Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 62:1-5 | 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 | John 2:1-11
Almighty, everliving God, who governs all things, both in heaven and on earth, mercifully hear the pleading of your people. Bestow your peace on our times. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
You turned to this station, or you go to the Internet, and you find this program, and you listen. I think it’s important to know what we’re doing, what I’m doing, what my intention is and what I believe your longing is, to go to a place like this, to listen to someone like you, struggles with things just like you, sins like you, does good things like you. What you’re listening to is a man trying to interpret a story that is very, very old.
The Old Testament goes back to 4,500 years ago, and when I go to scripture, we know that we believe that these works are inspired. They have something in them that we long for, and what sometimes people do is they go to the scriptures to find out what to do, how to act. But if we stay there, we haven’t really moved very far, because the first part of the story, the Old Testament, is about a choice that human beings made in the Garden of Eden when they said, “Even we knew we were not supposed to eat of the tree of the knowledge and [sic] good and evil.” Someone lied to them. This creature, cunning, smart, attractive lied to them and said, “No, no. You should eat of this tree, because if you eat of this tree, you will live forever, and you will be like God.” And what is this tree of the knowledge of good and evil? It’s the law. It’s human beings saying, “Tell me what to do. Tell me what not to do. I will do that out of my mind and out of my will, and I will please you, and I will have life with you.” And it makes so much sense to a consciousness that is underdeveloped. It means, “I am the source of what I do, and I can do what I’ve been asked to do. And I feel good about being the one who achieves it, and if I achieve it, I’ll be able to receive something from God, not a gift but something I earned.” And that just feels comfortable, just feels comfortable to us. Let me do what I need to do, and I’ll get what I need. That’s the Old Testament, and then the New Testament comes. It’s radically different. We’re told that the law is no longer the source that we go to to find out how to live. We’re told something almost impossible to believe. The real issue is not that you go to a law, but you go rather to something inside of you, this mysterious indwelling presence of a God who is there with you privately, individually, sitting, standing, walking with you and guiding you. Now, that takes faith, and it takes a constant sense of an awareness of who he is and what he’s doing and a receptivity to that. If you want a simple, simple thing that this indwelling presence is able to achieve that a law could never achieve, and that is putting human touch with reality, the way things are. It’s called the truth, but all through the Old and New Testament, we see this story unfolding slowly.
So this first story from Isaiah is one of those moments where you see God as some people wish he was throughout the Old Testament. You see him as this absolutely, totally infatuated, in love with his people — looks at them and just says, “You are absolutely beautiful. You’re my delight. I want to spend time with you. I want to marry you.” What’s the context of this piece from Isaiah? It comes at the very end of the Book of Isaiah, and you know that throughout Isaiah we see the people who follow Jesus both being the people that he longs for them to be. And then at times they are not, and he gets angry, and he gets jealous, and he loses his temper, even at times says, “I would just like to kill all of you.” Somehow people remember that more than anything else about the God of the Old Testament, but he was acting in a way that people could understand. That wasn’t the fullness of who he is, but at that time long ago, human beings didn’t have the capacity to be motivated by something as etheric as the truth. But the law, they could understand that, and they had to understand that, if they didn’t follow the law, there were repercussions, and so rather than having to go through all kinds of suffering, God made it clear to them that he was upset. So you do what he asks, he’s pleased. You don’t do what he asks, he’s furious. But under all that is this God who’s watching his children grow, and he’s seeing the most beautiful transformation slowly taking place. And so at the end of the Book of Isaiah, they’ve been exiled from Jerusalem, and now they’ve got the temple back. And what was the temple for the Israelite people? It was God’s presence in their midst. In the Ark of the Covenant were the Ten Commandments. They weren’t necessarily the rules and laws that people thought they were. They’re the best explanation of who we are and how our nature works, but to them, it was a simple law, and they tried to follow it. Never quite achieved it, but they kept trying. But not to have that presence with them was devastating, and so the presence comes back, and it’s almost like God’s presence is talking to them, not the rule giver, not the judge but a lover. “I look at you, and you are so beautiful to me. My heart wants to be one with your heart. I want to be with you. The best way I can describe that is I’d like to marry you. I marry your land, so I’m in the land with you, and I’m in you. My presence is in you, and what it is there is a vehicle to bring something to you.” Beautiful image of God’s essence being revealed at a time when it’s hard for human beings to believe that this God is that much of a lover, that much longing for something that would seem to them impossible, intimacy with God, with the divine.
