I will not keep silent. Says the prophet Isaiah. I will not rest, he says, until the promises of God are fulfilled.My family and I returned from vacation Tuesday to news reports of the devastation in Haiti. I, like all of you, listened in shock to the reports of 10s of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands left without shelter, without food, without family. And within hours everyone realized…and on top of it all, there’s no running water. Knowing this was going to be on everyone’s hearts and minds I thought to myself “I have to preach Sunday I wonder what the Gospel text is …” when I realized it was the wedding at Cana I thought Great. Jesus at a big party making sure the wine flows freely. No one wants to hear that today. Not today. Nobody wants to hear a quaint little miracle story about how generous God is when poorest country in this hemisphere lays in even greater waste than it already did on Monday. Nobody wants to hear of an abundance of wine when people on the streets of Haiti are thirsty. Who dares speak of a party when our cantor Drew is mourning his friend Ben who died in a collapsed building in Port au Prince? When thousands of mothers are mourning their children?
This week’s events bring with them a lot of questions about God, and none of them have to do with parties. One atheist blog I read this week sneeringly used the earthquake to make a case against believing in God at all. The writer implying that he could not believe in a God who would inflict such suffering on so many people, which made me admit that according to that definition I must be an atheist too because I don’t believe in that God either.
But after reading the wedding in Cana story over and over again this week I realized that I think Mary, the distraught mother of our Lord , might just be the key to seeing how this text speaks to our mourning and confusion and the death and suffering this week has brought to so many.
Our Gospel text for today has what sounds to us to be a rather abrupt and somewhat awkward interaction between Jesus and his mother. They’re at a wedding when Mary looks to her son and says the wine has run out. “Woman” Jesus says to his mother seemingly dismissive and perhaps even disrespectful, “my hour has not yet come” To which Mary is like oh yeah? too bad. Ok she didn’t really say that, but she did simply turn to the servant and said “do whatever he tells you”
Mary tugs at the shirt of God and says I will not keep silent. I will obey you and I will tell others to obey you but I will not keep silent. People are thirsty. See, In John’s gospel Mary is not the young virgin pondering sweet things in her heart. In John’s Gospel Mary is not surrounded by singing angels. She is never even mentioned by name. She is simply “the mother of Jesus” And she shows up exactly twice in the entire book.
So Mary stands here in a long line of prophets who have not stayed silent. The prophet Mary stands and says Lord, we’ve run out of wine and people are thirsty.
And Jesus hears her. So Jesus does this crazy thing: He could have filled the actual wine jugs up with water to be turned to wine. That would have been the logical miracle (if there is such a thing). Instead, Jesus takes 6 ceremonial purification jars and has THOSE filled with water to turn into wine. Purification Jars used in his own religion, the religion he grew up in the religion of his own family.
Jesus transforms this purification water into the wine of a new creation, the wine of a radical new family.
They are thirsty says his mother. And Jesus responds. But he responds in an almost embarrassingly excessive way. 180 gallons. Surely that’s too much. But that’s how Jesus is. 180 gallons of fine wine which…go back and check…is not called a miracle in John but a sign. It’s a sign of what God is doing in Jesus, namely that the very abundance of this gift means that maybe it’s not meant only for you and me. I mean we can try and keep 180 gallons of wine for ourselves but it will just become something we like to call “vinegar” unless it’s shared. In Jesus God is reconciling all creation to God’s self, not just his own religion and his own people, something today we might call “having really bad boundaries”I think this is why Mary is called “woman”. He refused to abide by society or religion’s definitions of good and bad and pure and impure and family and stranger and who is in and who is out. His own mother is another woman, Like every other woman, every suffering mother.
So, Mary only shows up twice in John’s Gospel and both times her son calls her “woman. “ Once is here at the wedding when she refuses to be silent because people are thirsty. The other is when she stands at the foot of the cross. She watches as her son and her Lord hangs innocent from a cross with the weight of the world’s suffering tearing his very flesh.
This is our God. Not a distant judge cruelly indifferent to our pain and not some monster causing calamity, but a God who weep. A God who suffers not only for us but with us. Nowhere is the presence of God amidst suffering more salient than on the cross. Therefore what can we do but confess that this is not a God who causes suffering. This is a God who bears suffering. God does not initiate suffering…God transforms it.
It is suffering transformed which we see on the cross when again Christ calls his mother “woman” and initiates an adoption between her and the beloved disciple. This is the new kinship we all share. A kinship in which our identity is not based on country, blood, or religion but on our belovedness as God’s children.That passage in John reads like this:
standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, “I am thirsty.”I am thirsty he says. I am not watching this from a distant heaven. Jesus says I too am thirsty.
As we hear the cry of our Hatian brothers and sisters let us discern the other voice we hear with them…that of Christ saying I am thirsty.
The reports that came in that first 24 hours following the quake said that When night fell on the streets of Port AU Prince people were singing hymns and psalms. Blessed be God, they sang. People were singing praises to God amidst their entire world destroyed.
Pat Robertson is wrong by the way. There is no reason for this destruction – but there IS meaning. And this meaning is to be found as we again become the human family of God’s new creation without country, religion, boundary or race to divide us. In this moment to the extent that we take up the responsibility of a mother caring for her son, a son for his mother,….In this moment to the extent that we act like Jesus and love and care for those suffering from the earthquake as if they are our own beloved family, we are all Haiti.
So we, with Mary, tug on the shirt of God and say we have run out Lord. We need wine. Good wine. Enough for all, flowing over. We too will not keep silent. We will join with the family of God in the singing of hymns and psalms. And then we will listen to Jesus’ command and fill some jars with water for the thirsty.
Blessed be God.