Consider the gospel of John, chapter 2, the first part of which is the famous passage where Jesus turns water into wine.
(And by “consider” I mean read it. Go ahead and follow that link, and read the passage first. Even if you’ve already read it… read it again. Trust me… the rest of what I have to say will make more sense if you read the text first.)
There are a few thoughts that strike me here.
Sometimes great things can come out of what looks like inconvenience.
Jesus’ response to his mother in verse four implies that He wasn’t just sitting around, waiting for a need to meet. He seems to bristle at his mother’s loaded statement, “they have no more wine.”
(Doesn’t that sound like a good Jewish mother? You can almost hear a gentle, yet goading, tone of voice. They’re out of wine, my son. I’m sure you can think of something.)
Meanwhile, Jesus is all, look, you’re jumping the gun here. Can’t I just relax and enjoy this wedding feast?
Yet despite his annoyance, Jesus has compassion on the hosts of the party, and does His thing. Which leads me to the next lesson.
When Jesus performs a miracle, he doesn’t always broadcast it.
You’ll notice that Jesus never said: “Fine. I’ll just turn some water to wine, then.” He just told them to fill the water jars. This is part of the story that’s easy to miss.
But think about it for a moment. If the servants were in the wrong frame of mind, they might have completely missed what Jesus was doing. They might have thought that Jesus was just telling them to fill the huge stone water jars because, well, since we’re out of wine then folks oughta be able to drink something.
The text in verse nine says that the servants knew what happened, but it doesn’t tell us whether they found out after the master of the banquet had discovered the jars were full of wine, or whether or not they knew all along what Jesus was up to. We can only speculate.
But I’ll tell you what… if they were anything like me, they probably didn’t see it coming at all. Because many times I pray and ask God for things, but not having enough faith to believe that He’ll answer that prayer, I stop looking for the answer. And often times, it’s right in front of me.
Jesus, I really wish you could just go get some — hey, is this wine???
That moment of discovery, where your frustration disappears and all you can do is stand there dumbfounded… that’s the story of my life. God’s timing doesn’t match our own, but it’s always perfect.
The third lesson from this passage is related to the second:
Jesus never uses miracles to draw attention to Himself.
You’ll notice that the master of the banquet went to the bridegroom and remarked — I’m guessing in a congratulatory note — about how most of the time by this point in a feast, the host brings out the cheap stuff, but this time, he saved the best for last. Obviously he said this not knowing that Jesus had just transformed the water into wine.
Now at this point Jesus could’ve stepped in and taken credit.
I’m reminded of D.L. Hughley’s great line from The Original Kings of Comedy, where he’s imagining Jesus performing this miracle:
“‘You know, I don’t normally do this, but uh … [*blessing the water*] y’all keep the party going.'”
I mean, it’s not like He would’ve marched in, all proud and junk. I transformed this water into wine! I am God! Bow to me! Jesus, in my opinion, was far too cool a dude to do something that obnoxious.
But, he could’ve done that thing some of us do from time to time, where we want to take credit for something without looking like we’re taking credit for it. Like we want people to know what we did, but we don’t want to look like we’re glory-chasing attention hounds.
He could’ve said, “Yeah, I just figured the good people here appreciate good wine, y’know? So I just put a little something together, no big deal. It’s mostly water, anyway.”
A few self-deprecating jokes here, a few strategically-placed business cards there, and Jesus could’ve built a wine distribution network in no-time flat.
But He didn’t.
Instead, He allowed the bridegroom to get the credit.
When Jesus said to His disciples much later that they would do greater things than He did, it wasn’t so they could claim the authority that their reputation as His close associates would bring. Rather, it was so that they could continue to be a blessing to others, and in so doing, show His love to people who needed it.
Heading into the second part of John 2, we read the account of another famous story, where Jesus clears the temple of merchants. Foreshadowing the exploits of Indiana Jones, Jesus grabs his whip and clears out everybody involved in buying and selling in the temple courts.
One of the most interesting parts of this passage is in verse 17. In this verse, it says the disciples remembered the scripture that says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
This is an odd thing to read, because it leaves so much out. Like many verses in the Bible, this one is open to quite a bit of interpretation. When did they remember this scripture? Was it, like in verse 22, much later when they made the connection between Jesus’ actions and that particular Davidic psalm?
