The gospel of John leads us on a merry dance in trying to pin this Jesus down.
John seems to make definitive and dramatic statements “The Word of God!” or “the light of the world!”. Powerful images that spark something within in us, and yet leave us with more questions.
Last week’s reading (John 2:1-12) offers us another image that resonates and yet leaves us wondering at the same time. The miracle of Jesus turning water into wine is a popular one. Who doesn’t like this slightly irreverent figure whose concern is for the party to continue? It reminds me of the Mambo Jesus images created by Reg Mombassa. “Jesus at the football” retells the feeding of the 5000 at the SCG, and Jesus hands out pies and cold beer. And it was good.
I love the abundant life and joy in this image. As a footy fan it makes me smile. I suspect it serves best as a foil against stuffy, official religion; and yet provides nothing of any particular substance in its place (Religion is boring, cold beer is good!).
As a miracle, turning water into wine isn’t particularly political or radical. There are resonances of Jesus taking the place of the ritual purity performed via those six jars. But it’s not the main point. It doesn’t seem to target the poor and broken. It’s not even a sly word against the religious and political establishment.
In fact, no one really sees it (beyond Mary, a few servants, and the disciples). But notice the responses they have? Mary says “Do whatever he tells you.” While the disciples “believed in him”. The whole point is for us as disciples/readers. Do we see the new wine that comes with Jesus? Can we recognise that this man is the very presence of God with us?
The whole point is to look again at Jesus, and to see his identity and authority.
We don’t like this idea of authority very much. As modern, capable, well-resourced westerners – we dislike talk of authority – we prefer Jesus to be our wise guide; or political poster boy; or our inner spiritual presence. None of those are bad, all of them fall short.
Jesus, as John had told us, is the Word of God. He is the source and purpose of Creation itself – and his presence is new, abundant and joyful life. Hear this clearly, he is not simply here to recognise the wonder of life – offering a subtle riddle that will make us more mindful of life as it is – no he is here to offer new life – if and when we choose to follow him and lean into the new life, the new wine that he offers.
Still wondering what that might mean? Good, because John has more of this merry dance to led us on. More mystery, more images, more wonder. What will you hear?