Monday, September 10, 2007

John 2

John 2:1-12: We have already been introduced to the incredible powers that Jesus seems to possess as this special person from God, this Son of Man who is also Son of God. He had remarkable insight into Nathaniel. The next chapters in John’s Gospel will be chapters in which Jesus performs many signs that give evidence that he really is who the gospel writer has already told us he is. Most of the incidents shared are full of symbolic language. Whatever the historical truth behind the stories, the stories themselves are told as much for their rich symbolism. That is certainly true of the story here, the miracle at the wedding at Cana. Marcus Borg classifies this story as a “symbolic narrative” created for its “metaphorical meaning” (Jesus, 57). What does Borg think its metaphorical meaning might be? This is John’s inaugural story about Jesus, thus, along with the poetic prologue, it sets the tone for the gospel. What happens when the Word becomes flesh, full of grace and truth and from whom we have received grace upon grace? Borg notes that big things happen in the Bible on the third day – as does this miracle. He also notes that marriage was often a rich religious metaphor – signifying the relationship between God and God’s people, the marriage of heaven and earth, and later the marriage between Christ and the church. He also notes the sociological context. In Jewish peasant life at the time of Jesus, weddings were the most festive celebrations. Life was hard for peasants, and their diet was basic and meager. It seldom included meat or poultry, which required killing one of their few animals. But a wedding celebration meant momentary release from unremitting labor and enjoying copious amounts of food and wine, accompanied by music and dancing. (Jesus, 58) Borg uses all this information to say that this story indicates that for John the whole story of Jesus is about a wedding, a wedding in which the wine never runs out and in fact gets better and better. When you look at some of the details of the story, it makes it an incredible celebration. The six jars held twenty to thirty gallons, which will become 120-180 gallons of wine! On another note, Jesus’ mother is never called “Mary” in John’s gospel, but always the mother of Jesus – just a note of interest. Further, his word to her is unusual, calling her “woman” but the overall impression is one of a caring relationship. Her concern becomes part of the context for the miracle. Also note verse 11 – “the disciples believed in him.” John will resist any easy confluence between signs and belief – one should not rely on signs for belief – but the signs are always only meant to invite belief, and belief, trust, following Jesus, is the point.

John 2:13-22: Already in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. In the other gospels, Jesus seems to make only one trip to this city, the trip in which he will lose his life. In the other gospels, it is also on that trip that Jesus engages in the symbolic action in the Temple. John follows the joyous sign story of the wedding at Cana with this story about conflict. Jesus’ story is a story of joy, but a joy that can disrupt the usual way of things. John uses this story to stake a claim in post-Temple Judaism. After the destruction of the Temple, Jews wondered where the presence of God would be most alive. One answer was in the synagogue and in the study of the Law. John’s answer was that Jesus himself was the presence of God among people, and that presence would continue in his followers who were filled with his Spirit. Again, near the end of the story we have a note on belief – this time belief in Jesus that came only later.

John 2:23-25: Jesus did other signs while in Jerusalem, and people believed, but these verses suggest that belief on the basis of signs alone is insufficient. Sometimes people have a wonderful experience with the church, with faith, with God and initially get enthused about it, but over time the enthusiasm wanes. Will we continue to follow? I think again of Mother Teresa who continued to follow even in the midst of painful doubts.

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