Would Jesus have occupied Wall Street? That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out all week. The Jesus we meet in the Gospels often stands in solidarity with the poor; he speaks truth to power. I don’t know if Jesus ever carried a placard and marched in a protest, but he did do some civil disobedience on occasion. So, if he were here on earth today, he might be toting a sign through the financial district. I’m just not clear enough yet about this current “occupation” to have a clear sense of what a faithful person should be doing about, with, or in it. At this point, I don’t know whether Jesus would have occupied Wall Street.
Regardless of what Jesus might do in New York City today, we learn a lot from what he did do at a wedding in 1st century Judea.
Here’s what’s happened in the story thus far. John has introduced the whole thing by reminding us that Jesus came from God, that Jesus always has been with God. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” Then, John says, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, as they liked to say in the 60s, “God put some skin on.” The theological word for this “enfleshment” is incarnation. In-the-flesh actions that reveal God…John calls those actions “signs.” So when Jesus does one of these signs, he reveals God to us. And the sign we get today is the very first sign Jesus does in the book of John: he turns water to wine. At a wedding.
Jesus, his family, and the disciples have been invited to a wedding. As sometimes happens at these gatherings, the wine runs out. Jesus’ mom comes to him and says, “They have no wine.”
There’s all kinds of speculation about why Mary came to Jesus. Had she been seeing his little miracles all along and thought he could remedy the situation? Was she wanting him to show off a little so she could claim some Mama-pride? Clarence Jordan has an interesting take on this question of Jesus’ Mama’s request. He says she came to Jesus because his disciples were the ones who drank up all the wine. Not so much a “Show us what you can do, Son,” as “Those disciples of yours are a thirsty bunch. You’d better run down to the 7-11 and get some more wine…You can just get that kind in the box. They’ve drunk enough by now that nobody will care.”
In the English translation, Jesus’ response comes off sounding testy. “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?” In the original Greek, the response isn’t rude at all. It’s more: “Ma’am, why is that our concern?” Then he says, “My hour has not yet come.” What hour is that? It’s the hour when he’s going to start doing signs that reveal God. “Mama, I’m going to start working tomorrow. Today, just let me enjoy this wedding party.”
But just then, Jesus spots 6 water jugs, the kind that were used for purification… basically, that means they were the foot bowls where people washed their feet before they entered the house. Jesus sees these 6 jugs and a light bulb clicks on. “Oh! What a great opportunity for a sign!” He couldn’t help it. That’s just how Messiahs think. Where normal people would have seen water bowls, he saw sermon illustrations.
Anyway, Jesus tells the people there to “fill the jugs with water”…which means what? They weren’t full, right? So, you’ve got half-full water jugs. And how many jugs was it? Six. In Jewish faith, the number of completion was seven. So, you’ve got six—not seven—half-filled jugs, the epitome of incompleteness. Now, you understand that there wasn’t some law that said you have to have seven foot-washing jars and that you should keep them full…nothing like that. No, Jesus just saw these jars, noticed there were six and that they were half full and took advantage of the situation to make a point, to draw a picture, to tell a story, to act out a “parable,” if you will.
So, he tells the people nearby to fill up the jugs, which they do–“to the brim,” John tells us. By the time the filling’s done, those jars are as full as they possibly can be. Then he says to draw out some water and take it to the steward. You know the rest. By the time the cup reaches the steward, that foot-washing water has turned into wine…and not just any wine, but the best wine. The steward says to the bridegroom, “Usually people serve the good wine first, then, after everyone’s had a few, they bring out the boxed stuff. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
Okay. How many of you tuned out the minute I mentioned water turning to wine? Water into wine? That’s just not possible. Wine comes from grapes, not water. H2O does not wine make! If it did? Our fund-raising problems would be solved, right?
If you’re focusing on the how-water-could-turn-into-wine question, quit it. If we get bogged down with the science of this sign, we’re going to miss the point and miss it badly. The point of this story is not some scientific oddity in first century Palestine. The point of this story is what it reveals about God.
