Thursday, April 16, 2009

When Jesus says 'So, what?'

This is the provocative title of the session I led in our works prayer time today. Here are my notes...

John 2
Jesus Changes Water to Wine

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."

"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." And, you know the story, water into wine, everyone got merry, ‘wow! you saved the best to last’ and so on.

What interests me though is Jesus’ response to his mum. In this Bible version he says ‘Dear woman’, but that’s been softened for our fluffy Western sensibilities. In the original Greek he just says:
τι εμοι και σοι γυναι ουπω ηκει η ωρα μου
(I know what you’re thinking. Wow, Jon’s not just handsome, but he knows New Testament Greek as well. What a valuable skill to have in the modern age.)

Literally the Greek says: "What (is that) to you and me, woman?" There doesn't have to be a subject to a sentence in Greek.

Now we soften that and make it ‘dear woman’ and say ‘how does that involve me’, but an equally valid translation would be ‘So, what, woman?’

I like the thought that Jesus turns round and says ‘So, what?’ You know that annoying smile people give you when they say ‘…and what would Jesus do?’ Well he might just say ‘so what?’

What I really love about this story is the authenticity of the little vignette. He’s with his mum who says something disapproving about the party planners and Jesus says ‘look that’s not our problem’ and she then does something that is SO mum-like. She ignores him completely.

Mums do that, don’t they? It doesn’t matter how old you are – Jesus is 30 years old and his mum just completely ignores him. You can imagine it. She says ‘Look, they’ve run out of wine.’ He says ‘So? What’s that got to do with us, woman?’ And she just goes ‘Oh hush’ and calls over the waiter. ‘Hey you yes, you, listen, do whatever he tells you.’ And Jesus is left there thinking ‘What? What are you doing? I just said this wasn’t our problem. Oh for goodness sake…’

It comforts me that Jesus knows every trial and temptation that we face. I think this particular temptation was to drown his mum in a water jar. Okay, maybe not that extreme. But he must have been a bit annoyed. After all, he had said ‘What’s this got to do with me and you?’

‘So what?’ isn’t a particularly caring attitude – not a particularly Christian attitude. But I think there are a few things we can draw out of this response. We don’t get to pick and choose which bit’s of Jesus’ life we get to emulate. Are there any times when we are justified to shrug and say ‘so what?’

Well, yes I think there is.

First off there’s the way Jesus’ mum says ‘they have no more wine’. Now if that was my mum, I’d probably be saying ‘Really, and who’s drunk most of it, mum? Hmmm?’ while looking pointedly at her empty glass. [My Mum reads my blog, but hopefully won't read this bit...]

But what’s in that statement. Is it a criticism? They’ve run out of wine. Ooh, bad planning. Such a shame. And the wedding was so well organised up to this point…

Jesus refuses to join in by passing judgement. His response is ‘So what?’

Sometimes we will be in a situation where we will be asked to comment on something when it really isn’t our business. I’m willing to bet that in your church there will be some people who gossip. Despite the many Biblical injunctions against gossiping it seems a habit we Christians find hard to break. We do it at work too, don’t we? Or is that just me? It is just me? Ooh, you liars!

So a challenge to us when we are invited to comment is to say ‘What’s that to you and me?’ When the gossip starts we should try to say ‘so what?’

Then there’s the anticipated reaction. Jesus’ mum obviously expects him to act and he resists. He effectively says – ‘actually that’s not my responsibility’.

He could have stood up and said “Aha! I see you have run out of wine. Now fetch me jars of water. Behold I will work a miracle and solve your problem! Here you go - the freshest, tastiest and all-round best wine you have ever tasted!”

But he doesn’t do that. In fact, when he’s pushed into doing something by his meddlesome mum he does it quite secretly. Only the servants know where the wine comes from.

I believe his reluctance comes from a great compassion for whoever’s wedding this is. It’s embarrassing when you run out of wine at a wedding. I went to a wedding a couple of years ago and at the reception the caterers ran out of food. I was offered bread rolls and gravy. The couple getting married were really embarrassed when they found out.

Weddings are a big deal and to run out of wine is embarrassing. Maybe they couldn’t afford it. Expensive weddings are not an entirely new phenomenon. And Jesus knows that, so he doesn’t draw attention to it.

We will frequently find ourselves in similar situations. It is hugely tempting when we see a problem to seek to take control – to take responsibility for the project in hand. To stand up and say ‘Aha! I see you are having a problem. I will do this because you are obviously incapable!’ and so on.

But it is incredibly disempowering and undermining to do that to someone. It is embarrassing and humiliating. It dents people’s self-esteem and sense of worth. People begin to feel they are useless, and that then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they are afraid to try to do things.

So here’s the question – when you see a problem are you going to flamboyantly take responsibility for it and potentially undermine someone or are you going to ask, as Jesus does, ‘what is that to me’?

In fact, by saying that to his mum, Jesus leaves it open for the bridegroom or whoever is paying for this shindig to approach him and ask for help. In similar fashion, do we wait until we are approached, until our opinion is asked, until our help is sought? Of course, his mum doesn’t give the bridegroom a chance – she gets the servants over. So Jesus has to act but he does so in a way that protects the dignity of the unnamed bridegroom.

And the third – and final thing that occurs to me – is that this is a genuine question. ‘What is that to me and to you?’

It invites a response.

Most of Jesus’ questions do.

He turns to his own mum and says ‘What is that to me and to you?’

And maybe he wanted to know her response. Was this his test to her – ‘do you believe that I can make a difference?’

His mum’s response – in her typically-mum bossy way – is one of faith – possibly born from an unswerving conviction that it is her business and therefore her son’s business and that he can sort it out so he will sort it out. She ignores Jesus’ ‘so, what?’ and acts in the conviction that he will act in the situation.

We are gathered to pray and I’m sure we’ll pray about all sorts of things – here, now, in other places, at other times. As we take problems to Jesus, are we prepared, in case he says ‘so what?’

What will our response be?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous19/4/09 21:58

    Oh, she has read it and once again wonders why her sons have this conviction she drinks so much! They have even affected their Dad until he puts the recycling out and realises yet once again there are no wine bottles in the glass section. Of course when the younger son visits it is a different story!!