Unnecessary Miracles

Scripture:  John 2:1-11

I know it is still over six years away, and a lot can happen between now and then but our family has plans penciled in for the last couple of weeks of July 2028.   In July of that year Los Angeles will be hosting the Summer Olympics.   Abigail loves the Olympics and one of her life goals is to attend an Olympic event so she is planning on being there.   The Olympics, and other big sporting events like the World Cup, our a huge deal for the hosts countries and cities but they sometimes can be white elephants for the hosts and end up doing more harm than good.  A lot of times facilities have to be built for these events, and they do not always have the return on investment the hosts cities had hoped for.  Fortunately, Lose Angeles and surrounding areas in California already have a lot of the sports infrastructure in place.  Other countries have not been so lucky and this is has led to some construction mega-projects that end up being unnecessary.  In recent memory perhaps the most notable example of one of these unnecessary construction projects is the Arena da Amazonia built for the 2014 World Cup hosted by Brazil.  To get ready for the event, Brazil had to build twelve new stadiums around the country.  This included one in Manaus a populous but remote city located in the Amazon rainforest.  The 40,000 seat stadium took four years to build and cost $250 million.  Because of how remote Manaus is the only way to get large construction materials was to ship them by boat up the Amazon River, a process that took three weeks.  After all that cost and construction the stadium was completed but it was barely used.  Of the 64 games that made up the 2014 World Cup only four of them were played at the Arena de Amazonia.  The stadium was utilized again for the 2016 summer Olympics, but all told this stadium was used less than ten times for major sporting events.  Local teams cannot afford the maintenance and upkeep cost, so today the stadium sits mostly unused.   In hindsight it seems that both the world cup and Olympics could have worked without the construction of the stadium just fine and the whole project was a largely unnecessary expense and effort.

It feels like a similar argument could be built for this morning’s scripture.  Compared to Jesus’ other miracles the miracle from this morning’s scripture feels almost unnecessary.  After all, the prophet Isaiah declared the mission of the messiah to be “proclaiming good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the opposed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  A miracle that creates high quality wine to help a groom save face hardly seems to qualify.   In reading the scripture, it seems that even Jesus kind of agrees since his initial reaction was to say to Mary, “Woman why do you involve me?”  Perhaps one could argue that compared to all of Jesus’ other miracles the one recorded in this morning’s scripture is the most unnecessary, but the story here can still teach us how we can better serve and follow Jesus even if our actions feel unnecessary.

Perhaps more than other stories from the gospels, this morning’s scripture leads to a lot of questions.  For instance, the Holy Land is one of the most archeological explored places in the world, and we do not even know where this miracle took place.  There are four sites today that are proposed to be the location of the biblical Cana.  There is so much unknown about this scripture that it has led to a lot of speculation.  For instance, very little is known about the customs of first century weddings.  Since so little is explicitly stated inferences are made. The fact that this scripture mentions there is a role of master of the banquet implies that the weddings were more than a simply family get together.  This scripture also mentions the six stone jars, which were used for ceremonial washing.   Again scholars have inferred for that much water to be needed it meant that the wedding feast either had a large number of guests or it lasted for an extended period.  These “reading between the lines” observations have led biblical scholars to conclude wedding feasts were elaborate and important events in the first century Jewish culture.

Another unknown that has led to a lot of speculation is just who’s wedding was Jesus attending.   The identity of the newlyweds is not given, but again there has been a lot of speculation and reading between the lines.   It is commonly thought that whoever got married must be some sort of relation to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She seems extremely concerned about the problem of running out of wine and how that could be a social embarrassment for the groom.  We stopped at verse eleven but verse twelve mentions that Jesus, his mother, and brothers leave the wedding and head to Capernaum for a few days.  This implies that Jesus’ entire family was invited to the wedding strengthening the family connection.  It has led some to imply that perhaps it was a sibling of Jesus, and while the structure of the scripture does not support it some, like Dan Brown did in his The Da Vinci Code novel, have even gone as far float the idea that this was Jesus’ wedding.  Regardless from the reasonable to the outlandish all of the guesses about who was getting married are just that: guesses.

Compared to the other miracles of Jesus like healing the blind, feeding thousands, or casting out demons turning water into wine seems out of place.  The miracle does not seem to accomplish a grander purpose and throughout time it has led biblical commentators to ascribe symbolic significance to it.  Pages and pages of incredibly wise and learned people have written about the greater symbolic significance.  While many of these explanations are well reasoned, well argued, and could have a lot of truth to them they also are mostly based on inference and conjecture.

