The Voice : "What concern is that to you...?"
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Lately I have been sitting with this passage of Scripture. Gazing at it actually, and discovering it is gazing at me. Thomas Merton’s warning has proven true: when reading Scripture and asking, “What is this book?” … you find that you are also implicitly being asked: “Who is this that reads it?” Something of that has gone on as I have gazed at this familiar story; initially feeling over-familiar with it.
This is a story about Jesus. The story is well-known for being the first miracle Jesus performed as recorded in the Gospel of John. So far so good. And in reading it the scenes flash past quickly; a wedding that has run out of wine, the mother of Jesus appeals to him for help, Jesus seems initially uninterested, he changes his mind, water is changed into wine, and the story ends with the question “Why has the best been left to last?” First miracle complete and the disciples believe in him. This is a story about Jesus.
However, as I have gazed at this story it has asked “Who is this that reads me?” I am still marshalling my answer to that; this blog is some of the raw material to my answer.
In the opening words of the story a simple statement: “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” The second verse adds an oh-by-the-way comment; “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.” It is almost like Mary’s wedding invitation read “Mary plus one.” The opening verse draws our attention to where our attention needs to be: read this account through the eyes of the mother of Jesus. And her first spoken words are timeless: “They have no more wine.” Timeless with definition and application across the ages and across nations. “They have no more wine” – “They have no more [you fill in the missing word]. Joy. Life. Justice. Hope. Dignity. Strength. Faith. Love.
At the time when this passage of Scripture sat with me and I with it, I was in south Asia teaching preaching. One of the sessions we engaged with was preaching the Psalms with focus on the laments. As I was preparing and teaching it, it struck me that John 2:1-11 offers the oft-missing link in a Psalm of lament: what happened at the point the lament changed from complaint to praise? It occurred to me that here, in John 2, we see at least one possible disposition modelled. The mother of Jesus laments that “There is no more wine” and is confronted by the seemingly confounding response of Jesus in verse 4: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” Whatever she thought of that is not recorded but her next move is: she tells the servants to “Do whatever he tells you” (verse 5). Here we see an example of the inner workings of a lament. The mother of Jesus is providing an answer to Jesus’ question by acting. She did not hear his question as rhetorical. She heard it as a call. Lament does not passively wait for God to act; lament might result us acting in response to what God says and does.
I shared some of these initial soundings about this text in a small group recently. The leader of the group is training for Presbyterian ministry. She emailed me some thoughts soon after and it delves into the art and science of what the mother of Jesus seems to be modelling:
I wonder if when we see things that are lament worthy, like poverty, slave labour, (read here any injustice), if Jesus doesn't turn to us and ask, “What concern is that to you and to me?”
How do we respond? Is it a concern to us? Mary shows Jesus in her response that she is not going to give up adopting this as her business. In so doing, as his mother whom he must honour, she makes it his business too.
There are certainly times I give up clinging to Jesus’ garments (as it were), and just give up on holding out for the wine of the new kingdom to come now. Do I give up at the point where he turns to me and asks, “What concern is that to you and to me?” because it's all too hard and I don't have an answer? Mary doesn't have an answer either, but she shows him it is a concern to her in the way she instructs the servants.
So, verse four is not a shut-down but an opening-up and verse five is faith placed in Christ and faith practiced in the world. Maybe what verse five confronts is morphing WWJD to WWYD? What Would You Do after having drawn Jesus’ attention to WWJD? I once heard a sermon preached by one of the youth pastors in the church I was leading. She told the story of a young girl in the sex slave trade in Vietnam. She posed the question: “That girl doesn’t want to know where God was. She wants to know where you were.” That question moved me to action and still confronts me.
So, the servants are directed to begin the fermenting process (vv. 6-8) and the story ends with two bewildered and clueless people trying to figure out what happened. At this point you are invited to stand in the place of the bridegroom. He has no answer to the chief wine steward’s mild rebuke. All he knows is that on this blessed day things just got better. He knows not how or why – only what; he has the best wine on offer. He is the recipient of goodness because of a partnership between the Son of God and someone who knew how to ask of him and respond to him. And the bridegroom appears to be oblivious to this dynamic. The recipient of intercession borne out of lament.
By this point in the story the mother of Jesus fades from the account and Jesus’ glory and the disciples’ belief is narrated. There is something safe about that kind of movement in matters of faith. No mention of the mother of Jesus saying to the bridegroom “You’re welcome. Thanks to me!” Her work is done. She has answered the question of verse four well. She has embodied the answer in verse five with faith and courage and that is enough. It is enough to know “what concern it is to Jesus and her.” Is it enough for you to know that?
I mentioned earlier that some of my reflection on this text was helped while in south Asia recently. During that trip I was taken to a local Christian wedding. The wedding was entirely in another language I did not understand but as I sat there I asked God to show me John 2:1-11 at play.
At the end of the wedding ceremony the 500 or so guests moved through to reception area for the wedding banquet. I approached the many varieties of food on offer with my empty plate. Before me were two bowls of rice. Standing there was a member of the family of one of the newly married couple. I took a helping of rice from the first bowl. The woman standing there motioned to the second bowl: “That is fifty-year rice. Take some.” Fifty-year rice is very rare, can only be preserved in the right climate and only ever used for special occasions. Later when I was with the local group I was training I mentioned this fifty-year rice. None of them had ever been able to try it such is its rarity and value. I was struck that I had mostly unwittingly and unknowingly devoured two helpings of it! This rice was akin to the end of John 2’s story; “wine” of exceptional quality and value. And someone was partaking of it ignorant of what went into it being available. As I talked with those I was training about this delicacy, one of them asked:
“Fifty-year rice? For the whole congregation?!”
“Yes” I replied.
“For the WHOLE congregation?!” he repeated.
If we take to heart the dynamics of John 2:1-11, there might just be enough of this goodness and glory to go around our families, communities and world. Start the fermenting process by telling Jesus why this is a “concern for you and him.”
Geoff New is Dean of Studies at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (Dunedin). He is a trainer for Langham Preaching in South Asia. He also leads Kiwimade Preaching. His doctoral research explored the impact of utilising Lectio Divina and Ignatian Gospel Contemplation when preparing sermons.
 Apart from Psalm 73:16-17, an actual description of what happened for the Psalmist to change his tune is not outlined.
 I am indebted to Charissa Nicol (Christchurch), for this angle and reflection on this passage (firstname.lastname@example.org)