John 2 – Wine and Dine

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The story of Jesus turning water into wine is a favorite among pastors wanting to show that Jesus approves of weddings and marriages.  Some have also used it to point out the fact that Jesus approves of alcohol consumption because of what He did at this wedding.  Sadly, both of these attempts at proof-texting completely miss the point of the passage here.

Jesus’ miracle at this wedding in Cana is the first documented miracle that He performs in His public ministry.  The miracle itself is rather spectacular and compassionate, saving a poor young couple from the embarrassment of ruining their own wedding celebration by not purchasing enough alcohol.  But, as is true in the Gospel of John, there is a great deal of symbolism that is found deep in this narrative.

When the dreadful lack of wine is discovered, Jesus tells Mary that His “hour has not yet come.”  The implication is that Jesus knows who He is and what He has come for.  Interestingly, even though it was not His hour, she still believes and He still performs this miracle.

These nearby stone jars are something that every Jew would recognize; a symbol of Jewish ritualism and the Law.  The fact that they were not full is interesting in itself, and what happens to the water once they are full is even more miraculous!  He takes the empty jars of Jewish ritualism and overflows them with the abundance that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is one of many revelations about the Kingdom of Heaven.  In God’s economy, there is always abundance.  More than this, though, is that the best things are yet to come, and will be realized when this Kingdom comes in its fullness when Jesus returns and we celebrate together at God’s banquet table.



Mark 6 – Abundance

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If there is one thing that we could say defines America, it would be that we pride ourselves on having more than enough.  Maybe this is not something we like to claim, but the reality of how we act, what we own, and how we eat shows this to be true.  We don’t like to rely on anyone for anything.  Americans fulfill their own destiny, provide for themselves, and create their own abundance.

Jesus, however, creates a different picture of abundance; that of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It isn’t a picture of self-help books or 3-step guides to a better life, neither is it a list of rules and regulations you must follow to earn their keep, it is an image of full and complete dependence on God who provides far more than we could ask or imagine.

Our Savior provides food, more than they could possibly eat, out of scarcity.  Yet the lesson that is meant to be taught here is not one of physical nourishment, but rather the nature of God’s Kingdom which is illustrated in the following two narratives as well.

In all three cases, Jesus provides for the needs that they have.  This, I believe, is the true nature of God’s Kingdom economy, full provision.  There is never scarcity in the Kingdom of Heaven and never need.  God provides for it all at every moment and Jesus shows this as He provides for physical nourishment, safety, and healing.

The catch, if you could call it that, is our trust and dependence.  While the feeding of the 5,000 did not depend necessarily on the disciple’s trust in Jesus’ ability, nor did the calming of the storm, but healing, like that of the women in the previous chapter, happened because of faith, trust, and dependence on Jesus.



Day 291: Mark 4-6; Jesus' Ministry in Galilee

Mark waists no time in continuing the narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We begin our reading today with some of the parables of Jesus and the explanations that He gives His disciples about them.  I think it is interesting how He does that, quoting an obscure passage of Isaiah, and not really offering much of what we would consider a solid explanation.  I guess I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this, but Jesus makes the point that the “secrets” of the Kingdom of God are revealed to His disciples (and by extension those who believe), yet for those that don’t, these may be something that they can grab a hold of.  Maybe it is like the seed of the parable that is sown into their hearts, something that the gardener (God) would water and cultivate over time.  In any case, Jesus teaches in this way throughout His ministry.

Another thing that we start to see emerging here, something that perhaps wasn’t as clear in Matthew, is the contrast between those who believe and those who do not believe.  As Jesus continues His ministry, we see Him interacting with more and more people in different regions of Galilee.  What is interesting, and probably what the religious leaders of the time despised, is that Jesus associates more and more with the people they would have considered outcasts by virtue of the law.  Jesus eats with sinners, associates with demon possessed people, heals the sick, and even talks to Gentiles (which sadly enough was worse than all the rest of these put together).  Even in Jesus’ home town, where all the people would have known Him since His youth, Jesus is rejected and very few people believe.  Contrast this with the woman who just wanted to touch a piece of Jesus’ cloak to get healing because she was to humiliated and afraid to ask.  What does Jesus say to her?  “Your faith has made you well, go in peace.”  Mark goes back and forth with this theme as a way of showing very clearly that for those who believe, great healing and peace will come, and for those that don’t, no peace or healing is found.