I think this push to assign deeper significance to this morning’s scripture is an attempt to make it so that this miracle does not feel unnecessary when compared to everything else that Jesus did.    However, I am not sure all of the conjecture and inference is needed.  I am not sure it is important for Mary or Jesus to have a deep connection to the bride or groom, and I am not sure this miracle needs a deeper symbolic explanation.  Perhaps the simplest explanation is the best, and it is certainly an explanation that is fully supported by what the scripture actually states.  Perhaps the reason why Mary asked Jesus to help is that she saw a person in need and she knew Jesus could help them.   Perhaps the reason Jesus changed water into wine is because someone needed help, and even if it was minor in the grand scheme of things, Jesus was able to provide that help so he did so.    This may be the most straight forward understanding of this morning’s scripture but I think it is an approach that give us practical examples to follow in our own faith practice.   We can learn to be better disciples by the examples that both Mary and Jesus give in this morning’s scripture.

The relationship that Mary may or may not have had with those getting married in this scripture does not change the example that she gives us.  She saw a problem that was out of her control, but she knew Jesus could fix it.  That is an example worth following.   When we know there are people that Jesus has the power to help, then we should ask him to do just that.  In general, we tend to do a decent job at this.  Many churches, like this one, share prayer concerns and many faithful saints lift those people mentioned up faithfully in prayer.  A couple of months ago, while listening to a lecture from Religious history professor Dr. William Cook, it occurred to me that we could take this idea even more seriously.  He told the story of a monastery he was visiting, and the friars also had a tradition of lifting up prayer concerns and one of the mentioned miners that were trapped in Peru.  Since this was in a time when the Internet was not so prevalent and the story was little more than a regional story for Peru.  Dr. Cook had thought that of all the churches in America, this might be the only one praying for Peruvian miners that day.  He was curious the connection and when he asked the monks he found out that they intentionally look for happenings around the world that may not get a lot of attention but where people need divine help.   These monks went out of their way to find people to pray for, to find people to ask Jesus to help.  John Wesley founder of the Methodist movement regularly spent two to four hours a day in prayer.  While that may not be a place we are at yet, if we take seriously the example of Mary to ask Jesus to help people who we know need helping then likely all of us would have no problem finding stuff to pray about for that much time.

As we consider the example that Jesus gives us in this morning’s scripture, I think it is fitting that the very first miracle that Jesus does publicly is this one.   It is a miracle that he almost seems reluctant to do, it is a miracle that does not fulfill any great prophecies, or garner any kind of attention.  Even though Jesus’ hour had not yet come, he still performed this miracle, he still provided an abundance of blessings, largely because he could.   This is an example, we also should follow.  When we see a need that we have the ability to meet, then like Jesus we should do so.  This is an example that is embedded deep into our Methodist tradition.   From the Wesleyan tradition there is a well-known saying that sums up what Jesus was doing in this scripture.  It goes, “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, At all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

All of us should be willing to do good when we can. One of the things I appreciate is in this morning’s scripture Jesus does a single miracle.  Later in the gospels he spends whole days doing miracle upon miracle for the people, but in this scripture he meets a single need.   The scope and scale of what we can accomplish may be different for each one of us.  We also as individuals may not be able to help or do something about every problem we see, we might not be able to meet all of the needs, but we should still do what we can, however we can. Perhaps the good you can do is a big, God sized dream that meets a need that serves the whole community or perhaps the good you can do is checking in on a lonely neighbor who desperately needs caring contact.   It is not a contest.  God does not measure the size and scope of the good we can do compared to others.  We do not need to be able to do the miraculous and change water into wine.   Jesus could do that because that is the power he was entrusted with.  In the same way, we should use whatever power and ability God has entrusted us with to meet needs, tends hurts, and enable dreams.

I suppose one could argue that this morning’s scripture is about an unnecessary miracle, but I think the true moral of this morning’s scripture is that unlike soccer stadiums, there are no unnecessary miracles.  When we give of ourselves to meet the needs of others, then we are following the example of Jesus.  We are displaying the love of Christ in the world, and in a world like ours that kind of shining light of kindness is always needed and necessary.   So may we follow the examples we find in this scripture.   May our prayers be powerful and effective, as we try to be more intentional about asking Jesus to help those who need his help.   When we see needs, may we meet needs.   May we do all the good we can to all the people we can as much as we can, so that we the people of North Judson UMC can be someone else’s necessary miracle.



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