Third Sunday of Epiphany 20th January 2019
Introduction and Call to Worship.
This Sunday continues the Epiphany theme of revelation. At Cana God is revealed in Christ as an extravagantly generous God, who has power to bring hope and life from the most unpromising situations.
First Reading Isaiah 62:1-5
The prophet tells the desolate and exiled people that God promises good things. Although their situation is desperate, the time is coming when they will rejoice.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Within the church community there are different sorts of gifts. No one person can embody them all, so we are called to discern the Spirit’s gifts in each other.
Gospel John 2:1-11
Jesus takes an unpromising situation and transforms it into a joyful party. His first miracle is one of abundance.
“But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10)
The popular writer of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, did not have a promising start to her glittering career. Now a multimillionaire and with several books and films behind her, her first novel was rejected by twelve publishers. One of Hollywood’s greatest stars, Fred Astaire, had a disastrous screen test and the notes to his audition said: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records because, their manager was told, guitar groups were “on the way out”. How many times must that executive have regretted his words!
The fact that we know what happened to J. K. Rowling, Fred Astaire and the Beatles can cause us to overlook their unpromising beginnings. We assume that their critics should have spotted their greatness instantly – we do, after all. But none of these was instantly famous; none was instantly wonderful, or entrancing or obviously talented, or they would have been snapped up immediately. Perseverance, self-belief and a slice of luck made the world see them otherwise, eventually, but it took time. The beginnings were not promising.
In today’s Gospel reading we encounter a deeply unpromising situation. A wedding has run out of wine – an unhappy circumstance even today, when the shops are always open and more can generally be bought. We can only imagine that this would have been a very distressing and embarrassing matter for the family throwing the party; their lack of forethought and apparent lack of generosity would have been noted. Jesus’ mother is a guest, as are Jesus and his disciples. When Mary tells Jesus that the wine has run out, his response is not encouraging. He tells her, in effect, that it is none of their business, adding, “My hour has not yet come.” Given that we know that he tends to speak of his coming crucifixion and death as “my hour”, these words may seem a little out of place at a wedding. When he does then speak to the servants, he tells them to fill the jars with water. Once again, this does not suggest anything wonderful, extraordinary or miraculous. There is no drama, no important-sounding words. Jesus does not go anywhere near the water jars, nor does he touch them. This miracle is so low-key and understated that what then happens to the water is utterly astonishing. The wine in the jars is not just wine, it is better wine than before. The shortfall has not simply been made up, there is an outrageous amount – six jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. That’s a lot of wine – enough to float a city, not keep a village party going for a few more hours. Nothing in the build-up has prepared us for a miracle of such extravagance. Everything has suggested failure and lack of promise; it is a real surprise.
Sometimes, we can offer God our whole heart, the fullness of our praise, and the best of our life, but most of us go through periods when what we are offering God seems meagre and unpromising. We are not prayerful enough, not loving or good enough – we think. It is, of course, right that we try to enlarge our love of God and our devotion to Christ, but we should not forget that God is often presented in scripture as the one who takes an unpromising situation, or a small amount, and transforms it into something wonderful. The crumbs of prayer, the thin attempt at praise, faith enfeebled by other cares and concerns. All of these, if offered willingly, are honoured.
What can God do with our life? What can God make of my half-hearted desire to serve or my seeming lack of talent? We do not know and we cannot know until we open our hearts to God and trust – and invite the miracle. If Jesus can take gallons of water and turn it into fine wine, then God can surely take whatever small stuff we offer and make it wonderful for the kingdom.
1. Famous people were not always recognised for the talents we see in hindsight.
2. At Cana, the situation looked unpromising and embarrassing. Even Jesus seems uninterested.
3. From such an unpromising beginning comes the unlikely miracle – far more wine than necessary.
4. When we offer to God our unpromising faith, God honours what we give and makes something wonderful from it.
Original text: ‘Living Word’ for Common Worship, Redemptorist Publications 2019.