A frivolous God

Epiphany 2 – 2016

John 2:1-11

Marian Free

 Creator God, open our eyes so that we may see you in all things, the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, the mundane as well as the sublime, the frivolous as well as the serious. Amen.

When I was working with the Business Community in Toowong, I did quite a lot of reading around the subject of Faith and Work. One of the concerns was that people’s lives seemed to be divided down the middle. In our secular world, many of them felt obliged to leave their faith or their spirituality at the door. The person they were at work was pragmatic and rational, not influenced or informed by their faith. Some it is true might have had prayers or quotes stuck to their notice boards, but these, rather than influencing what they were doing were simply statements about who they were. Their lives were split in two. They were not taking or being their whole selves in the workplace.

The divide between the spiritual and the mundane is not unique to the work/life situation. It is a malady of the modern world and it affects those of us who think that there are some parts of our lives that are beneath God’s notice or that some aspects of our life and of our being are holy and others are not. This split personality or dualism is a kind of schizophrenia that was unknown to the ancient Celts or to the Christian mystics who were able to recognise that God was in all things and that all things were in God. Such people recognised that the divine was encountered in everything, not just at special times or in special places. and they understood that life is simply not divisible into parts – we are our whole selves or we are not.

Which brings us to today’s gospel A wedding is a funny place to begin the account of Jesus’ ministry. There is nothing mystical about a social occasion or gathering of friends, which makes a wedding an unusual setting for Jesus’ first miracle. Changing water into wine is strange choice as the means to reveal Jesus’ glory for as yet no one knows who Jesus is or what can be expected from him. Jesus has barely been introduced to us and here he is at a party – not teaching or healing, but ensuring that there is enough wine for a good celebration.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all begin their accounts of Jesus’ ministry in a much more serious vein. According to them Jesus is driven into the wilderness where he is tempted and where he refuses to do anything that might be seen as entertainment, or as his drawing attention to himself or as his seeking to compete with God for power or for influence. In stark contrast, John begins with a wedding at which Jesus turns the water into wine so that the wedding host will not be embarrassed. Compared with Jesus’ spiritual battle in the wilderness the miracle of changing water into wine seems both trivial and frivolous – hardly a fitting activity for the Son of God.

This beginning to Jesus’ ministry is even more astonishing given that John’s gospel starts on a much more elevated plane than that of the other three. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John portrays Jesus as nothing less than a co-creator with God – a divine being, who as one with God, has been present for all eternity. According to John, Jesus’ existence did not begin through an action of the Holy Spirit and no earthly genealogy could do him justice because there simply was no time in which Jesus did not exist. In John’s gospel we begin in the heavenly realms, and then, without any warning or any context, we are brought right down to earth. We go from the sublime to the ridiculous, the esoteric to the mundane the extraordinary to the ordinary.

Jesus, his mother and his disciples are guests at a wedding. We are not told whose wedding it is or why Jesus has been invited. Mary’s concern regarding the wine suggests that it the wedding of a family member or a close family friend. So far as we can tell Jesus is not a guest of honour, just one guest among many. In reporting the miracle or sign the gospel writer does not appear to be making a significant theological point nor is Jesus depicted as challenging the social customs of the people as he does at other parties in other gospels.

In a gospel which makes it very clear that Jesus and God are so close as to be indistinguishable, changing water into wine seems a rather trivial, ungodly and even self-indulgent miracle with which to start. After all, this is the same Jesus who elsewhere refused to turn stones into bread – specifically refusing to make showmanship a means of attracting followers. Would someone who takes his ministry so seriously bother about something as ordinary as wine for a party, and indeed, would God – the creator of the universe – really be interested in sparing an inefficient host the embarrassment of running out of wine?

It is, as I say, a strange beginning, an odd way to begin a gospel that makes far more lofty claims for Jesus than do the other gospel writers. Perhaps this is just the point. Perhaps the juxtaposition between the Word who was with God from the beginning and the man at a wedding is intended to demonstrate that the ordinary and the everyday are not beneath God’s dignity, that God in Jesus is as much engaged in the minutiae of daily life as he is in the divine and heavenly realm and that the separation of the spiritual and the unspiritual is a figment of our imagination.

Whether or not this is the author’s intention, it is an important point to make – not only with regard to our understanding of Jesus, but also with regard to our understanding of and our practice of our faith. God does not and cannot stand aloof from our earthly concerns but is intimately engaged with everything that we do. There is no distinction between holy and mundane, extraordinary and ordinary. God is all in all. If God makes no distinction, there is no need for us to compartmentalize our lives or to create false divisions that compromise the true nature of our being.

 

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