Mary, mother of Jesus, often described as poor and humble, meek and mild; yet very much front and centre of the goings on at the famous wedding of Cana, in Galilee.
Not only that, but given that the only other time Mary is mentioned in John – it is as she laments her aching heart and sheds tears of grief at the foot of the Cross that bears her son – we might reflect on the significance of Mary’s central role at both the beginning of Jesus Ministry (the so called 1st of John’s Signs pointing to Jesus significance as Christ/ God’s Son) and at the end as He becomes the sacrifice for God.
Mary’s heart ached as she saw her dying Son near to death. It’s not inconceivable that she berated herself – thinking back to the Wedding where she pleaded/ demanded Jesus do the spectacular – so revealing Himself – asking the question if she hadn’t pushed so hard, if she hadn’t been the spark to ignite Jesus standing out – maybe it would not have come to this. Speculation, but not inconceivable that a heart-broken mother might blame herself.
Yet, the Cross is still many weeks away. In the timeline for Jesus we are at the start – the very start and full of vigour and passion and hopefulness Mary is a central figure in this moment of Gospel revelation.
Here Mary, she of travel by Donkey and a birthing suite of a smelly stable, of poor and humble station sparks a scene that becomes the 1sy Sign of Jesus power and divinity. She does so not through any sense of feminine vulnerability and weakness – not by being a woman to be pitied who needs a strong son to bail her out – but through a decisive interjection of strength. For Jesus the time might have been ‘not yet mother’ – but for Mary it was time for the world to see. She knew – she knew – and it was time for the world to know of God’s Son. This was Mary in full strength and conviction – not meek and mild.
This poor and humble reference to Mary we often make the mistake of taking as some sort of theological statement – churchy summary – of her significance as a woman in comparison to the importance of all the men who appear as if taking the centre stage in the story of God in the Old and New Testament and in the histories of the church since. Such a condescending view. Poor – humble Mary.
Yet in fact the poor and humble references we have often made are better suited to describing the physical reality of Mary and not he theological standing in this extraordinary story. Poor, and from a humble family and strata of society is what she was. As to would befit a description of her husband – or any of her friends – male/ female – from the village where she lived.
That the son of God be encouraged to come out of the closet as it were – be revealed/ introduced – by someone so poor and humble as Mary, is significant – not because of her gender but because this implies a God who doesn’t care about Social Standing and Formalities and Power but who cares only about the welfare of the whole of humanity and who chooses to reveal the abundance of the Gospel, and frame the priorities of the Gospel, in a way he chooses and not as the world might choose it. And he chose Mary to do the honours.
Often, as we seek to make sense of what the Bible exposes, we turn to everyday affairs – our experiences – those things happening in our world today – stories often revealed in the headlines of the news – as reference points through which we might relate what the Bible unveils to our existence today.
In thinking about Mary as perhaps the central character in this story – as the star of the show as it were – I couldn’t help but think of the tremendous show of feminine strength and solidarity that we met in the early part of the week as the Golden Globe Awards Show was dominated by the energy behind the move to address the humiliation of women in that industry by moguls and executives over the years who have subjected women to terrible abuses, harassment and favours in order to be chosen and in order to pursue careers.
Oprah Winfrey summed up the mood, saying “a new day is on the horizon”, going on to say, “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up!”
Dressed in Black the audience showed solidarity in a statement that cried our for fairness, and equality.
On the same day a BBC Journalist wrote an open letter to the License Payers after resigning from her job decrying the unfairness of a systemic position on pay within the BBC which leaves women underpaid compared to male counterparts doing the same job. This news story grew and grew as people spoke out and the BBC was called to defend itself.
2018 some say is to be the year of women. When they will become respected as equals and treated with the dignity they deserve not as women but as human beings.
We live in a disjointed and absurd world, when we must establish crusades and movements to right the wrongs of those groups who have been discriminated against and treated as second class to other. Maybe 2018 will be the year of Women. Maybe 2017 was, or should have been, the year of the poor. Maybe 2016 needed to be the year of all who were oppressed under dictatorship. The year before the year for those who were discriminated against on account of sexual orientation, or race, or skin colour.
That our world exists with such inequality acceptance is tragic. And who can argue that such a world is not at odds with God’s intention.
The stories contained in the Book in which the Word of God treasured and protected – the Bible – all point to the actions of a God for whom inequality and abuses of power are unacceptable. And yet the world has created and then turned a blind eye to so much wrong it seems. God story in the Old Testament it seems to me is about restoring the sense of God’s sovereignty over all things and humanity’s special relationship with Him.
The thrust of the Spirit’s work is the restoration of proper order in the Universe and within humanity where all are protected under the unconditional love of God; where opportunities are made available for all.
The New Testament shares the story of God’s intervention into a world that continued to exist in a fractured state and unveils that for the world of 2000 years ago and the world of today there is a new thrust to God’s work in the world.
God’s whole work before and through Jesus it appears to me is about bringing those people who are forced to live on the margins of life, for whatever reason – poverty, discrimination, limited opportunity – and growing the centre to be the place where all – all – get to share in the abundance offered by God, through His Love for all.
As we journey through the 4th Gospel we will see that the author makes it His work to continually point people to the truth of what God has achieved in Christ. We remember that these Miracle Stories are better interpreted as Signs. The detail of the magnificent feats of Jesus don’t matter. They are signs signposting Jesus.
Here in the Fourth Gospel we encounter extravagant abundance as the hallmark of this first sign of Jesus. The wine created from the water is clearly superior in quality. Yet the key to this story is that this transformation is of God and points to God. Transforming the water into wine is not just delightfully mysterious or an act of extravagant abundance; it declares the glory of God.
The Gospel witness is emphatic that in Jesus, there is always the promise of superabundance. And this abundance is protected not just for a few but is offered to all.
When we are in invited to a wedding we take it for granted that the hosts will feed us and provide us with something to drink. In the days of the wedding at Cana it was more a case of BYOB. Just as well as the wedding generally lasted days if not weeks and I am not sure the Bride and Groom could fit the Bill otherwise.
In this story we know Mary like some others were not well off. Maybe some were embarrassed at not having anything to drink on account of not being able to afford to bring any wine or their limited wine having run out. Some scholars suggest that it was out of embarrassment that Mary asked Jesus to intercede; embarrassed at being shown to inferior to other gusts who were able to afford to bring with them much wine and of decent quality.
Reluctantly Jesus acquiesced. The conclusion is this wine shared with those who perhaps had little, began to flow and it was of the best quality. This take on the story is very similar in conclusion to the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
It is a signpost to the abundance of God – who in His richness gave the new wine – Jesus to the world – and makes available the abundance of His Love to all.
This sign that Jesus performed challenges us, and our faith communities, to engage in everyday living and practice that will make a bold witness to the world that the resources given to us through God’s awesome abundance must serve those who have very little – that the richness of life’s blessings must not be limited only to a comparative few.
The superabundance of God’s grace is spectacular and the signposting to this truth apparent in such Signs as this story must drive us to work for such a world where inequality and lack of opportunity for some are not tolerated or propagated.
It took the special intervention of Mary in this story to Notice the inequality, to become Intercessor so publicly, to make the connections between Jesus and the servants as the starting point of putting the matter right.
Mary – poor and humble in her physical background but thankfully not spiritually or in the eyes of God. She proved herself a match for anybody – male or female – in the story of God and that too is a reminder for us in this age that discrimination between male and female isn’t acceptable and the abuses of power of one sex over another even less so.