Wine, Woman, and Sign


"Wine, women, and song" is a saying that spans centuries and virtually every society. John has wine, but woman (singular) and it's a sign not a song. And it's more of a sign than the prophets, doomsayers, and pundits are proclaiming the Haitian earthquake to be.

John chapter 1 says Jesus' first disciples were former disciples of John the Baptist who didn't drink wine and ate locusts and honey for food. The first place Jesus takes the former disciples of a teetotaler and dieter is a wedding reception! No hell fire or brimstone preaching here. No calling people snakes and hypocrites. No axes being laid at trees, just lots of food and wine. Well, not enough wine; more about that later.

Though our text ends with, "Jesus thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him," don't think the disciples of the fasting John had no problems with the feasting Jesus. Even as Peter could believe one minute and deny the next; even as after Easter Matthew can report, "When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted;" so here John isn't saying that once they followed Jesus they never looked back. We know this isn't what happened. After Cana, the disciples returned to their trade of fishing, and had to be called again. The shock of going from one who drank no wine to One who made 909 bottles worth was too much. Jesus tells us in Luke 7 what the disciples were up against. He describes how the people reacted to Him over against John. "For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wineThe Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard.'"

Let's talk about the "drunkard" part. The insert's translation is unfortunate. It says, "after the guests have had too much to drink" the cheaper wine is served. The master of the banquet really says, "Whenever the guests have drunken freely." It does not mean there was drunkenness at this wedding; there was, however, a crisis. Running out of wine wasn't just a social embarrassment. It could lead to financial ruin for the bridegroom's family. They had an obligation to put on a marriage feast at a certain level; if they failed to they could be sued (Morris, the Gospel According to John, 177).

What's to be done? Jesus does wonders with what's there. John tells us this is the first of Jesus' signs that revealed His glory. Jesus is the Prophet Moses told the people thousands of years ago they were to expect. What was one of the first signs Moses did so the people would believe God had sent him to deliver them? Turning water into blood. The Prophet Moses told them to expect turns water into wine not blood.

Our text features a woman, not women. It's Mary, Jesus' mother. The insert has Jesus calling her "Dear woman," the word "dear" isn't there, but something like that thought is. From the cross Jesus calls Mary "woman." He says to weeping Mary Magdalene, "Woman why do you weep?" To the woman with back trouble Jesus says, "Woman you are loosed from your infirmity." The definitive Liddell-Scott Greek lexicon says the Greek word in this form is a term of respect and affection. Augustus addressed Cleopatra "woman." But still Jesus calls her "woman" not "mother." Not harshness or disrespect are here, but distance is. There is a new relationship between them now that He has entered His public ministry.

There is rebuke in Jesus' words, just not in the word "woman." Mary is interfering in His ministry. She thinks He should do something about the wine. Some say she is suggesting Jesus and His disciples ought to leave, so the wine will last longer. There may be merit to this. Notice the text says Jesus' "mother was there," but "Jesus and His disciples had also been invited." Mary might have had hostessing duties.

Whatever Mary's capacity, she gets a rebuke that shows the great distance between her and Jesus' ministry. Jesus asks literally, "What to Me and to you?" which means "What do we have in common?" In O.T. Greek it means "Why are you interfering with me" (Marshall, Commentary on Luke, 193)? Even though questions are often used to take the edge of things, "Is that your business?" is gentler than saying, "That's none of your business," here Jesus is saying in a pointed way mother and Son don't have a team ministry. What Jesus says to Mary is exactly how a demon in Luke 4 expresses that Jesus has nothing in common with him.

So here at last in this text of wine and a woman, we have come to the law. It's not only Mary who interferes with the ministry of Jesus, but us too. How often have I thought that this or that ought to be done in the church, in the government, in my family, in the world? How often have I thought what people need is vinegar and grasshoppers rather than wine and feasting? How often I've known, been absolutely positive, what Jesus should do in this or that situation? How often I've been disappointed even to despairing at what Jesus did do in a situation?

