You have to wonder what life was like at home. The party is in full swing, and social disaster looms. The wine has run out. Capital E Embarrassed and everyone is sure to remember this as the stingiest feast all year. But Mary sees what’s happening and calls for Jesus. She points out the problem, worrying on behalf of the hosts and putting it in his hands. As if he could solve everything. How did Mary know?
I like the fact that none of the Gospels give us stories of Jesus’ home life. The majority of Jesus’ life is a blank – a private space, a mystery. We don’t know what dinner time conversation was like or what domestic squabbles erupted. We don’t know how that one family spoke with each other and worked through the bumps and jostles of daily life together. But this small, funny bit of maternal pressuring sheds a sliver of light. Mary knew that Jesus could work it out. She understands. And he hesitates, saying that he wasn’t ready and that it wasn’t his business. But Mother Mary didn’t really listen. She just organized the staff to follow his instructions so that he could get the feast back on its feet again.
I’m big on feasts. Feasts as an image of the kingdom. Feasts as places of story. Feasts as illustrations of theological imagining. Feasts in film. Feasts as church. One of the hardest things about this expat life I’m currently living is the paucity of family feasts. I’m used to regular gatherings of all sorts with love and chaos and far too many helpings of scalloped potatoes. Living far from my own family has meant that we’ve had to be more intentional about gathering people around our table.
But Christmas is over and we’re to step back into normal life now, aren’t we? Except this week’s lectionary passage refuses to let us leave the crowded table. In the preceding chapter in John, Jesus’ ministry begins with questions of identity and calling. Now at the wedding feast, his work begins. It’s as if John is suggesting that the usual categories into which we divide our lives aren’t relevant in Jesus’ life. Work and witness and celebration and family life are all bound up together as a new alternative is lived out by Jesus and his disciples.
It seems that the Kingdom is going to be messy.
Jurgen Moltmann, in his book The Church in the Power of the Spirit, describes Jesus’ earthly life as a festal life. It isn’t a ruler’s life, nor the life of a willing slave, but a life are celebration. Jesus’ life demonstrates hope, liberation, and joy. It’s life at a crowded table – not a table where we sit to escape from suffering, but a table where this new alternative is made visible and viable. The outcasts are included, there is enough for all, and good wine flows when we only expected functional plonk. That’s grace, isn’t it? Moltman suggests that Jesus’ festal life gives us two gifts: resistance and consolation. Without resistance, consolation can be a weak plea to have patience. Without consolation, resistance looks like repressing our suffering. At Christ’s table, these gifts are balanced by Christ himself, and hope becomes realistic.
“To gaze on the risen one makes life a feast, but it is only the gaze on the one who was crucified and who descended into hell that make ‘the whole of life’ a feast, and a perpetual feast, a feast that death does not terminate, so that it is indeed a ‘feast without end.’” The Church in the Power of the Spirit p 114
I think that Mary knew this. Somehow, in the private days before his public ministry, she caught a glimpse of Jesus’ difference. She had the long hours and short days of mothering when she pondered so much in her heart, and when she – like the rest of us – did her grappling with love and practical theology as she learned how to mother her children. I think it must have been in the midst of those days that Mary learned about the Christ in her Jesus. I wonder how she saw that he would be what Moltmann called “the leader of life against death.” And how she prepared her own heart for the risks ahead. For him. For others. For herself as well. There would be sacrifices. A first -born son was a woman’s insurance policy, and she’d see that Jesus’ calling would mean that things would be different for her, too. That would take some pondering. But, then at the wedding feast, she must have known that the time was right. So she got her Jesus organised to do what needed to be done. She interceded and prodded a little. She asked a little more of him than he was ready to give just at that moment. Because that’s what mamas do. And grace abounds.
Thank you so much for all the love after our baby news. It is wonderful to share our delight and anticipation with you. It’s been amazing to read all your comments here and on faecbook and twitters – we are really blessed by community! And I’ll keep you posted as this baby grows, but I’ll try not to flood the space with too much baby-babble.