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Wine and Sign

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: John 2:1-11; Isaiah 55:1-5

            I have finally figured out why the Mona Lisa is smirking.

[Slide 1] A few years ago when I saw the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, I discovered that in room where the Mona Lisa is displayed, she is looking directly at a huge painting on the opposite wall. The painting is this: [Slide 2] The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese-a massive wall size depiction of Jesus turning water into wine. The detail in this painting is extraordinary. [Slide 3] In this one corner of the painting you can see the wine being poured and the glasses being filled and the party cranking up to full throttle. And right in the middle of it sits Jesus [Slide 4] with his mother just to his right. And if you look closely at Mary, [Slide 5] she is holding her empty hand as if ready for a refill.

            This story has never been popular with the temperance

movement. [Slide 6] I get that Jesus heals the sick and feeds the hungry. That makes sense. But does Jesus really think we all need more booze in our diet, especially after the wine stewardship suggests to the bridegroom that the guests are already sloshed? No wonder the Mona Lisa is smirking. [Slide 7]

            There are numerous questions to ask about this story. [Slide

8: Blank] Why does Jesus mother come to him when the wine runs out? Jesus wonders that himself when he says to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?" In effect he says, "Why do we care?" But then he says something odd. He says, "My hour has not yet come." What does that mean, and how is it relevant to this situation? But then Jesus changes his mind and provides the wine after all, over 120 gallons of it judging from the size of the jars.

            These questions have led to some bizarre interpretations of

the story. I read one interpretation that suggested the wine ran out because Jesus and his disciples were drinking so much. So Mary tries to get Jesus to come home by saying, "Come on, the wine has run out." But Jesus replies, "My hour has not yet come," meaning "I'm not through partying."

            Okay, so what is really going on in this story?  When a

story from the Bible makes no sense literally, we should entertain the possibility that it is symbolic. Let's start with verse 3: [Slide 9] "When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.'" You notice she did not ask him to make more wine; she simply commented on the situation. The wine has run out.

            During Mother Theresa's first visit to the United States she

was asked what she thought of the wealth and prosperity in America. She said, "I have never seen so many starving people." I don't think she was speaking literally. I suspect she saw more starving people in Calcutta than she did in America. She was speaking symbolically. She was talking about a spiritual condition, and so is John. [Slide 10: Blank]

            Some of you may remember a pitcher named Steve Howe.  Steve

broke into the majors in 1980 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he was the National League rookie of the year. The next year he led the Dodgers to the World Series Championship.

            But then things fell apart.  He fell into drugs and

drinking, and was suspended for the entire season in 1984. He was then traded to the Minnesota Twins, but in 1985 he quit the team and checked into St. Mary's rehabilitation center in Minneapolis.

            About this time he was interviewed on ABC's Nightline

program about his alcohol and drug abuse. In the interview he said, "My sole existence of what I did in life was what I did on the ballfield. When nothing else matters, and you don't feel that you're going to be able to perform up to your capabilities and someone gives you an avenue to deaden the pain ." then his voice trailed off. Commenting on Steve's life, one of his family members said,

You know what I think Steve's problem is? Everything he ever said he wanted to do, he's done. He's an ordinary kid who got everything he ever wished for. All his dreams came true, and it wasn't enough. (Quoted in The Idahonian, Oct. 8, 1985, p. 10)

            In other words, the wine ran out.  The wine always runs out.

That's why this story of the wedding at Cana is not just a story about having enough liquor at a party. It's a story about finding lasting meaning and fulfillment for your life.

            So now we come to Jesus' response in verse 4: [Slide 11] "My

hour has not yet come." What does this mean? In John's gospel the coming of Jesus' "hour" means the hour of his death and his subsequent resurrection. Here are a few references:

  • In John 7:30 Jesus gets into a controversy with the religious leaders, and John says, "Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come."

  • In John 12:23 Jesus uses the same expression when he says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." In John's gospel the hour of Jesus' glorification is the hour of his death and resurrection.

  • In John 13:1 John says, "Now before the Festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father."

    So what does Jesus' mean when he says to his mother, "Don't worry about the wine; my hour has not yet come." He means that our real need-the real wine of life-cannot be received until Jesus gives his life for us on the cross. Your real need cannot be met by more wine, more parties, more money, more possessions, more success, or even by more relationships, if those relationships do not include Jesus. Our real need can only be met when Jesus' hour comes-when his body is broken for us and his blood is shed for us on the cross.

    But if that is the case, why does Jesus turn around and produce more wine for the party-lots of it-and high quality stuff, too? Jesus does this because the wine is a sign. John says that clearly at the end. John 2:11: [Slide 12] "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him."

    In John's gospel, Jesus' miracles are not called miracles, they are called "signs." They are meant to point beyond the miracle to the truth it reveals about Jesus. Here are some examples: [Slide 13]

  • In John 4:54 after Jesus healed an official's son, John says, "Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee."

  • In John 6:14 after Jesus fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread, John says, "When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, 'This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.'"

  • In John 12:18 after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, John says, "It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went out to meet him."

  • [Slide 14] Near the end of the gospel in John 20:30-31, John says, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."

The giving of wine at Cana is a sign, not that we need more wine but that we need Jesus, for without him the wine will always give out. [Slide 15 Blank]

            There are a series of commercials you may have seen

advertising Kona Beer. The first one showed two Hawaiians sitting at a table eating and drinking beer, sort of a Hawaiian version of the wedding at Cana. One of them says to the camera: "Dear Mainland, Aloha. You seem to have a hard time leaving the office. You say, 'This work won't finish itself.' My brother and I would like to issue this rebuttal: This food, it won't eat itself. That girl, she won't kiss herself. And this Kona Beer, it's not going to drink itself. One life, right? Don't blow it."

            There is some interesting theology in that commercial.  One

life, right? That's true. But John tells us that you will not find fulfillment for that one life in beer, because the beer always runs out, and so does the life that goes with it. Your ultimate fulfillment, your lasting fulfillment must be found in Someone greater than beer. That's John's message. Don't blow it.

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7