✠ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
What do you do when the wine runs out? Which is to say, what do you do when the things that brought you pleasure or contentment have reached their end, when the good times are no longer merrily rolling along like they used to and like you assumed they would continue to? After a long stretch of comfort and ease, sometimes the bottom drops out of life, the happy times turn to sad times, and the joy of life turns to heartache. Then what? Just like Cana’s wedding feast was thrown into crisis by this relatively minor embarrassment, we know that it doesn’t always take much to throw our lives out of whack and put us over the edge, to create stress and anxiety and even desperation. And, of course, sometimes the stuff we’re confronted with is not so minor–financial troubles, broken relationships, a bad diagnosis, the sudden death of a loved one. What do you do when the wine runs out?
The mother of our Lord shows us the way here. Whether your concern is something big or something small, the place to turn is to her Son and to trust in Him even when He doesn’t appear at first to care. Mary knew well who her Son was, how He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, how He was the Son of God and the Savior. The angel had told her that, and the shepherds. Simeon had spoken of an hour when a sword would pierce her soul, a mysterious reference to her Son’s death.
But Jesus’ hour had not yet come there in Cana. The countdown had begun at Jesus’ baptism. He had three years to live. He knew His time was short. The clock was ticking, the battle with the devil had been joined, and He was on His way to redeem fallen mankind. And then Mary comes at Him with this trivial request, “They have no wine.” He had a mission to fulfill from His Father. What did it matter to Him if this wedding reception wasn’t quite as spectacular and successful as the planners had hoped, and the bar ran out of supplies?
So Jesus answers his mother rather abruptly and seems to reject her request. He really says something worse then “no.” He says it’s not His concern. And yet, Mary believed. She believed that despite Jesus’ seeming apathy about the whole matter, He would still be the One who Helps. She clung to that truth about her Son; this is what He does–He rescues and helps. That faith is perhaps an even greater miracle of God than turning water into wine. After all water gets turned into wine all the time in vineyards and wineries. It just takes a few months.
The mother of our Lord could hardly have been more indirect with her request, “They have no wine.” It really wasn’t a request at all; just stating a fact. The petition was only implied– sort of like a mother telling her husband or children, “The garbage is full” or “Your bed hasn’t been made.” What Jesus’ mother was saying of course was: “Do something about this problem.” Jesus knew what she meant. And despite appearances, He does not ignore His beloved mother, even as He does not ignore us because of our shyness about praying or our fearfulness or our lack of adequate words. He hears the prayers of His people. He knows what we want and what we need. And, most importantly, He knows what is good.
Jesus is not rude to His mother, but He is direct: “What does your concern have to do with Me?” which is to say, “I’ve got bigger things on my plate. How is this My problem?” Not only was this request inconsequential, the people at this party were probably already a little tipsy, anyway. They didn’t need more wine. Nor would they appreciate it. And some of them would surely overdo it. Who knows what evil would result from more wine. So whatever it was that Mary was hoping for, at first she was denied. Jesus did not offer to run to the liquor store. He did not lament the sadness of a poorly planned wedding and an embarrassed couple. He did not even bother to lecture her on moderation. He simply told her that her concern and her request were insignificant in the face of His looming betrayal and suffering and death.
But her response to this rebuke couldn’t be better. She believed. Despite the rejection, she believed that Jesus was good, that Jesus would rescue her and the couple in some way. Because that is what Jesus does. That is who Jesus is. This is His story: He is always rescuing people. So despite the rejection, she believes that nothing, nothing that concerns her is outside of His concern, that no request she makes is actually trivial, and that He hears her and answers her every prayer. With perfect faith she gives the servants the best advice the world has ever heard: “Whatever He says to you, do it.” And what a surprise He has in store.
He gives them wine like the world has never known. The volume was somewhere around 150 gallons of wine. So we’re talking hundred and hundreds of bottles of wine. As to the quality, we can only imagine, though we know it was better than the good wine the bridegroom provided at the beginning, the stuff used for their champagne toast. Jesus gave them the best wine, and an awful lot of it, more than they could have consumed in a single night. And so what if some was abused and some was wasted and some was thought to have come from the bridegroom? God gives His gifts to people for them to enjoy them. He never gives His gifts in hopes that we’ll attach a plaque and remember Him or send a thank you note. He does not do these things for His pleasure, because it makes Him feel good to help. He does them for us, because we have need, because He delights in making our hearts glad. He was not in Cana merely to enjoy Himself. He was there for the wedding, to give of Himself, to provide His blessing; for that is what we truly need.
And so to this day we rightly pray with Lady Israel, in the way of the blessed Mother of Our God: “They have no wine.” None of our prayers are trivial to Him. It’s good to lament to Him and to look to Him for everything: “This life is hard, Lord. I am sad and tired. I am unmotivated and frustrated. I am angry. I wish, O God, that the world was not always undermining and corrupting what is good. I wish my job was better, that my home life was more peaceful. I wish that these annoying pains in my body would go away. I wish that I could just have a good night’s sleep. I wish, O God, that there was more wine.”
And what does God say to our little petitions? It seems, more often than not at first, that what concerns us doesn’t really concern Him. But we learn in today’s Gospel to trust Him still. He never ignores His beloved for whom He laid down His life. He will do what is good. He will do what is right. He will surprise you. Pray away, in boldness and confidence. Nothing is insignificant to Him if it concerns you, His baptized people. And if He holds out for a while, do not despair. If you wait long enough and seek your Lord’s help through your troubles, you will find that the last wine is better than the first. All your prayers are answered “Yes” in Him.
The Gospel says that Jesus manifested His glory in this miracle. But John points to an even greater glory of which this miracle was a sign. In John 12, Jesus refers to His looming crucifixion when He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” It is the glory of Christ to give Himself for you in love, to sacrifice His life that you might live. It was water and wine that were poured out at Cana. But at Calvary it was water and blood that flowed from Christ’s side to sanctify and cleanse you, that you should be holy and without blemish. Christ loves you as a groom loves His bride. He gave Himself up for you that you might be raised up with Him.
There will always be a lack in this world. Things will always come up short in the end., just like we ourselves do, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The wine will always run out. But Jesus came precisely to redeem this sin-cursed world which fails us, and to make all things new and right again. That’s why it is prophesied in Amos that in the new creation to come, “The mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” By the death and resurrection of Christ on the third day–as this miracle occurred on the third day–you are redeemed and restored and given to share in His glory.
God is good. He knows you and what is good for you. He will not fail. You will have wine, your heart will be glad–if not now in all the fullness you desire, then you will have it in the Kingdom to come. In the meantime, while you wait, remember Mary’s words to the servants. “Do whatever He tells you.” What He tells you is: “Take, eat. Drink of it, all of you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” Eat the Body of Jesus. Drink His Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Hear the Word of absolution and have the balm of His resurrection applied generously to your heart. For this Lord of Life loves you. It is written, “As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”
Dear bride of Christ, both at Cana and this very day, our Lord has saved the choice wine for last. He has given His best, and it is all for you. The servants knew. The disciples believed. Let us be numbered among them. For it is written, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9)
✠ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to Erik Rottman and David Petersen)