In today’s Gospel story, Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding party in Cana of Galilee. This is his first public exposure after he called his disciples. So it’s a kind of inauguration event for his upcoming ministry. No doubt, it’s important. But what an weird way to make his debut! At a wedding party? I agree, it doesn’t have to be like a ribbon-cutting ceremony with a long speech and famous people around. I get it. But a wedding party doesn’t really look special enough to build up public enthusiasm and call people’s attention to his ministry. Moreover, what an odd miracle to mark the beginning! Turning water into wine? Giving more wine at the reception to party people? Well, if I were one of his disciples, I would be much worried about people misunderstanding him. They might say, there’s a miracle worker among us! But this miracle really doesn’t tell them who Jesus truly is and what his ministry is about.
Meanwhile, in the other Gospels, we can find some appropriate opening activities of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel of Luke takes Jesus to a synagogue. There, Jesus proclaims that the promise of God for the new life has been fulfilled at his arrival. It’s such an impressive speech. How about Matthew and Mark? They tell us, Jesus preaches the good news around Galilee and heals many people with great compassion. Yes, these are proper things for Jesus to do as his first ministry. Then, why doesn’t John just tell us about these things? Why does he deliver us this particular story of Jesus about a wedding in Cana on top of all the other stories?
But, for sure, there is something that John wants us to know about Jesus more. And that something is the gift that Jesus brings to the world. In the story, “the good wine” symbolizes this gift. And this gift is the gift of God’s grace—the new life with joy and blessing. From the story, we can discover two special characteristics of this gift. First of all, this gift is free. The wedding reception was running out of wine. The servants and stewards were dismayed. But suddenly, Jesus provides them with the better wine for free. Just because they invited Jesus to the wedding, they were given this good wine for free. Here, John wants us to know the truth: to receive the gift of grace, what we need to do is just invite Jesus to our lives and accept him as our savior. Then we have the invaluable gift of grace that is even packaged with so many other gifts for our new life. The forgiveness of sins, the freedom from death, the assurance of salvation, the right to be called the children of God, and all the other spiritual gifts…all these are freely given unto us in Jesus.
The second characteristic of this gift is that this gift is abundant. The Gospel tells us that at the wedding, there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. And Jesus asked the servants to fill them up to the brim. That’s a lot of water. So Jesus turns all that water for the ritual purification into the good wine for the joyful banquet. Now, the wine overflows, and it’s available for many more people. Here, John also wants us to know another truth: Jesus gives us abundant grace that is sufficient for us to be restored and reconciled to God. So in Jesus Christ, we don’t need special rituals of purification to get close to God. The people who have Jesus in their heart can enjoy the fellowship with God having the wine of grace, the gift of joyful new life of great abundance. For this free and abundant gift of grace we receive in Jesus, we give thanks to God today and every day. Amen.
Tomorrow, we will commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. one more time. And while doing so, we will realize once more, there still is a long way to go until we see his dream finally come true in this world. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of the world being transformed into the kingdom of God. Especially in the last part of his “I Have a Dream” speech, he uses the words of the Prophet Isaiah to describe his hope for the kingdom. There are many definitions of this kingdom. But from today’s Gospel story, I think, we can imagine the kingdom of God as the kingdom of giving, where God’s gift of grace, like the good wine, overflows into everyone’s life freely and abundantly, where good news is given to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and compassion to the marginalized, where social system and law ensure everyone right and dignity, love and care, equality and opportunity without any discrimination. I know it’s too ideal; it may be just a dream.
Look around the world. Is it getting any closer to the kingdom of giving? Rather, is it going farther to the opposite direction and becoming the world of taking? Sadly, we still see endless wars, conflicts, violence, divisions, and hatred as people struggle to take more, take as much as they can. In this world of taking, even God-given rights are taken from some people. In this world of taking, even skin color, race, and gender are still the reason to take opportunity, dignity, and equality away from some people. In this world of taking, 1% of powerful people take 99% of wealth produced and all the others fight one another just to take more portion out of that 1%.
Yes, the kingdom of God looks too far away from us. That’s true. Yet, even in this world of taking, we should not lose our hope. We should not, because we have the free and abundant gift of grace in our lives; because we believe, this holy gift can change this life-taking world into the life-giving kingdom of God. So today, believing in Jesus means that we actively join forces to make this gift of grace available for more people, by sharing the good news of salvation, by witnessing freedom and forgiveness in Jesus, and by practicing the unconditional love. Even though the world is not even close to the world we dream of, we still have a reason for hope. And our hope comes in the name of Jesus who is the giver of the free and abundant gift of God’s grace.
Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “I have a dream today…I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Following his legacy, let us be hopeful and faithful in Jesus again and again and share the gift of grace more and more, so that one day, the kingdom of God shall come true in our world, and all flesh shall see the glory of God and enjoy the overflowing joy and blessings of new life in freedom and abundance. Amen.