Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."  And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come."   John 2:3-4

     One of my favorite ways of engaging scripture is to play the game "What's Weird With This Text?"  There is almost always something that doesn't fit in with the rest of the story, with our assumptions of its characters, with what looks to be its message or proper moral.  We may think the Bible is filled with the simple and the obvious (or the wholly obscure).  But the deeper you go and the more liberty you give yourself to ask questions, the more surprising is scripture at every turn.   I find when you enter into any biblical story at its surprising place, a profound message you never expected rises up, and, quite often, a lot of really funny comedy. 

 He Qi

He Qi

      Take for example "The Wedding at Cana" found in John 2.  It's typically embraced as one of the most beloved, and un-controversial, of gospel stories -- all about what happens when a wedding reception that Jesus is attending suddenly runs out of wine.  At the behest of his mother, Jesus turns six nearby jars of Jewish purification water into wine.  We're told it's the finest wine of all to the delight of all, we readers included.  What else can anyone say, but "Thanks be to God for Jesus the Son of God who has the ability to make all things new and better than before!  Who loves to party and celebrate life!  Who supports the institution of marriage!  Who listens to his mother!"

      Then there's what's weird about this scripture.

      As noted above, Jesus is not initially all that enthusiastic about acceding to his mother's request.  In fact, Dr. Doug Adams of the Pacific School of Religion suggests that Jesus' response ("Woman, what concern is that to you and me?" or "Woman, what have you to do with me?" in the King James version) is essentially the same as the demons' angry defiant snarl in Mark 1:24 ("What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?") as he proceeds to exorcise a poor man's body.  Essentially, the demons are saying "F#($ YOU JESUS!"  Could Jesus be saying the same?  And to his mom??

     Oh my!  That's very weird!!  Why would the Son of God say such a thing, and to his dear (if a bit meddlesome) mother??

 Glug glug glug....

Glug glug glug....

     Well, for one thing, perhaps it's because everyone at the party is probably already quite loaded.  Weddings in the ancient world were notorious "pull-out-all-the-stops" affairs (because life in those days was especially otherwise very difficult and dull).  Chances are everyone had already been drinking a good long time.  Maybe Jesus thought it was time for this party to end rather than keep things going and cause tomorrow's inevitable hangover to be that much more dreadful.

 Dionysus, the sort-of Jesus of Greek religion

Dionysus, the sort-of Jesus of Greek religion

     For another thing, if the expectation was that Jesus would turn the water into wine because he was the one with the supernatural power to do so, well, this was also a magical feat the Greek god Dionysus - the god of wine - was believed also able to do.  Jesus was often compared to the popular Dionysus for a number of reasons.  Maybe Jesus was fed up with this association.  After all, his mission was about a lot more than keeping the wine flowing.  As he proclaims following his brusque "NO!" to Mary's request, "My hour has not yet come....."

     What Dr. Adams suggests happens next is that Jesus, still quite riled, can't stop at his brusque "NO!" Appearing to change his mind, he tells the servants to fill the purification jars (containing water that had cleaned the guests dirty feet as they entering the party) with additional water, bringing things up to the brim.  "Here's your new wine!" Jesus proclaims.

      The chief steward (or master of ceremonies as he's sometimes described) goes crazy telling everyone how absolutely fabulous is this sudden additional and plenteous inebriant.  However, as Dr. Adams points out, the steward/emcee would have been considered part of the wedding party and, hence, been engaging in extended imbibing along with everyone else.  And, as you may know (and the steward is more than happy to loudly remind the wedding revelers), after you've been drinking awhile, you don't have a clue about the quality of what you're drinking next.

 Notice the depiction of the Cana chief steward here...looks like he's never been one to say no to a good party!  (Giotto)

Notice the depiction of the Cana chief steward here...looks like he's never been one to say no to a good party!  (Giotto)

     What if, in fact, Jesus never turned that water into wine but let everyone think that's what he'd done?  What if everyone, in their stupor, went ape over the new magical brew brought into their midst…that actually was just dirty water??

     As the text then says, no one knew where that new wine had come from (but the servants - who would not have been drinking) knew....

      Tee hee!  Tee hee!  How darkly hilarious does this scene suddenly become??? !!!

 El Greco

El Greco

     And, looking at the story in this way, how much more ably does it steer our focus ahead, to that point later in John's gospel, in Chapter 12, when Jesus announces "My hour has come."  He is about to enter into his passion, dying and rising from the cross.  It is this 'magical' act and astounding supernatural feat that Jesus came to earth to accomplish, and it's something God and only God can do. 

     What a profound and profoundly different message the John 2 text brings, entering into it via "the wierd place."  You may or may not agree with the conclusions drawn, but it does answer the usually unanswerable question about Jesus intense initial irascibility. 

     And, here in the middle of Holy Week, it offers greater poignancy to our journey with Jesus as he takes his last leg of his path to the cross fully focused, as he always was, on his purpose for being here.

    May it also empower our commitment to ours.