OUR EXTRAVAGANT GOD

Author: Fr. Mike Byron
January 20, 2019

I have hosted some parties in my life—including large ones—but I have never heard of drinking on the scale that the gospel of the John describes.  At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus provides something between 150 and 180 gallons of wine—and this was after the expected supply had run out.  Unless Jesus and his mother hung around with hardened alcoholics, there is something far more important being expressed in the sheer volume of wine provided here.  Nobody could drink that much—and no ordinary wedding crowd could either.  This is a story about abundance—astonishing, overwhelming abundance.  And as the headwaiter pointed out, this wasn’t the cheap stuff.  This was the finest wine.  

It is, of course, ultimately a story about Jesus himself, about just whom and what we are dealing with in this Savior of ours.  It’s the very first time that we are introduced to this man in John’s gospel.  It’s the beginning of Chapter Two, just after all that beautiful Christmas poetry in Chapter One about how in the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh and came to be among us, bearing and sharing the glory of his heavenly Father with us, full of grace and truth.  

So who is he?  He’s the man who doesn’t merely fill the gaps in our lacking and longings.  He is the Savior of super-abundance, surpassing all our needs and providing more than we could ever ask or imagine.

At the wedding in Cana the mother of Jesus—who by the way is never called by name and whose own son refers to her as “woman”—she points out that all the wine is gone.  The request seems to be that he merely fix a problem by finding enough of the cheap stuff to keep the party going.  It sounds like a very utilitarian request.

And the response is an unimaginable quantity of the most delicious wine possible.  Jesus was not there merely in order to fix problems, but to reveal what God is like.

How often do you—do we—pause actually to reflect on the fact that God’s wish is for us to be supremely happy, not just someday in a world yet to come, but right now.  Not without suffering and sorrow, of course, but with a fundamental assurance that we are held always in the embrace of one who can and who desires to provide for us beyond our ability to know.  Ours is not a so-called “God of the gaps,” The one to whom we turn when all of our best plans and efforts have come up short and we need a fix, like the wine at Cana.  Ours is a God who takes actual pleasure in making us glad and secure and serene.  

We continue to live in a world where evil and sin are all too common and powerful, but even the worst of it does not have to defeat or destroy us.  In the light of this gospel, we have every reason and expectation to hope in a God who will not merely protect us from catastrophe and chaos, but who will provide us abundantly with his presence and love—especially when things seem dire.  “Happiness” doesn’t always mean pleasure and leisure ad ecstasy, but it means the unwavering confidence that God is close to us and is capable of saving us from anything that could threaten to harm us, and so we may live in peace.

Our religion takes the real world seriously, and it is not some sort of imaginative or magical escape from the real threats and sorrows of life.  It is instead the faith that assures us that we will never be alone or without the strength to endure whatever may befall us.  God doesn’t just plug the gaps.  God overwhelms us with goodness.  That is why, perhaps ironically, the happiest among us are those who have known suffering.  We Christians call that the pascal mystery.  Like Christ.

This past week Fr. Bill and I had a very interesting and important conversation.  We had both seen the headline story of Jayme Closs in the Star Tribune, the one in which people were framing her return from captivity in terms of prayers answered.  And we were both disturbed by that way of posing the question; because it seemed to imagine God as the magician who emerges to make all things well, and to raise the disturbing question of why every subject of our prayers doesn’t end up safe.  As usual, Fr. Bill raised the right question.  He asked me, “What is the miracle here?”

My best attempt at an answer was to say that God had created a young soul that who through the grace of God and the love of her parents had become convinced that to live is the most important thing of all.  No matter what.  That’s the miracle.  That the absolute promise of God to be near us and with us through everything and anything—abundantly—is what is absolute.  Truly to believe that.  To know that God is not limited by whatever the worst of human selfishness imposes—that God is not merely the fixer of problems but the super-abundant giver of gifts and the abiding presence in the midst of all hardship.  That is our gift.  At Cana, Jesus wasn’t just a fixer for the immediate wine situation—He was the Savior that promised abundance, in absurd amounts.  And he still is.

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