Finally today, I think that there the particular theme that emerges in chapter six is that of abundance.  While we could look at this in many different ways, I think that the word ‘abundance’ seems to fit.  Jesus calls His disciples to Himself and sends them out empowers to preach and to heal in the same what that He has been doing.  They go out and what we see, though it is not recorded as well in this book, is the Kingdom of God appearing throughout the region in abundance.  Many people are healed, freed from spirits, and given hope.  Next, after the interlude of John the Baptist’s death, we see the narrative of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  This too is a theme of abundance and carries with it the themes from the Lord’s Supper.  As one professor has said to me, “if there is water in the narrative, you best be thinking baptism.  If there is food in the narrative, you best be thinking Communion.”  Though we do not see the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, we do see the image of Jesus breaking bread and giving it to the people.  In this we see that there is an abundance!  In fact, there is more than an abundance, there is an overflow!  Jesus is revealing to the people that in the Kingdom of God there is no wanting, no hunger, no need, there is only abundance.



Day 284: Matthew 15-17; Contrast of Faiths

There are a lot of things that happen in today’s reading; a great deal of different mini-stories that are seemingly disconnected.  Jesus is talking to different people, healing different people, and doing miracles for many.  Though they kind of seem like a disconnected bunch of micro-narratives, these are actually quite connected as a continuing contrast of those who think that they have faith, and those who actually do.

Our reading starts out with a question from the Pharisees regarding the breaking of tradition.  They were concerned with the fact that Jesus’ disciples were not doing the ritual washing before they eat.  This was one of the “laws” that we talked about when we discussed Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  They considered this as being something akin to faith, showing that they followed the rituals as a way of obedience.  Jesus’ response?  He calls them hypocrites and points them to the real Law that they are actually breaking.  More than that though, He again quotes Isaiah:

This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew then contrasts this story, the faith of the “righteous,” religious leaders of the day with that of an outcast.  In that day it would have been completely inappropriate for a woman to approach a male teacher like Jesus.  Moreover, it would have been absolutely out of the question for a Gentile to approach a Jewish person in that day.  Yet despite Jesus seeming to ignore her (Matthew’s point being that Jesus was saying that He is the Messiah sent to Israel, not that He is heartless and cruel) she shows her faith in Jesus through her words and her persistence, knowing that she was unworthy but also that Jesus was the only one who could help her.  Jesus even points out her great faith and what happens?  Her son is healed.

A few verses later we see the narrative of Jesus feeding four thousand people.  Because of His compassion, Jesus asks his disciples to feed the crowds.  I can only imagine the look on their faces when he said that.  Each of them could have worked their entire life and not made enough money to feed 4,000 men (plus women and children).  Jesus doesn’t chastise this question, neither does he tell them how it will happen, He just sends them to feed them with the few loaves and fish.  The disciples obey and what happens?  They feed the people and there are seven baskets of leftovers!  Now, there are a bunch of different themes here including the abundance of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Lord’s Supper, etc. We will talk about these, and the Transfiguration at another time.  However, I want to point out that the disciples listened to Jesus and obeyed even though the didn’t understand, and in that things happened!

So this brings together three narratives, all having to do (on some level) with faith.  As we proceed in our reading today we see (in some ways) the results of these interactions.  The Pharisees have connected their “faith” with the traditions, believing that what they do and how they follow the “law” is the same as belief.  Like we talked about, they even set up laws to protect the laws, just to make sure that they didn’t transgress any of them.  For them obedience to the law was an end in itself and the result of their “faith” was that they came back to Jesus asking for more signs.  Though it was clearly in front of them, the could not see it with their eyes, or hear it with their ears, because their heart was dull.  They wanted to see it their way and hear it their way… and it wound up with them being lost in their “faith.”

We also saw the example of the Gentile woman, whom we don’t hear from again, but we saw the contrast of her and the pharisees in that healing touched her because of her faith.

The final contrast comes in the story of Peter’s declaration of faith.  After the feeding of the Four Thousand, and the return and dismissal of the pharisees, Jesus asks His disciples who people say He is.  While it is a bit of a leap to say that the event of the feeding was the turning point of Peter’s faith, it is not so much of a leap to say that Peter’s accumulated experiences with Jesus had helped to bring him to the point of this declaration.  Though he may have not understood all that was going on at the time, Peter followed and listened, he was open and obedient to Jesus and his faith grew.  Now we see Peter declaring, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, at which point Jesus says that it is on him (and presumably a faith like his) that the church (the Greek word ἐκκλησία) will be built and the powers of hell will not be able to shake it.  This is the kind of faith that Matthew is setting up as the right faith for the Jews.  Their hope does not rest on the law, the land, or their traditions, but in the coming Messiah whom he is showing us in Jesus Christ.