“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing…”
John 2:6 (NIV)
In yesterday’s opening chapter of John’s biography of Jesus, I shared that identity is a core theme of John’s narrative.
- John identifies Jesus as the embodied, eternal Word through which all things were created, whom John himself saw glorified.
- John identifies Jesus as a spiritual bookend to Moses; The law came through Moses, while grace and truth came through Jesus.
- John the Baptist identifies himself as not the Messiah, but one who “comes before” and “a voice in the wilderness” preparing the way.
- John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
- Jesus identifies his first disciples and gives Simon a new identity, as “Peter.”
In today’s chapter, John chooses two episodes to begin introducing the reader to Jesus. I couldn’t help but recall John’s words at the end of his narrative:
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.John 21:25 (NIV)
So why did John choose these two episodes? First, Jesus acts out of His divinity. He gives in to His mother’s request to salvage a wedding feast for the host by miraculously turning water into wine. In the second, Jesus acts out of His humanity at the Temple in Jerusalem. He overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple courts and creates a small riot.
I spent some time meditating on these two stories, and I found them to be a fascinating contrast which identifies two important aspects of Jesus’ person. Jesus channels divine power to extend compassionate generosity to a common, everyday person stuck in a very human social dilemma. John doesn’t even identify the bride, the groom, or the family who found themselves on the cusp of social humiliation by running out of wine for their guests. What a very ordinary human dilemma for Jesus to solve by miraculously producing 180 gallons of wine (and not just your average table wine, He produced the “good stuff”).
In the second episode, Jesus sets Himself against human corruption that polluted the religious institution and Temple system. The leaders of the Temple had a racket going. They extorted money and lined their pockets from poor religious pilgrims who came from all over the world to offer ritual offerings and sacrifices, forcing them to exchange Roman or other currency into Temple currency (plus taxes and fees, of course). No miracle here. Jesus very humanly channels His inner challenger to fire a shot across the bow of the powerful, religious racketeers. It is the opening shot of a three-year conflict that will end with the racketeers’ conspiracy to commit the legally sanctioned murder of Jesus.
Miraculously divine compassion for a common, everyday nobody.
Courageous human action against a corrupt “kingdom of this world.”
And even in the water-to-wine miracle, there exists a powerful metaphor that connects these two episodes. The “six stone jars” Jesus had the wedding attendants use were intended to be used by the religious leaders for their “ceremonial washing” water. The religious leaders will later accuse Jesus of refusing to follow their prescribed ritual “washing.” They will also accuse Jesus of being a drunkard. Jesus uses the water jars used for the religious leaders’ hypocritical cleansing to produce 180 gallons of “new wine.” And, I also can’t forget that there were six jars, and the number six is identified in the Great Story as “man’s number.” Man’s institutional religious hypocrisy is transformed into divine kindness and compassion for a nameless, poor commoner.
- Fruitful acts of divine love and compassion towards others
- Bold defiance of institutional corruption and hypocrisy
In the quiet this morning I find myself desiring to embody these two characteristics that John identifies in Jesus.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.