When the time comes

I love weddings. After all, much of my ministry, in one form or another, has to do with marriage and family relationships. I enjoy sitting down with engaged couples to help them anticipate the joys and challenges of married life. And there have been all kinds of adventures associated with officiating the ceremonies themselves.

A wedding, as a social event, is a place where families and their stories come together, to merge or to clash. Sometimes, my job is to help couples anticipate and plan for the clashes. I even go as far as to ask couples, “Which two people in your family are most likely to get into an argument at the reception? And if they do, who’s going to deal with it?” I remember asking that of one young man, almost as a matter of routine. He thought about it for a second, and his eyes suddenly went wide. “Oh…totally,” he said, as something concrete apparently came to mind.

And in case you’re wondering, nothing bad happened at the wedding. At least nothing that I’m aware of.

But mostly, my job is to merge the couple’s story with God’s. And it’s  fascinating to me that in John’s gospel, Jesus performs his first miraculous sign at a wedding.

This would have been a community affair, involving family and much of the village of Cana. We know nothing of the couple, but a few clues from the story itself suggest that the host was probably well-to-do. And given Mary’s role in the story, she may have been family. Jesus is therefore invited as well, and his disciples with him.

As the guests celebrate, a problem arises: the wine runs out. It may be difficult to imagine, but in a culture which prized hospitality, this kind of failure would have been the center of gossip for a long time after. (Being from a strongly traditional culture myself, I understand the mindset. When I host a meal, I often make way too much food; it’s embarrassing even to think that people wouldn’t be able to eat their fill. They’d be polite to your face, but afterward, talk about you behind your back.)

This is, in other words, a very real social problem. And Mary knows who can solve it.

When the wine runs out, Mary takes charge. Going straight to Jesus, she announces, “They don’t have any wine” (John 2:3, CEB). No demand. Just a straightforward report of the facts. She knows that he understands the social significance of the situation. And she doesn’t have to say, “Do something.” This is his mother. He knows what she wants.

To our ears, Jesus’ response sounds curt to the point of rudeness: “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet” (vs. 4).

True, he doesn’t call her Mom. But neither is the word “Woman” meant to convey any disrespect. His response merely marks a fact that Mary already knows: he is not merely her son. He has another identity, another destiny.

But that doesn’t prevent Mary from prompting him to intervene in a situation that, on the surface at least, has nothing to do with any enormous cosmic plan. She is not deterred in the least by Jesus’ response. He’s agreed to nothing, but she knows he will act in his own good time.

My time hasn’t come yet. Jesus knows he has a mission to complete. He follows the command and timetable of his Father. There is no specific missional reason why Jesus would need to act on Mary’s implied request.

But of course, he does so anyway.

We’ll see how in the next post. Meanwhile, I find the story strangely comforting.

I suspect that most of us have a hard time seeing our lives from a kingdom perspective. We are the heroes and heroines of our own stories. It’s primarily about us, our goals and desires, our triumphs and failures. We can begin to imagine how our lives are part of God’s story, part of God’s mission. But our typical concern is with what God can do to make our stories better.

Woman, my time has not yet come. Or perhaps, to put it in contemporary terms, It’s not my problem. I’ve got more important things to do.

And then, Jesus makes it his problem.

You have to celebrate a God like that.