Because of my own life and my own struggles in ministry, this is what I see.
I see that verse and I see a man on a mission. Driving the moneychangers out by force of whip is not the action of a nice man with a few spiritual directives. That’s the sign of a man burdened with a dogged, unrelenting passion to see evildoers brought to justice. In that moment, Jesus was like the Jason Bourne of Nazareth.
And I think the disciples saw it. I think in that moment, they got a picture of exactly what makes Jesus tick. They saw “a man possessed” — take that, Clay Bennett — by a need to defend His Father’s house and prevent others from cashing in on His glory.
And honestly, I think it might have scared them a little.
Because if you read the whole psalm, it’s not a nice picture. David is lamenting his plight. He’s talking about how he’s up to his neck in trouble. About how those who hate him outnumber the hairs on his head. He’s pleading desperately to God, hoping this his mistakes will not wreck God’s reputation among the people. And the line that is quoted in the second chapter of John, if you read it in its entirety, it reads as follows:
Zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
Many Christians today use the language of God consuming us, referring to God as an all-consuming fire, desiring God to remove our own desires and replace them with His.
But do we really understand what that means?
Maybe we wouldn’t be so casual with that prayer if we substituted the word “consume” with the word “burn.”
Zeal for your house burns me.
Not just burns within me, but burns me. As in, I get so overloaded, I get such intense tunnel vision about God’s glory, that I get burned to a crisp, all smoky and blackened, like a Cajun entrée left on the grill too long.
Yeah, it’s devotion to God, but in the natural sense, it’s not very desirable.
Who wants to live burnt?
And for that matter, who wants to be insulted?
That the insults of God’s enemies can, would, or should fall on us, is a heavy idea, one that I blogged about just over three years ago.
Once you read the whole thing, that whole zeal consuming thing takes on a whole new light, doesn’t it?
This is what was Jesus was referring to at the end of Luke 14, when he talked about the cost of being a disciple.
He was saying, essentially, if you can’t forsake what you hold dear and follow me to the point of willing to be crucified, then just forget about it now. Don’t start out all gung-ho and then punk out later when things gets tough.
That’s what I think the disciples were seeing when they saw Jesus put the smack down on the charlatans in the temple. I think they were seeing Jesus in his rawest, Rasheed Wallace-like form, burning with rage and indignation.
(Valiant rage and indignation looks different to different people, by the way. Some people compare Jesus to William Wallace, but I see him more like Rasheed Wallace. Maybe Denzel’s John Creasy character from Man on Fire would be a nice compromise.)
So anyway, that whole recognition of Jesus in his rawest form had to have provoked both fear and admiration. That’s what I think happened in verse 17.
Which sets up the next part so beautifully. When the Jews come at Him wanting a sign to demonstrate his authority, he tells them that if you destroy this temple, he’ll rebuild it in three days.
And the Bible says that after He had been crucified and raised from the dead, then they understood what Jesus meant. He was referring to his own body, and not the physical temple building.
I always respect when someone can tell me something that doesn’t make sense at the time, but then later on their actions give enough context for me to get what they mean. Because often times they do so intentionally, hoping that your lack of understanding will get you to pay attention.
And I love the end of this chapter, verses 23 and 24:
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.[c] 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.
That’s one of those archetypes that is always glorified in the movies. The loner hero who can look into someone’s eyes and know what they’re up to. Jesus would not allow himself to get too close to everybody who wanted a piece of Him, because He knew their hearts. He knew they would turn on Him in a New York minute.
He didn’t need to hear the stories, He just looked at them, and He knew.
And He refused to be played. When the time came for Him, nobody took His life from Him … He laid it down himself.
Because seriously… when you imagine the two sides of Jesus on display here, the image begins to coalesce. On one side, Jesus is having a good time, and when the homies run out of wine, he’s right there to make everything legit. On the other side, you see fools encroaching on territory where they don’t belong, and as soon as Jesus rolls up He starts some stuff. Gettin’ all up in their business. Regulatin’ the situation.
And afterwards He sees His influence grow, to the point where everybody wants to be down with Him. Only, He can’t let them get too close, because He can’t let them interfere with His Father’s business.
If that’s not gangsta, I don’t know what is.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.