So, what was Jesus trying to reveal about God in this action, this lived-out parable, this sign? Six jars, not seven. Incomplete. Half-filled jugs. Again, incomplete. Jesus begins his ministry by saying that the way the people had been understanding God to that point hadn’t been complete. It’s true the’d spent millennia learning about and worshiping God… but as rich as that experience had been, Jesus was showing people that what they thought had been the good wine had been only a foretaste of what was to come. What they thought had been sufficient water, was only a drop in the bucket compared to what God wanted to give them. In this sign, Jesus used the materials at hand to demonstrate a deep, spiritual truth: And that truth was this: God is bursting on the scene in a brand new and amazingly generous way. God’s grace is rich and abundant… and it’s here right now!
That’s some good stuff Jesus was revealing about God in that sign of the wedding wine. Excellent story. But the question remains: Would Jesus have occupied Wall Street? If he were here today, would protesting on Wall Street be one of Jesus’ signs?
Personally, I don’t know. I do know that Jesus advocated for economic justice. “Sell all you have and give to the poor,” he told the rich young ruler. I do know that he stood in solidarity with the poor. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” I do know that Jesus spoke truth to power on many occasions, an activity that eventually got him killed. What I’m not sure about is whether he would have marched with one of those homemade picket signs in the world’s largest financial district. If Jesus were here today, I’m not sure what signs he’d be using to show us God.
But maybe wondering what Jesus would do if he were dwelling among us today isn’t the real issue. In fact, it could be that wondering what Jesus would do if he were dwelling among us today keeps us from dealing with the real issue. It’s great to see how Jesus showed us God in the first century…especially when the God he showed us is generous and gracious and joyous and takes such delight in us. But if we leave it at that, as a nice story written in the first century, what good is it? Yes, Jesus did this sign, he acted out just who God is for those first century people…so what? Is the real issue what Jesus did 2,000 years ago?
Or is the real issue what we are going to do in the next minutes, hours, days, months, years? In today’s story Jesus performed a sign, he became a sign… a sign that showed with clarity just who God is. Here, I think, is the real issue, the real question: How might we become signs that reveal God to those around us?
If you read the Pilgrimage devotion this past Wednesday, you know that former member Rachel Small joined the “occupation” on Wall Street. On the eve of her participation, Rachel shared these thoughts. “I am aware … that these rallies are not really good tools for changing hearts or minds. They are excellent tools for boosting the spirits of like-minded people. When nonviolent action is taken that challenges the status quo, they can also be really good tools for getting a message into coverage by the media. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for with signs and protests is to rouse the apathetic into caring.
“But as long as there is a stark us-vs.-them attitude of dueling placards, hearts and minds will not be changed. The change happens when people of different minds build trusting relationships with each other and begin to hear each other’s stories. Change happens when empathy, not righteous anger, is aroused in the other. It happens when we humble ourselves enough to see God in the other, and to allow them to see God through us. It is much harder than making a sign. It is lifelong work, to which we have all been called.”
Making signs is fine, sometimes even important…but the harder work, as Rachel says and as Jesus demonstrated at that wedding in Cana, the harder work is being a sign; the harder work is “allowing others to see God through us.” We might write “God loves you” on a sign, but listening to someone with whom we disagree might show God’s love more clearly. We might tell others God loves them, but how much more loudly might our lives speak if we acted out that love?
At that wedding in Cana—or Canton, Georgia in the Cotton Patch Version—Jesus used the materials at hand—just a few old foot washing bowls—and acted out a parable of the abundance of God’s love and grace. That’s what Jesus did—He used what was there and used it to show people God. As we survey the world around us, what might we use to reveal God’s love to others? What simple action might demonstrate the depth of God’s concern for all people? How might we show others the abundance of God’s love and grace? How might WE become signs of God?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011