In the midst of the celebration and enthusiasm of a wedding there is a frantic panic. The wine skins have been squeezed and the last drop dribbled—the wine is gone. We do not remotely comprehend the social faux pas this created. This hospitality blunder would forever mar the memories of the wedding day for the couple.
Their preparations were inadequate. Maybe they did not have enough wine from the beginning, or the servants were filling the cups a little too full, or people were just a little too greedy. Or all of the above. Regardless the volume of wine was inadequate.
Blame would have been assigned. When reminiscing, their friends and family would always recall and remind everyone of the fact that during the wedding week they ran out of wine.
Did anyone tell the bride and groom? Is that why Mary approached her son? Is that the reason she came to him and whispered the details of the situation? Mary came to save the celebration and the future memories of this couple. The wine was not Mary’s responsibility—but how did she know? Why did she have this information? Regardless of the answer she came to Jesus. She does not even pose it as a question; she simply told him about the inadequate supply of wine: “The wine is gone.” She approached her son—knowing he would have the solution to the dilemma.
Obviously Mary carried some weight and authority at this wedding. She looked at the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.” Then she walked away and left the problem with Jesus. She did not instruct him about how to fix the inadequacy. She did not tell Jesus how much wine was needed. In utter trust she just walked away.
And as usual Jesus looked around to see what was available for his use. He always used what was common and readily recognized.
What was available? Six stone jars. Not small table top jars. No, these were containers that sat on the floor and held twenty to thirty gallons of water. Ceremonial jars. The Jews were meticulous concerning ceremonial clean-ness. And they washed their hands often, not for health issues, but to be “clean”. And this ceremony required a great deal of water.
Jesus intervened. There was no pomp. No fanfare. No “look at me” mentality. Jesus simply gave the servants instructions.
He used those empty jars to help the young couple avoid the embarrassment and pain of inadequacy.
So the servants filled the jars to the brim. Water splashed over the sides. The spilling water caused the earthen jars to have dark splotches where it ran down their curved sides. The water puddled on the ground. Did even the spillage turn to wine?
Jesus created 120-180 gallons of wine. An adequate amount. And not just any kind of wine. The best. Wine to gladden the hearts of those present at the wedding banquet. Wine was a symbol of the abundance of God’s provision.
Every one of the servants knew what those jars were for—the traditions of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Burdens. Expectations. These jars represented one more “rule” to remember. One more boundary to avoid. Soon they would have been full of demands that could never be fully met.
Jesus always lifted the leaden weight of the traditions of men. The confines and burdens of religion are too heavy. God’s law is simple and direct, but the oral traditions are a cumbersome load to bear. And they were/are an inadequate way to approach God. An inadequate means to be clean before God. Instead of producing hope and joy they (the traditions) only seemed to create a sense of failure and despair.
When the servants dipped into that first ceremonial jar, at Jesus’ command, I wonder how much doubt and cynicism was present. Yet when the ladle emerged their amazement must have reverberated with astonishment. Can you hear the gasps? The whispers? And like a ripple in the water the news spread. Current by current.
Did Mary watch as they carried it forward? Did she smile that secret, pleased “mother smile” as they took the sample to the Master of the Banquet? Did the servants’ nostrils flare as they inhaled the rich aroma of the wine water? Did their mouths water? Knowing grins must have exploded as the Master declared the wine incredible. Vintage.
How much better to have full jars of wine—the miracle—than the empty jars of ceremony? Ceremonial, religious rituals can not create joy. The outward ritual could never and will never produce an inward transformation. (Be careful, I know we do not ceremonially wash our hands, but we have other rituals and ceremonies that can be just as empty and religious).
Inadequate preparations. Feeling or being inadequate leads to desperation. It leads to overcompensation. I am well acquainted with both. Often I have assessed the situation and found my preparations to be sorely inadequate. There have been times and situations when I simply did not calculate correctly, times when I gave too much away, and times when I allowed the greediness of others to contribute to my depletion.
Often I have tried to remedy the dilemma myself. I have tried to fix the problem. I have attempted to reverse my blunders and spiritual faux pas (In French this phrase means ‘false step’). But my abilities were inadequate. I was washing my hands when I should have been asking God to wash my heart. I must learn to take my inadequacies to Jesus. I must go to Jesus and confess that the wine is gone. And leave the transformation to him.
Feeling inadequate? Have you run out of wine? Found yourself in the middle of a spiritual faux pas? Are you realizing that all your jars are empty? Remember, Jesus uses what is readily available. Do whatever he says.
Water to wine.
Ceremonial ritual into joy.
Inadequacy to abundance.
Jesus is forever taking our inadequate attempts and filling the lack.
Jesus is forever taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.
Can you imagine how some people would have (would still) reacted knowing Jesus had used the ceremonial jars to provide wine for the wedding?
I wish I knew what happened to those jars. Did they ever hold water again? And if they did was there a faint scent of dark, rich wine as the water was poured over raised hands?