Water into wine 3rd of Epiphany

Did you listen to the Gospel reading just now? Or is it so familiar that you’ve stopped thinking about it. Jesus turned between 120 and 180 GALLONS of water into wine. Not just any old wine, either, the very best wine that could be had.

Don’t be silly. You can’t turn water into wine. Perhaps the people were already so drunk that they couldn’t tell the difference. There was quite a fashion in my youth for finding rational explanations for the miracles of Jesus. Some people reckoned that such things cannot happen.

If Jesus healed those who were ill, it was all in the mind. Once the sick person was convinced that they could get better, they did.

We’ve moved on from that rationalising sort of thinking.

There are lots of stories of miracles and healings in the Gospels, the most miraculous of all happening on the first Easter.

To my mind, the one thing that links all these stories together is that those who were there, the eye-witnesses, did not expect such a thing to happen. It would not have occurred to them that it could. There was no question of trying to rationalise what they saw. It was in front of their own eyes and completely mind-blowing.

At the wedding at Cana, there was probably something close to blind panic when the host discovered that he had not ordered enough wine. This would be the ultimate disgrace, the worst thing that could happen to their party.

It was a local wedding, and the whole village and neighbouring villages would be there. Jesus’ mother, Mary was there, as was Jesus Himself and his close friends. Mary quietly told the servants to do as Jesus directed. He told them to fill the six stone jars with water.

Then He told them to draw some of the water out, and they discovered that it had turned into wine, the best wine that could be had, we are told.

Nobody expected this to happen, and with all the other miracles and healings that are reported in the Gospels, nobody expected it to happen. Indeed, just a few verses earlier in St John’s Gospel, we hear the line ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ This was a man called Nathaniel speaking. Jesus had already recruited a man called Philip to his inner circle. Nathaniel was a friend of Philip. Philip said to Nathaniel ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ It was in response to this that Nathaniel said ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’

Jesus spoke to Nathaniel and showed that he already knew all about him. This proved to be enough to convince Nathaniel that there was indeed something very special about Jesus.

Now we must remember that there was nobody taking notes when these events were happening, no reporters from the Jerusalem Journal or the Tel Aviv Times. But all the events made such a deep impression on people that they were talked about for a long time afterwards. People who were not expecting anything in particular, and certainly not from a builder’s lad who lived round the corner in their own small provincial town.

And we must remember also that at that time few people could read and write. Events, history, memories were handed down through families.

It was a long time afterwards when the stories were written down. Perhaps the eye-witnesses were getting old and thinking that what they had seen and heard was so important that they must write it down. If you know anything about ‘folk traditions’ you will know that they gradually get altered. Somebody’s memory gets a bit hazy as they pass on the story, so they fill in the gap from their imagination. It was time to write it down, before the ‘folk tradition’ got at it.

And when the eye-witnesses came to write it down, they might reasonably be expected to try to make sense of their experiences, and put them in some sort of order. And there’s an order here.

If you listened carefully to the Gospel reading you will have heard that it began ‘On the third day’. What has been happening before? Well, we began with the testimony of John the Baptist. This was a cousin of Jesus, only a few months older than him. They must have grown up together. The Pharisees, we are told, sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was and why was he baptising people. Was he the Messiah or Elijah? ‘No’, said John, ‘I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandal of the one who is coming after me.’

Then we have ‘on the next day’, John saw Jesus coming towards him and said ‘here is the Lamb of God’ and told how he had seen the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and resting on Him’.

Then another ‘on the next day’, when John introduced Andrew and Simon to Jesus.

The next ‘next day’ was the one we have already described, when Nathaniel joined the gang.

Then follows ‘on the third day’, and the story of the wedding at Cana. (Actually, I make it four days, but I suppose it depends where you start counting.)

The story of Jesus’ three years’ ministry carries on from here. At every stage the eyewitnesses were experiencing an Epiphany, a ‘realisation of the truth and significance of something’. As they gradually fitted together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, they came to realise who Jesus really was. God, our Creator, made man, walking here on the earth, to teach us how to live.

The interesting thing is that Jesus’ friends, the people we call his ‘disciples’, were clearly still not sure. Look at Good Friday and Holy Saturday (as we now call them). Those days were neither ‘Good’ nor ‘Holy’ to them. They were days of deep gloom. Total disaster had happened. It was only after the Resurrection Appearances that the light dawned and they knew, for sure, in a deep-down sort of way.

Epiphany: yes. Revelation: yes. But gradual, and every step of the way unexpected.

Now at a later stage, the disciples found that they also had gifts of healing. They had power from Jesus.

In our Epistle reading, St Paul tells us that we all have gifts. If we had read on into the next bit, we would have heard St Paul using the analogy of the human body. No one part of us is a human body, and if we take away any one part, the body is that much less. We need all our parts to make us properly human.

The church is the same. The church, us, is made up of lots of different people. We all have different gifts. If we all make use of those gifts, the church as a whole is the better for it.

Look at verse 8. Some have the gift of wisdom. Some have the gift of knowledge. It’s interesting that St Paul separates these two. You might think they go together, but, no, you can have lots of knowledge and not know what to do with it, how it might help the people around you.

As we go along in life, we accumulate wisdom. Things learned from experience. Some of us are quicker to learn than others. Sometimes ‘knowledge’ can get in the way of ‘wisdom’.

St Paul goes on: some have the gift of faith. To some of us, faith seems to come almost naturally. Others have to work at it.

And then he lists gifts of healing and miracles and prophecies. Things still happen that we can’t explain. Some people radiate a holiness which we can’t explain. In the most unlikely and unexpected situation things happen, or people seem to know something and we have no idea where that knowledge came from. (Just like Jesus meeting Nathaniel.)

We could go on, but the message is clear. If you feel that you are being directed by the Holy Spirit to do or to say something, stop, listen, listen to the voice inside you, and respond. Don’t hang back. Don’t think ‘I’m not good enough.’

Whether it is given to you to cause a miraculous healing, I don’t know. It is certainly given to all of us at different times to help in the healing of divisions within families or between friends and neighbours.

Let’s turn our water of weakness into the wine of the spirit!

‘God moves in a mysterious way’.


298 20.1.19 Askham and Crosby Ravensworth