tomorrow: Stripes)


Sherry Peyton said...

Well done Tim. I'm often amazed at how in the moment of crisis, we tend to just put our head down and start doing. We continue to live moment to moment as we struggle through the "event." Only afterward are we sure that had we known the magnitude of what we had to do, we never could have begun. No doubt we are missing the fact that God helps us to only see what is directly before us at each moment, not allowing us to see the big picture.

I hadn't thought of this process as part of spiritual formation, but I think you make that point well.

Tim said...

Oddly enough, Sherry, my first impulse with the Cana story was reflecting on transformation--ordinary water into fine wine (a worthy topic in its own right). But the tension between Jesus and Mary leapt off the page. "What's going on here?" I wondered.

At first, I couldn't understand why Mary needed to be involved at all (no disrespect to her, of course). Why didn't Jesus just see the need and meet it? And then I realized how utterly human He was. He did see the need, but felt unprepared to address it. This may the one instance we have of watching Jesus "grow up" before our eyes. His submission to His mother's wishes straightens out His awareness of God's will by compelling Him, as you say, to put His head down and start doing.

You're so right: God's wisdom in confining our sight to what's in front of us is proven in its preventing us from seeing the big picture. If we knew what that was, we'd never get anything done because we'd be too terrified to start!

Lovely as ever to see you. Have a terrific weekend!