My favourite miracle of Jesus has to be his first – the most outrageous and irresponsible of them all. You can understand healing lepers, lame people and the blind. Even raising Lazarus seems kind and compassionate, but providing extra alcohol for a crowd who have already drunk the place dry just seems utterly bizarre.
Why does he do this?
I was sharing some thoughts around this passage in John 2 at church as my own learning in this area was quite the revelation. I began by asking people which of these descriptions best matched their experience of faith
a) The Christian life is about death to self, taking up your cross and going hard after Jesus #nocompromise
b) The Christian life is about living in the wonderful blessing of God’s grace and enjoying his provision. #soblessed
The right side of the room was for those who totally resonated with a) and the left was the opposite. Choose a place on that continuum that reflects your experience. We did that, chatted and then we moved from the place that reflected our experience to the place that reflected our understanding – or our theology – because reality and ideas sometimes are quite different. This proved to be the case as people shuffled around. I’m sure most people learnt more from that experience than anything I may have said!
Personally I have always leant much more towards ‘a,’ a tough and somewhat stoic approach to faith. If God happens to bless me along the way then I’ll take it as a bonus, but there are no expectations on him and plenty of sacrifice required from me. It was partly the era I grew up in and partly a function of my own approach to life.
However several experiences on long service leave messed with my script. I blogged a while back about the caravan we bought for the trip, a once in a lifetime bargain that we were fortunate enough to stumble upon and purchase. I expected to travel Oz in a modest unexciting caravan, but we finished up owning and living in a top of the range, prestige kind of van. Admittedly it was a repairable write off that had been all fixed up, but was 25-30k under market value. Perhaps my coolest bargain ever. As we travelled there were times when I would say to Danelle ‘I can’t believe we own this van! This is way outa our league!!’
Then a few curious things happened.
We met friends in Torquay and told them the story of how we had acquired the van and they said ‘What a blessing! What a wonderful blessing from God!’
‘Really?…’ I said. Like we deserve a blessing! With kids starving all round the world why would God bless wealthy middle class westerners with a caravan that exceeded their expectations???’ I thought it was a fair point. If anyone needs blessing it aint us – or if he does want to ‘bless’ me then maybe he could heal the nerve pain that has been hanging around me!
Then it happened a second time. Some friends in NSW simply said again ‘what a blessing…’. I am starting to think there is some dodgy theology going on around Oz that I need to correct. I don’t deserve a physical ‘blessing’, it’s just very good fortune. But I began to wonder if maybe God would actually do stuff like that.
But why? Why us?
Then a third time it happened in Darwin as we had dinner with my cousin. She pushed a little harder and asked why I struggled to accept this as a blessing. ‘Why wouldn’t God want to bless us with something good?’ she asked.
The simple truth was that I believe God is generous in theory, but in practice I just couldn’t see him being generous in a tangible way toward me.
The question struck me though, because it cut to the core of my perception of God. It began to reveal God as like a ‘good boss’, rather than a good father. A good boss gives you what you’re due and occasionally might give you a little bonus. But it’s a purely transactional kind of relationship. It’s nothing like a ‘father’ kind of relationship that we claim to have with God.
As we talked the wedding in Cana came up and the outrageous, unnecessary generosity of God became the focus. If as John indicates, the miracles are ‘signs’ of some sort then surely Jesus first miracle is a sign that this is what God’s kingdom is like. Overflowing with generosity and grace – the undeserving get the very best. It’s a concept that just doesn’t compute easily – that God would somehow provide the best wine of the day to people who had already pushed their limits.
In the end I actually came to a point of saying ‘this van is a beautiful blessing from God’. There is no rational reason why we should have it – but we do.
And while I get all the symbology and deeper meaning of the miracle (ceremonial jars / law / old cov / new cov / weddding feast of the lamb etc) the point that stuck with me was the outrageous actions of Jesus, to bless that party with the very best in wine – even though they were completely underserving.
This is what God is like