“They have no wine.”
I hear a question in Mary’s voice as she points out to her son Jesus that the wedding guests have run out of wine. It’s a primal question that’s familiar to all of us, isn’t it? Will we have enough? Will we have enough to put food on the table? Will we have enough to make a good life for our family and enjoy the life we’ve created? Will we have enough to retire and stay retired? It’s a fear of scarcity I hear in Mary’s voice. But Jesus answers her fear, as he always does, with an assurance of abundance.
This story is first of seven of the fourth gospel’s “sign” stories. Signs are one of the ways in which John presents Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one of God. And it’s through Jesus, the one who embodies God, who gives us a glimpse of the nature of God; it’s through Jesus that we are assured of God’s abundance. And John’s story about the wedding feast at Cana is a story about the discovery of God’s true abundance.[i]
But what is “true” abundance, really? Well, it may not necessarily be what you think. I’m going to propose, that we, in post-modern western culture, view this scarcity vs. abundance question through a rather foggy lens. In other words, we approach this question on an individual level. Will I have enough? But, according to John, it’s God’s intention, as we see in the life of Jesus, that all people and all life should flourish. And Jesus says that our task is to tend to this flourishing by helping our neighbor flourish as well.
Now, to help us understand how we might live into this task, we can look to the words of Theologian Sallie McFague in her most recent book: Life Abundant. First, she invites us to live “cross-shaped” lives. So, what is a cross-shaped life? Well, it’s a life that offers an alternative vision of the beatitudes. A vision that begins with the same kind of invitation to a transformation that Matthew presented, but with a twist. Cross-shaped living offers us something more. And that “something more” is what she calls, “abundance through the practice of enough-ness.”[ii] In other words, this “enough-ness” challenges us to limit our consumption of the world’s resources in recognition of the needs of others.
Maybe think of it this way. The earth is God’s house, and as such, it only makes sense that we should abide by God’s house rules. But God’s house rules are not the same as society’s rules. Society’s rules say that we are free to amass as many material goods as lawfully allowed, and in the process, we can use all the natural resources necessary and push aside anyone who gets in the way of the fulfillment of our accumulation of wealth. Society encourages us to look out for number one.
But God’s house rules are a little different. God encourages us to look beyond ourselves and see, that we are in fact, living in an interconnected global home. In other words, in God’s house we have roommates. And the rules in God’s house reflect this reality. If you’ve ever had roommates, you know what I mean. The rules are simple: “Take only your share, clean up after yourself, and keep the house in good repair for future occupants.”[iii]
Now, just for fun, let’s see what it might look like if we applied these rules to our lives. First, “Take only your share.” When Jesus turned the water into wine he created an abundance of wine; more than enough for all the wedding guests. But notice something here, he didn’t say that only the wedding party could partake, nor did he keep all the wine, the best wine, for only himself and his mother. The best of the best was intended for all to enjoy. God’s first house rule is to take what only what we need so there will be plenty for everyone. I almost feel foolish saying this because it’s so obvious. We learned to share when we were in kindergarten. But today, particularly in our nation, and in the global community in general, sharing resources seems to be pretty-far down on the list of priorities.
Rule two: “Clean up after yourself.” This one is interesting. It’s interesting because in God’s rule book this means a whole lot more that just washing your own dishes. “Cleaning up” refers to taking care of one’s neighbor. Let me give you an illustration of what I mean.
Many years ago, the Roman Catholic Church wanted to record something of the life and ministry of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. For several days, a camera crew went with her on her journeys throughout the city. One day, in a back alley, Mother Teresa came across a man who was sick and dying. It was a horrible sight to see. The man’s body was full of oozing sores. The smell was almost unbearable. But she stopped, called for a basin of water, a cloth, and a towel. Then she knelt-down next to this dying man and began to wash his body. Someone off camera said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa, without looking up, answered, “Neither would I.”[iv]
Jesus said, “whatever you do unto the least of my beloved ones, you do unto me.” When we reach out to the sick or the lonely; when we speak for someone whose voice has been silenced; when we seek justice for groups of people who has been marginalized or undervalued by our society; whenever we “clean up after ourselves” by serving our neighbor; we are doing it unto Jesus himself, because the poor and the oppressed are the heart of Christ. Mother Teresa understood this. She understood that by cleaning the wounds of that dying man, she was symbolically cleaning the wounds left by humanity’s greed on the poorest among us. She understood that this simple act of compassion was being done not only to the dying man, but unto God.
But humankind’s greed, unfortunately goes beyond just keeping the poor, well… poor; we have also neglected to care for God’s creation. God’s third roommate rule is “Keep the house in good repair for future occupants.” Pollution of the air, contamination of the ground water, over use of the earth’s natural resources, global climate change; these things and more are the result human greed and an instant gratification mentality. And, if we’re honest here, we must admit that we’ve all have some culpability when it comes to these things. But we can change, we can make a fresh start today, we can begin to live out God’s third house rule and begin to preserve this home for future generations.
And this type of thinking was not alien to Jesus. As I have already said, at the heart of the wedding at Cana narrative is this idea of abundance; but it’s an abundance that comes in the form of a miracle. Why? Well, perhaps, it’s because the whole of creation, the forest, the lakes and streams, the eagles and robins, the bears and chipmunks, the clouds and the stars and the sun and the moon; the crisp air on a clear winter day or the lapping waves on warm summer evening; perhaps it’s because this earth is a miracle. The extraordinary within the ordinary. And God created this earth, like the wedding party wine, with enough resources for all.
Which brings us back around to the first two rules. You see, God’s house rules are not linear; they’re circular. You can’t leave one out or the circle will be broken. So, as we continue our Lenten journey in the days and weeks to come, we are invited to complete the circle. We are directed to take only our share, to clean up after ourselves, and to keep this house in good repair for future occupants.
So, as we depart today, my prayer for our community and for our nation is that the unbroken circle of God’s love may move us to overcome our fear of sacristy and point us toward God’s true abundance; an abundance where there’s plenty for all. May the best of God’s best be within our hearts, guide our hands, direct our tongues, and finally, lead us all to live cross-shaped lives. May it be so. Amen.
[ii]Sallie McFague, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001
[iii] Ibid. McFague