ABUNDANCE IS NOT ABUNDANCE UNLESS IT IS SHARED
If you should ever have the opportunity to attend an ordination service within any church, you should do that. It will leave an indelible mark upon your soul. To watch an individual who responds to a call in their lives by kneeling before the authority of a church, taking vows of servant hood, being anointed, having hands laid upon them, and receive the commission of the church through the vestment of a stole, well, it stirs the fabric of ones soul.
Jesus’ baptism was an ordination. Jesus was not baptized in isolation. Jesus joined a crowd of people that day on the shores of Jordan who had come to repent of their ways and seek God’s way in their lives.
This was both an individual action commitment and participation in a larger movement. People often say, “Well, why did Jesus have to repent? He was perfect humanity. He never sinned.” Well, he may not have ever sinned, but I am sure his mother saw him as anything but perfect.
Jesus came to experience with us our humanity. That means he needed to learn and grow. We all know that the best way for our children to learn is to let them make their own mistakes and then to be there for them as they pick themselves up and start again.
So, I don’t know if Jesus was there to repent of any personal turmoil he may have caused in Mary’s life, but there is no doubt about his intent to join this movement of people who were repenting of the ways they were presently living. Repentance literally means to ‘turn around’.
To turn away from the life you have been living and look into the face of God. To turn from a life of individualism, of a life based on winners and loser, a life of a few getting richer while many get poorer, a life that advantages a few and oppresses many and even a church that dictates obedience through law.
The masses Jesus joined that day were people who wanted to turn away from all that and begin living lives of equality, of balance, of caring for the ‘other’ among them. God’s kingdom of justice, love and peace.
So laying back into the arms of his cousin and being immersed in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus was not only surrendering his life to God, but was committing himself to a group advocating for change. Then, when he had emerged and waded over to the riverbank, he knelt in supplication to God and was anointed by the Holy Spirit.
I remember how empowered I felt when I came out of my own ordination service. I can only imagine what Jesus must have felt. Anointed, commissioned, empowered, ready to go forth and take on the world.
So, in his going forth, he comes through Cana where his mother’s extended family lives and who is in the midst of wedding celebrations for two of their own. Now, you need to understand what weddings were like in this time. You think Italian weddings are big. Not even close. When two people got married in a Galilean village, the whole village celebrated because this good Jewish boy and girl were going to expand the chosen people of God with their offspring. So everyone in the village, relative or not, known to the family or not, was invited to the feast which lasted for a whole week. It was a great social and culture embarrassment if the families of this couple did not include everyone and provide for them all during this time.
So, for these families, Mary’s family, to run out of wine in a region where water was scarce, was an insult of non-inclusion and the family would be socially exorcised from the village as well as from the local synagogue. Mary is concerned but she also knows her son. I can just imagine how Mary’s request deflated Jesus. Here he is, ready to take on the world, to make some big changes in people’s lives and the first sign Mary is requesting of him is to turn water into wine. “Woman, what does this have to do with me and you.” But Mary, who keeps all things in her heart, knew her boy, and whispers to the servants, “Just do whatever he tells you to do.”
So Jesus, at the request of his mother and through her wisdom, performs his first miracle. And look at what happens. God glory is revealed. Who were the first to get an inside glimpse of God’s glory? Not the steward, today we call them wedding planners. Not the elite from Cana’s society. The servants. The lowest get the very first sneak preview of God’s power.
Now look at the amount and quality of the wine provided. The best they had tasted all week and there seemed to be no end to it. This is a sign of God’s abundance, the abundance of God’s grace, something these poor villagers had not known for some time. Mary’s family, as you know, was not a prosperous family. They were the bottom of the rung on the social ladder. As such, as least a tenth of their crops went to feed the Roman soldiers. The church demanded sacrifices from them, converted into their own coin, to receive absolution for their sins. No one was talking to them about grace. No one was telling them of the abundance of God’s grace that God was willing to spread before them. This was the first telltale sign of this. What does grace upon grace taste like when you have never tasted it before? Like gallons and gallons of the best wine you have ever tasted when you least expect it. And God pours out this wine to everyone at the feast, not just a select few. The families of those getting married graciously receive this wine, as well as their friends and neighbours they may not even know, and those from the surrounding countryside and even an itinerate preacher and his ragtag band of followers.
The glory of God’s grace seen here informs us that abundance can never be an individual affair. The abundance your receive is not yours to keep; it is an abundance that is only known through relationship, God to you, you to God, you to others. Abundance is not abundance unless it is shared. Maybe this is one of the reasons you and I have joined this crowd at the shores of the Jordan through our own baptism. To repent of our ways.
In our society we glamorize the lives or the rich and famous. We aspire to be like them. Wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery! Wouldn’t it be great to have….so we could…When is actuality we are aspiring to like those who monopolize abundance, hoard it, thinking it is theirs to control, theirs to possess… even theirs to take away. Clearly, for those of us who do not have this kind of abundance, we are seen as those who have not merited God’s attention, earned God’s good grace. Because, we equate abundance with God’s favour. We say, “Oh, they have been so blessed, so lucky, so fortunate.
I believe that the guardians of abundance are so enmeshed in their own self-warranted abundance, they can not see beyond it. And we have become so used to this just being the ways things are, we simply accept it. But qualifying and quantifying abundance in such a way suggests God’s blessings are actually measurable and predictable. It becomes myopic abundance. An abundance that roots itself in greed as if you can take those mountains of things you have gathered to your grave.
John is trying to make us aware that abundance is never about you and Jesus alone, even as much as we would hope it would be. Being on the receiving end of abundance is never for the sake of the abundance alone, especially your own abundance. Receiving abundance in our lives, seeing this abundance as a result of God’s grace in our lives also means awakening ourselves to seeing the absence of it in other people’s lives.
We can not receive God’s true grace until we understand that this is grace; a free and unmerited gift, that has to be shared, or there is nothing gracious about it. The experience of abundance means being baptized into that ancient movement to repent, to turn around and join those who believe that God so loved the world, and joining those who will stop at nothing to make that happen.
Like the man who is a professional gambler. This was just in the news last week. He is a retired gentleman who says he has been fortunate in his life, has retired from a good job and is comfortable. Playing poker is his hobby and he is evidently every good at it. He is a Buddhist and in the last two weeks be earned $670,000 U.S. and he gave it all the charity. He plays for charity.
Abundance is not abundance until it is shared.