So we look at the second reading with St. Paul, and he’s talking about this incredible thing that God longs to give to people through a relationship that he has with them, which is like marriage, a life-giving relationship. It’s interesting. I’ve done a zillion marriages. There’s a line about asking people to be true to each other. It always sounds to me like to be faithful, to not commit adultery, but I think it means something much more. I think it means that, in a relationship that God has planned for you and for me, the heart of a relationship of a healthy marriage, a sacramental marriage, is that each person receive something from God to them, and that gift that they have is for their partner. It takes many different forms. Sometimes it’s advice. Sometimes it’s a confrontation with something that’s not right. It takes all different kinds of forms, but if you look at it carefully, what you’re looking at is what is the ultimate gift that God wants every human being to have. What is hidden in every story of scripture, in every event that happens to you, in every gift that he gives to the world? Yeah, there’s the gift of healing. There’s a gift of prophecy. There’s all these different gifts. When you boil it down, St. Paul says all these gifts are given to you individually. So the gift comes to you, not just to everyone the same. It comes to you, some form of this thing that he longs to give us. The form is different, but the thing that he gives is always the same. “I want you to see the truth, reality.”
I think the hardest thing about intimacy is one of the things it demands more than anything else, not physical presence, not ability to make love, no, it’s about a commitment you have to the other person that you will, whenever possible, give them the truth, and you will receive the truth from them. It’s why marriages are so difficult. It demands that kind of radical honesty. It’s why, when there’s adultery and it’s not owned, it’s a lie that is so destructive, not because it’s a sexual act. Because it’s a lie. Not even that you just — well, it’s a lie, and it’s also an indication that the person is not as committed as they need to be. So they’re not as open to, and if you’re not committed to a person as a source of that truth for you, if you don’t understand that that’s the commitment you make — “I’m looking for you to be a source of truth. I will be a source of truth for you.” When that’s at the heart of a marriage, you will never leave. You’ll never leave that. It’s too valuable.
So we go to the gospel, beautiful story, and so it’s on the same theme, intimacy, a wedding. God’s image of how he wants to relate to you is to be in the deepest form of union that we know in this world. So it makes sense to me that the first miracle that Jesus would perform, even though it wasn’t planned, is something to do with the wedding, and it’s about producing something, not for the individuals in the marriage but for the community gathered, which includes them. So there are stone water jars, and they’re filled to the brim. These would have been used as ceremonial washings, that you would come to an event and be washed clean of all the impurities, both literally the dirt on your hands but also spiritually anything that would keep you from entering into the place that God wants you to be with people. You had to be purified over and over and over again, freed from all sin, and so these ceremonial stone jars are not by accident the thing that God uses to do this miracle. So he takes these water jars — some people think the concrete, stone water jars represent the law, the Ten Commandments — and inside, this water represents what Jesus came to give to us, not just a baptism of water but a baptism of fire, fire water, alcohol. So interesting that God uses wine as such a powerful image of what he is here to give you. The greatest truth that God is trying to say to you is, “You know what? Everything you’ve ever done that’s wrong never gets in the way of my loving you, because I’ve come to invite human beings to drink of something that’s more purifying than any water ever could be, and the wine is so clearly representative of the thing that we say whenever I consecrate it. This is the chalice of salvation. This is my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. They’re forgiven.”
I think it’s interesting we think of Jesus’ death getting rid of all of our past sins. Well, yes, it does that, but it’s more than that. It’s more an invitation for you to believe in a truth that changes relationships radically, and that is nothing that someone can do or nothing that you can do to them — if you understand this great gift that’s been given to us, this wine, this intoxicating wine of forgiveness, you realize that there’s a gift in that. It’s not something you can do. It’s a power given to you that, when this happens, instead of resentment or anger or fear or shame, whether you’ve done it or someone else has done it, in place of all that, there’s this mysterious acceptance, compassion, empathy. I want to tell you the most important truth that you can learn. When someone loves you and truly loves you in God, in the spirit of God, there is nothing you can do that will ever been seen as anything other than something I want to heal, not something that destroys our relationship but something that directs the gift individually given to me that is now given to you.
Father, we pray for the gift of understanding, the relationship that you want to have with us. It seems almost too easy and too wonderful, but it’s your plan. You want us to trust in you being the source of everything that we feel that the law demanded of us, and when it’s a gift, it comes through us so freely, so effectively. So bless us with this faith, a faith in your plan, a faith in you, a faith in ourselves as instruments of you, your love in this world, and we ask this in Jesus’ name.