This morning Clare and I worked on sending email notifications of our forthcoming Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration party on the afternoon of August the sixth, although we have yet to decide where to hold the event. Kath's advice was, "Get people to put the date in their diaries now, and you can fill in the practical details later." Sound thinking indeed.
In the afternoon, as it was chilly and dry, we walked briskly into town through the park. Clare bought me a fleece lining for my rain jacket, and later a green cashmere jumper for herself. We had a drink in the House of Frazer 'Zest' restaurant, calmer than usual on Saturday afternoons, then walked home for a quiet evening of sermon preparation and another episode of 'Young Montalbano', which never fails to please.
In tackling the Gospel story of the marriage feast at Cana, I returned to an interpretation I first explored six years ago. This proposes that Jesus' rescue of the festivities didn't depend upon a miracle, but on the timely recognition that water should be served when there was no longer any wine. If the house had been drunk dry, was more wine really needed? Let alone good wine, when the drinkers' palates would be jaded with the inferior stuff.
The president of the feast praises the host for keeping 'the best wine until last'. Just as the gathering is feeling the effects of excess alcohol and heat, cool fresh water is just what's needed to revive everyone, ready for the communal dancing that is characteristic of any Mediterranean festivity. The president might have said that with tongue in cheek, or a hint of irony, and certainly not wanting to insult the host, or complain. If all had indeed drunk enough, the timing made the offer of water just right. Water is a powerful symbol of renewal in biblical writing anyway.
The intention in this little interpretation is not to explain away or dismiss the miraculous. I feel sure the Almighty is up to breaking all the laws of nature without consequence in order to make a point to us when we think we know it all, but in this case, what is the point of turning water into wine? Any excess drinking wouldn't enhance the social climax of the festivities. So few people actually knew what was going on behind the scenes, who was going to be impressed? Jesus certainly wasn't showing off divine powers to surprise an audience. His insight into what the party really needed at this crucial moment, was what made the transforming difference to the occasion.
Does John take the words of the President of the feast literally, because at that time he was still young and easily impressed into thinking miraculously? He doesn't use the word 'miracle', but refers to this event as a 'sign' of God's glory. God in Jesus, working quietly and unobtrusively in the background to keep the occasion on an even keel, just when it needed a change of pace and consumption. John's point remains the same - the difference which the presence and actions of Jesus make to one everyday event. All points to God at work in the ordinary things of life, leading everyone to value the simple things, to enjoy life's pleasures in moderation rather than excess.
I'd prefer to argue that God doesn't need to prove himself, or astonish us into believing by displays of miracles when already everything in the universe is, as Psalm 139 says: 'so fearfully and wonderfully made'. Without imposing himself publicly, Jesus helps to deal with an embarrassing situation for the host, by being aware of the real needs of the moment. This is a reflection of the just and gentle way in which he tackles many a difficult situation encountered in his ministry, and indeed, in the exemplary and humble way he goes to his death, sacrificing himself to reconcile humankind with God. Looking carefully at his life and work certainly does challenge me to think differently!