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Homily by Rev. Dr. Sue Emeleus

Epiphany 2, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 17, 2016

John 2:1-11; Psalm 36:5-10; Isaiah 62:1-5

‘Mother knows best!’


1. Lord Jesus Christ…Mary’s son (TiS 525)
2. There’s a light upon the mountains (TiS 276)
3. The wine ran out (TiS tune 487)

Before we think about today’s reading, I’d like you to think back with me to the story told about one of the sayings of Jesus from the cross.

Meanwhile standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother “Woman here is your son”. The he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. Jn 19:25-27 (NJB says this is your son and this is your mother..)

In the whole of JG, Jesus only speaks directly to his mother, Mary, twice. And he never uses her name, or even the common word for mother. The few words to Mary from the cross is one of the occasions when he does speak to her, and the other is in the Gospel reading for today. You may have heard of a book called Community of the Beloved Disciple in which Raymond Brown spoke of the community which John and Mary formed after the crucifixion, and about the phases of the community up until the writing of JG. If Jesus died about 30CE, and JG was written about 90CE, there are 60 years in between. In those days the average life of a man was just over thirty years, taking into account all the children and babies who didn’t survive, as well as the very few who survived into, say, my age of 74. So those 60 years of the Johannine community represent three or four or more generations of Christians. At first Brown says the community maintained a close relationship with mid first century Judaism. But gradually the Jews who professed Jesus as the Messiah were expelled from the synagogue and that explains the negative references to “The Jews” in JG. And we are aware of the connection between JG and the anti-semitism that developed across the world. By the time JG is written, Brown suggests most of the community had forgotten its beginnings with the beloved disciple and Jesus’ mother. In fact, for the writer or writers of JG, the actual events of Jesus’ life might largely have been forgotten. They may have read some of Paul’s letters, but those didn’t speak about Jesus’ life and teaching. They may have read Mark’s Gospel, but that isn’t obvious. Dorothy Lee, the writer of this book, Symbolism, Gender and theology in the Gospel of St John, says JG is largely based on symbols: flesh, water, light, truth, bread, vine, and more. But a symbolic presentation also means that we can never be certain what the meaning of the text is. So I suggest you go home today and read John 2:1-11 again and see what you might say if you had to preach a sermon on it.

Before we think about the Gospel passage in more detail, I’d like to explain why I asked for an Advent Hymn as our second hymn today. Is 62 is after the exile when the Jews are back in Jerusalem and the image describes Jerusalem as a young beautiful woman who awaits the coming of her groom. This is a word of hope to a forlorn people, glad tidings to a dispirited community as ours often is when we’ve watched the evening news! The prophet uses the metaphor of light to signify the glory of the Lord breaking in. The reference to a wedding in v5 is not just any ordinary wedding, but a royal one .The returning exiles might have thought back to the Davidic Kings and their weddings, but the king here, and the bridegroom, is none other than the Lord himself whom all kings of the nations will acknowledge.

And so to John 2 and another wedding, the first event that John records in Jesus’ ministry after he has been baptised by John the Baptist and has chosen his disciples. If you go back to chapter 1 and read through the events, they are listed in days. First this happened, then the next day …happened and by the end of chapter 1 we are up to about the sixth day. But John Chapter 2 begins with on the Third day We have to realise that John’s Gospel is usually symbolic, and the meaning you see in a symbol today may not be the meaning you see in it tomorrow. And the events selected may or may not have happened. For sixty years this community and their sons and daughters and then their grandsons and grand-daughters have been reflecting on Jesus’ life and what it might mean for them. They have come to believe deeply in what they see are the claims of Jesus. The writer is a theological genius, but his/her symbols and discourses and signs, of which the miracle at the wedding at Cana is the first, are structured to cause the readers to believe that Jesus is the messiah. Sandra Schneiders, another writer of a commentary on John’s Gospel actually calls her commentary Written that you may believe. These words come from John 20(quote them).

So the I am sayings are structured, the sign/miracles/healings and discourses are structured, Jesus’ long prayer in ch 17 is structured to lead the reader to believe. Notice the words at the end of today’s sign say that the disciples believed in him. And over the centuries more quotes from Jesus come from this Gospel than any other. Did Jesus stand on the steps of the Temple and shout I am the light of the world?” I don’t think so. Is He the light of the world? Yes, I think so and the first century Johannine community was sure of it. Whether or not we believe that Jesus turned 500L of water into wine doesn’t affect our trust in him. So don’t feel guilty if you can’t believe it.

Back to John chapter two. This community has had sixty years to reflect on the resurrection. On the third day: after easter comes the feast of abundant wine. I remember one of the first theological books I ever read was by a man called Hallesby and the book was just called Prayer. And the whole book was about Mary saying to Jesus They have no wine. I think George Stuart might have missed the point when he has in the hymn we sang

His mother came to Jesus with a plea
Could he assist and that, quite urgently.

She didn’t ask Jesus for assistance. She just said They have no wine. Hallesby’s book was about bringing the issue or the person or the situation to Jesus and not telling him how to go about fixing it. I try to remember that when I bring world situations to God when it’s my turn on leading the prayers at our church. Jesus’ reply seems very hard hearted. It’s like saying, What has that got to do with me? My hour has not yet come.

Mary seems not to notice. She just tells the waiters: do whatever he says.

I wonder what mother experiences this evokes for you? My own mother would probably have told people not to take any notice of anything I said! But I suspect Mary had come to the awareness that Jesus was totally, utterly, deeply trustworthy and dependable. She didn’t have to tell him what to do or even what she needed. She just had to bring the situation and her feelings about it to Jesus.

One scholar says that this story is symbolising the life which is promised when the vision of hope and transformation becomes a reality. (And I don’t think it is about getting drunk every day!) If ‘the third day’ is an allusion to Easter, then JG which is so conscious of timing is saying that only after Jesus’ death and resurrection do the greater possibilities become a reality. For then the Spirit is given, the mission expands, and the community meet to celebrate the new reality in the eucharist meal.

What the six stone jars represent would be more than enough for another sermon. My last thought is to wonder whether Mary’s sister also went with the beloved disciple to form the new community?

Rev. Dr. Sue Emeleus