Is this law getting you? If Jesus brooks no interference from His own mother, don't think He will put up with any from you. You are playing god when you know what should be done in a situation where the Bible doesn't speak. You can know that repentance is needed where sin is; that faith in forgiveness is needed where absolution is, but in all the manifold situations in church, state, home, and life where the Bible doesn't direct what must happen, you are playing god when you know what God ought to do. The true God tolerates no pretenders to the throne.

So what's the sign here? The sign is that Jesus isn't another Moses. He didn't come to give a new set of laws. This is what I always I think when things aren't working in church, state, or home. What is needed is more laws. This is the default setting of every fallen person because the opinion of the law is hardwired into our circuits since the Fall. Our problems always involve failing to do the right or doing the wrong, so the solution to us is "to do" differently. Laws tells us what to do and not do.

John, however, went out of his way in chapter 1 to point out Jesus wasn't another Moses bringing more Laws to bear on the situation. In 1:17 we read, "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." And in the verse before we read that of Jesus' fullness "we have all received, grace for grace." Jesus didn't come to teach you how to live, to give you purpose, or to make you better. He came to do what Moses and the Law could never, ever do: to save you. Moses came giving blood for water; Jesus came giving water for wine and wine for Blood. Follow me.

There were 6 water pots at this wedding used not for Jewish ceremonial washings as the insert says but, as the ESV translates, "for the Jewish rites of purification." From jars that held water which couldn't purify one soul, cleanse one conscience, forgive one sin, Jesus brings forth wine. Now wine purifies nothing either, but at the end of His ministry, Jesus will use Wine to give sinners His Blood that purifies, cleans, forgives. Moses took water and made it blood which no one could drink. Jesus takes water makes it wine and then uses the wine to give sinners the very same blood He shed on the cross for their sins. He gives His holy blood for wine that people can drink.

This is a sign that Jesus' glory is to help in His own way. The people need wine and Jesus sends for water. We know that Jesus isn't just going to use wine to continue the festivities. We know eventually He will use wine to give His blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation, but nobody knows that when Jesus says, "Fill the jars with water." And you don't know how Jesus is helping when you need health and Jesus sends for sickness; you need peace at home and Jesus sends for more strife; you need life and Jesus sends death into your life. Or Haiti needs an economy and He sends an earthquake.

Here's where Mary shines. After Jesus puts her in her place, she says to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you?" We know even better than Mary how Jesus does the extraordinary with the ordinary. We know wine is going to come from this water; we know sight will come from spit and mud; we know tax money will come from a fish, and that from the dead body of Jesus sacrificed for our sins will come Water for our baptismal font and Blood for our chalice. So when you see Jesus sending for the opposite of what you think, what you know is needed, it is a sign that His thoughts and ways while not your thoughts and ways are better by far.

The water into wine is a sign in another way: Jesus helps in His own time. This is another strand worth unraveling in John's Gospel. Jesus says not "My time has not yet come," but "My hour." Again in 7:6 Jesus will say His hour hasn't come. Then in 7:30 and 8:20 John says Jesus escapes from death because His hour has not yet come. In our text, Jesus says more than it's not time for Him to help with the wine. All of these "My hour has not yet come" phrases are related. They all run to the beginning of Holy Week where on Palm Sunday Jesus announces that the hour has come for Him to be glorified by suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world.

All of the hours when the wine of deliverance doesn't come as soon as we think, when what is sent for seems the opposite of what is needed all these hours lead to the cross where Jesus hangs crucified for us and our salvation. To the cross is where God wants all of the hours, even the minutes that pass like hours, to lead us. Not to despair, not to giving in, not to giving up, but to the cross where God's glory is to bear the pain, the death, the damnation you deserve. So when the hours do drag or you're afraid of them, it is a sign to go to the cross and see that from the Body of Jesus Blood turns into Wine and Water that can deliver your from every evil of body and soul.

Luther is credited by some with saying something like, "Who does not love wine, women and song / Remains a fool his whole life long." A bigger fool is one who doesn't follow a sign to where it really points. Luke 13 tells us disasters are signs for us to repent. Matthew 24 and Mark 13 tell us earthquakes are one among other signs indicating that this world is passing away to give birth to one that doesn't. The wine and the woman here are a Gospel sign. They point to the Savior who helps in His own way at His own time using ordinary things to give extraordinary gifts. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (20100117); John 2: 1-11