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Sunday 21 January 2024 Epiphany 3

They did as she told them

Genesis 14:17–20; Revelation 19:6–10; John 2:1–11

By Liz Shercliff

Anglican Public Preacher, Chaplaincy Programme Manager and Associate Tutor, Luther King Centre

Context: a Eucharist involving a medium-sized rural congregation, with a mixture of ages

Aim: to emphasise the humanity of Jesus


Probably we’ve all been here. We’re gathered at a wedding. We have a look around and check who’s here – Mary of course. Oh, and Jesus with his disciples. The wedding planner looks serene as the guests tuck into the food and wine. Just over in one corner, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle. They’re not about to bring out the cake at this wedding, though. The guests have been enjoying themselves a bit too much. There’s no more wine!
Mary notices. Perhaps it’s a family wedding and she has a vested interest, we don’t know. Mary decides to tell Jesus, ‘They have no wine.’ Does she already realise that he has the power to do something about it? Again, we don’t know. ‘Nothing to do with me,’ says Jesus, ‘my hour has not yet come.’ Keep watching Mary. Having been clearly told by Jesus that he doesn’t intend to do anything, she goes over to the servants and instructs them to do what Jesus suggests. Jesus has already told her he isn’t going to do anything, yet she tells the servants to do as he says. What’s going on? If we watch Mary for long enough, I think we will see her speak to the servants, then look over to Jesus, as if to say, ‘Get out of that one, then.’ She puts Jesus on the spot.
Have you ever done a parachute jump? Imagine being kitted out, ready to go, and standing at the plane’s open door. There’s that surge of adrenalin, the fleeting moment when you know you could back out – but you’re not going to, you are going to jump. I wonder whether that is how Jesus felt at this moment. Just like the terrified parachute jumper who thinks ‘I’ll do it next time, not now.’ Perhaps Jesus was wondering whether the moment really had come to launch out on his ministry. Jesus, you remember, is both human and divine. In the previous chapter, the writer of John’s Gospel is quite clear, the Word has become flesh. And being flesh includes feeling nervous at the start of a new venture. Just like our mythical parachute jumper, what Jesus needs is the encouragement of someone who has confidence in him – his mother.
It can be easy to imagine Jesus as all-knowing; to interpret stories of him as though he already knows what will happen; to think that he arrived at this wedding already aware that they would run out of wine and that he would turn over a hundred gallons of water into vintage wine. But Jesus shares our humanity. There are times when he doesn’t know – when he is nervous – reluctant even. This is a Jesus who empathises with us, who understands what it is like to be us.
As we reflect on the year to come, with a general election looming in our country, and a presidential election in America; with the worries of climate change and cost of living crises; with wars around the world, let us remember that Jesus is with us in it all. But let’s do more than that too. Mary didn’t hang around, realising there was a problem and hoping Jesus would do something. She could see what was needed. She brought the problem to Jesus. She pointed the servants at Jesus. She told them to do whatever Jesus said. As we contemplate the problems that surround us, perhaps these are things we can do too. Bring the issues to Jesus. Point those involved at Jesus. If that seems difficult, let me tell you a story. Our local MP reads one of the lessons at our Carol Service. One year he read the story of Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt. When I wrote to him about the government’s attitude to asylum seekers, there was an easy link for me to make!
An important feature of this story is Mary’s role. The servants did as she told them. So did Jesus. His humanity meant he needed his mother’s prompting. In the midst of our very human problems, let us remember that Jesus empathises with us because he too became flesh. Recognising and engaging that empathy, let us prompt Jesus to act and then let us respond to his invitation to be part of the new life he brings.


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