1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
I have always been a bit envious of Jesus when reading about his first miracle. The first time I attempted to convert water into a fermented beverage, it took me an entire day of hard work followed by three long weeks of waiting, checking, fretting, adjusting, more hard work (bottling) before finally ending up with a batch of homebrewed beer. It was reasonably decent, but certainly nothing to summon the bridegroom about. My first batch was five gallons. Jesus made about 150. His work took a matter of minutes. Mine took almost a month. Even after nine years of homebrewing, I am only just beginning to have the understanding and control over the brewing process required to “get it right” every time. Jesus got it right on his first (and possibly only) attempt. So forget walking on water or raising the dead–the very first miracle of Jesus is the one that impresses me the most.
But I think there is another miracle at work just under the surface of this story–-one that shows up in my own brewing experiences, too: It’s the miracle of community. You see, whenever I brew, I typically invite over some friends. Ostensibly, this is because more hands makes the work easier. But the truth is, I could do it all myself–it’s just more fun with friends and it’s a good excuse to get together. Brewing involves periods of intense activity (measuring, grinding, mixing, lifting, pouring, cleaning) and a lot of watching and waiting in between. Those in between times are great for kicking back and talking, catching up on each others’ lives, debating the finer points of NFL quarterback stats, or even going philosophical on the greater questions of life, death, and raising children. Meanwhile, the brewing goes on, and serves as the larger end we are all working toward–-a product that, when finished, we can all enjoy and be proud of.
There is a science to brewing beer, and I’m sure there are plenty of chemists and physicists who can explain the process in the minutest detail. I’m not one of them. To me, it’s all pretty miraculous that I simply throw together the right ingredients, follow some time-honored steps that brewers have used for thousands of years, and fermentation happens! Even those who can explain what happens did not themselves generate the laws of physics and chemistry, so I like to think that God is ultimately part of the brewing process…and it is therefore miraculous (even when it isn’t instantaneous). The same can be said of the community that brews alongside the beer: You throw a bunch of people with different personalities, opinions and life circumstances together in my garage for a purpose almost completely unrelated to any of them, and community happens! I’m sure a psychologist could explain what’s going on and why this works, but even so, it is miraculous.
Given the connections, then, between the miracle of fermentation and miracle of community, I think there are some things we can observe and learn from Jesus in this passage:
1. Be intentional. Miracles are not spontaneous. Jesus is reluctant (here and elsewhere in the gospels) to perform a miracle, and would have likely been just as happy to just go on his way without one. But his mother is insistent, and knows that without Jesus’ intervention, things won’t come together. Likewise, good beer (or any beverage for that matter) doesn’t appear in my refrigerator just because I like to drink it. I have to be intentional about either making it or taking the time to find it somewhere else. Good community is the same way: it doesn’t “just happen.” We have to make space for it, cultivate it, and seek it out. In other words, we have to be intentional about it.
2. Use what you’ve got. Homebrewers are notorious for re-purposing common household items in order to avoid buying expensive equipment. Jesus looks around for something to make wine in, sees some large stone jars (which are essentially 1st century Jewish bathtubs!) and says to himself, “Yeah, that’ll do.” The wine has run out, but there’s plenty of water: “Yeah, that’ll do.” While we have to be intentional about community, we don’t have to make it elaborate or overly complicated. Community forms best around simple things: food, drink, kitchens, garages, books, games, nature, and even inflatable leather balls.
3. Follow the process. Since we’re already in the realm of miracles, I’ve always wondered why Jesus didn’t just blink his eyes and have the wine instantly appear in people’s cups. Why go through the whole ritual of having the servants fill the jars? Why use water? Why summon the steward to taste it when he already knew it was perfect? None of these things were, strictly speaking, necessary. But by creating a process, Jesus involved others in the miracle. He also gave us some things to think about: There is some pretty deep symbolism and foreshadowing in transforming water (think baptism) into wine (think crucifixion). Likewise, I could just go to the store to buy beer, but in adopting a process I involve other people. I learn more about what I’m brewing/drinking, and develop more appreciation for the final result. Community, too, works best when we follow a process: That’s why our rites and rituals (like worship, communion, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and pot-luck luncheons) are so important. They involve us with other people, and give us opportunity to contemplate the symbols that draw us deeper in thought and faith.
4. Trust in God for the rest. In brewing, I am intentional about the process. I use the best ingredients and equipment I’ve got on hand. But ultimately, I rely on God (the author of chemistry and physics) to make the real magic happen. Mary shows great faith in her son when she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She doesn’t ask Jesus if it might be possible for him to help in some way–she knows exactly where human ability ends (“they have no wine”) and where divine ability begins (“do whatever he tells you”). To put it simply, there are things we must do ourselves (see 1-3) and there are things we must place in God’s hands. Knowing the difference between the two is important. Community ultimately is a heavenly gift. So no matter how intentional we are about it, no matter what resources or process we use to facilitate it, when the magic happens we give thanks to God.
Today is back-to-school Sunday, and just like the brewing process, the educational process is part science, part community, and part divine, magical mystery. As a former high school English teacher, I remember all too well just how much preparation and effort I used to put into every year, every day, every lesson to my students. I worked hard to cultivate a sense of community among my classes, but I also remember those amazing “aha” moments when things would finally and suddenly come together for a particular student in a powerful way that was completely beyond my ability to script or control. When that happens, the best and only word I can think of to describe the moment is “miraculous.”
So this is my prayer for all of our students and teachers and life-long learners today, as we begin the 2018-2019 academic year:
May you be intentional in seeking out your education, in finding your learning community, those who will travel with you and help you along the way.
May you use all the tools and resources and skills at your disposal–great, small, and improvised–and may God bless what you have to give and multiply it many times over.
May you follow the processes that will help you grow, no matter how mundane or repetitive, and may you recognize the importance of those rituals and the people they connect you to.
Finally, with God’s divine assistance, may the magic happen! May you see things you’ve never seen before and understand the things that were once strange and foreign to you. Like Jesus when he was young, may you grow in stature, in wisdom, in favor with God, and in favor with people.