Only Water to Wine?

We stumbled by accident on this gem, written by a 2016 VYLTP alumnus four years ago.

July 6, 2016

Gerlyn Henry’s meditation shared at the Volmoed Eucharist service.

If we look at the story of John 2:1-10, we know a few things.

  1. There was a wedding
  2. Jesus had been invited
  3. They ran out of wine
  4. Jesus used servants to turn water into wine
  5. He used Jewish ritual purification jars to do this
  6. The steward didn’t know where it came from
  7. This was the miracle.

One of my favourite definitions of miracle is by Bonnie Honig who says a miracle is a state of exception. It is when God intervenes and disrupts the order, structure and normalcy that we are accustom to. When you have stage 4 cancer- you prepare for death. But when the cancer cells start receding and you start getting better, there is a disruption of structure, order and normalcy. You are in a state of exception. When you work two jobs and have two kids, you struggle to pay rent so you prepare for eviction. But then someone gives you just the money you need; this is a disruption of order, structure and normalcy. This is a state of exception. When you have leprosy, you are pushed to the peripheries of society. People wince even when they look at you! But there comes a man who not only sees you, but touches you and you are healed. This is a disruption of order, structure and normalcy. This is a state of exception! When you are working at a wedding and you know that you’re going to get what’s left over when everybody is done- but someone comes and turns the water into wine and you’re left drinking the best wine at the party, this is a disruption of the order, structure and normalcy. YOU are now in the state of exception! This “state of exception”; this is the miracle.

But you see, the miracle is not just that Jesus turned water into wine, it’s also that he gave the best to the least.

Let’s go to the text. Verse 6 reads:

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

We live in a world of dichotomies. We think that for one thing to be true, the opposite has to false. For white to be beautiful, black has to be ugly. For man to be strong, woman has to be weak, for English to be pleasant, vernacular has to be awkward. For one to be pure, the other has to impure. So by the very nature of a Jewish purification jar, it names people either pure or impure- worthy or unworthy. There are so many people who will not make this fold of purity.

  1. If you’re disabled
  2. If you have skin disease
  3. If you’re menstruating
  4. If you touch a dead person
  5. If you’re gay
  6. If you married someone who’s an “foreigner”
  7. If you just gave birth
  8. If you’re a pluralist
  9. If you drunk

So ultimately, Jesus looked at these jars, and said “yella” (Arabic). In those days, the only people who could deal with thing of the temple were priests and Levites. The hierarchy was king, priest, everyone else, and then servants. Jesus, by using Jewish purification jars, demolishes the wall that segregates people deeming them better, more valuable or purer than the other. The very ritual that kept the servants and people out is now what brings them in. Ideally, the water would be taken and poured on people’s hands to purify them. Now by the hands of the servants, the waters is poured in. This is a breakdown of everything as we know it! This is a disruption of order, structure and normalcy. This is a state of exception!

If we look a little further in the text, verse 9 reads:

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom.

He didn’t know, he didn’t know that he was tasting a miracle. He didn’t know that the structure had been disrupted, he didn’t know Jesus did this. But the servants did. But the servants did. Many times we think that if we don’t know something, it’s not true. If I don’t know that homosexuals are made in God’s image, they are not. If I am not aware that slavery exists, it doesn’t. If I don’t know that God can heal, God can’t. And If I don’t know that Jesus turned water into wine, he didn’t. But guess who did know? The servants knew. The ones on the outside, the ones usually left out; they knew.

So what did the steward do when he called the bridegroom? I’m going to read verse 10 as I hear it. “Yinto ingxaki yako?(Xhosa) What is your problem? Why would you give the best wine now? Only the servants are here to drink it! Don’t you realize that important people already left? You are so foolish! He missed the miracle. He missed basking in this liminal space of exception.

I am going to tell you a story. There was this man travelling from the US to Thailand for a conference. This was his first time in the Global South. As a result, he was so excited to see the lights, colours and dancers as he was riding from the airport to the Holiday Inn where he was staying. When he reached, he got out of the taxi and unloaded the trunk in a jittery anticipation. As he was unloading, three girls came up to him. One was around 18, the other 15. The third girl, he recalls, could not have been any older than 12. the 12 year old looked at him, giving the most “sexy” look a 12 year old could possibly give and said “sir, you can have me all night for 50 dollars.” He was speechless. He looked around to see if anyone had overheard or anyone saw. Realizing that no one had, he looked at the girls again and said “I want all three of you – all night.” He went to this room, called room service and ordered 4 ice cream Sundays and all the Disney movies they had. When the girls arrived, they watched movies, ate ice cream and fell asleep on his bed. This was a disruption of order, structure and normalcy. This was a state of exception.

We cannot know God fully unless we know people at our margins. I believe this with all my heart. It is so easy to be the steward. Even when we are tasting the miracle, we don’t realize it. We distort this miracle to be something foolish. Jesus not only turned water to wine that day, he turned a structure upside down. He used the purification jars which deems you worthy or unworthy and he made wine in it. Now, not only did these religious jars become sacrilegious, the servants became priests.

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