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WATER INTO WINE (Views from the Abbey 17)

This Tuesday (2 February) Julia and I will be celebrating our 30th Wedding Anniversary. The traditional gift for 30 years of marriage is pearl, indicative of something extra special that takes time to grow – a pearl of great price that is worth sacrificing everything else in order to gain (Matthew 13:45,46). Of course, Jesus is speaking of the gift of salvation, not marriage, but blessed is the man (or woman) who finds a life partner who turns out to be a true soul mate, a companion on the journey, an encourager to keep keeping on in the way of Christ!

Speaking of weddings, one of my favourite Bible stories is the story of the Wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11). One could wax lyrical on all that this story has to teach us but I want to concentrate on just one aspect – Jesus turning water into wine – his first recorded miracle although the word John uses here for ‘miracle’ (v.11) is not the normal Greek word for ‘miracle’ (dunamis) but semeion meaning ‘sign’. For John, all Jesus’ miracles are actually ‘signs’ – pointing to who Jesus was and to his claim upon all our lives – rather than to the miracles in and of themselves!  So, what are we to make of this particular miracle, this sign of turning water into wine, this moment of bright illumination? Let me suggest three things:

Firstly, Jesus brightens up religion. The water Jesus used was not for drinking or washing dishes but for a specifically religious purpose in Judaism (v.6). It is as if Jesus is saying, ‘Let me take your old religion, good as it is, and given by God – and turn it into something even better!’ He had come to turn the water of Judaism into wine. Whether we come to him, from Judaism, or from a dry and unhelpful church background, or from one of the worlds other religions, or from a state of complete indifference, Jesus wants us to discard the bad and make the good infinitely better. He want us to move away from mere ‘religion’ (even ‘Baptist religion’?) to a living relationship with God through him.

Secondly, Jesus brightens up social occasions! It is really significant for us that Jesus was present at these wedding festivities, at all! Let’s face it, Christians can slip into a frame of mind where either we think that Jesus disapproves of any kind of ‘fun’ and we never go to ‘those kind of parties’ at all, or we go with a sense of guilt and hide our Christian ‘side’ from view. Things may have moved on somewhat from the killjoy Christianity of my youth where parties, pop music, dancing, cinema, etc. were roundly disapproved of, but there are still those Christians who are never happy unless they are miserable (and make everyone else’s life miserable if they can). The fact is the best social events are those Jesus attends, and we should both run them at home in his way, and take him with us when we go out. Jesus is the life and soul of the party!

Thirdly, Jesus brightens up marriage! How good that Jesus – a lifelong bachelor – should want to attend and enrich the wedding of two young friends. Over the years I have ‘married’ a lot of people (officiating at their weddings you understand). Many of these have gone on to be happy and successful … but sadly not all! The saddest thing for me has not been those marriages that ended in separation or divorce, but those marriages where the two people stay together (for the sake of the children, or appearance sake, etc.) but obviously don’t get on anymore and the relationship is clearly unhappy or even toxic. They may try to disguise the fact but in reality everybody knows?! Someone once described such marriages poetically as:

“Theirs was a beef stew marriage, And the case was somewhat crude – For the wife was always ‘beefing’ And the husband always ‘stewed’!”

Let me reiterate, however, that Jesus can touch any marriage – not only at the beginning, but in the middle of a marriage (when things have become ‘run of the mill’), or even in the later years of a marriage (when both parties have possibly ‘given up the ghost’ of their marriage being anything other than a ‘life sentence’) – though he may need to do so through much patience and prayer or through the mediation of people who can help.

A couple (both in their late nineties) who had been married for 70 years, were being interviewed on TV. The young reporter (in her early twenties) asked the husband what the secret of a happy marriage was? ‘Two words!’ he replied. ‘What are they?’ asked the young reporter innocently. ‘Yes, dear!’ was husband’s reply. Let me suggest a better ‘secret’ – the words of the anonymous Preacher of Ecclesiastes – ‘two are better than one, and a three-fold cord is not easily broken’ (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Husband, wife … with Jesus at the centre makes for the secret of a happy and purposeful marriage. And … even if you are not married, putting Jesus at the centre of things is still the best way to turn the all too often tepid water of life into the rich, full-bodied wine of the Kingdom! 

Jim Binney

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