As usual, before we get started, this is your chance to follow the link to the texts for this week, with thanks to you, Diocesan web site…
And, we’re off to the races…
Isaiah 62: 1 - 5
As always, more here than meets the eye, especially when you consider that this text is ‘married’ to the story in John’s gospel of the wedding feast in Cana. And, as you take in Third Isaiah’s poetic proclamation, there can be no mistaking that this is a wedding banquet. “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
The prophet is writing about the time to come, encouraging those who have returned from exile in Babylon to take heart. For the day is coming when all of their past suffering and all of their labor set to the rebuilding of the city will bear a fruit beyond their reckoning. They shall be finally vindicated in front of all of the nations – even those at whose hands they had suffered – and what’s more, they will be called by a new name.
What’s in a name… just ask Abram and Sarai who get a name change when they enter into a new covenantal relationship with Yahweh. For Jerusalem, it will be the same, No longer will she be called Forsaken, Desolate. Her new name will be My delight is in Her and Married.
In last week’s gospel text we had John’s version of the baptism of Jesus. In that story, the heavens open and the spirit descends in the form of a dove. The heavens open… the divide between heaven and earth is healed, finds union in the Jesus fellow. That union motif is certainly picked up in this banquet image, in the union of God and the people in this new Jerusalem
1 Corinthians 12: 1 - 11
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.”
Thanks for pointing that out, Paul. But seriously, to get under this, I tend to agree with James Alison, in Faith Beyond Resentment. Rather than take this as Paul suggesting there is an easy, verbal way to test orthodoxy, instead see it as a study in group dynamics, and the ‘spirits’ which move each. One group can only fix its identity by who it is that they hate, that they exclude, that they curse. The other knows that no form of social or cultic or tribal boundary or proof of belonging, can survive in the light of the one who claims the role of victim for himself, which denies all of us the power to create them. (What I find most interesting about Alison’s treatment of this is that in Paul’s context, he is talking about divisions within the community, not between the faithful and those who oppose them. How different are we now on this side of the Reformation? How many brands of Jesus has we created because the others had the wrong theology, that is, they were claiming that Jesus was cursed, and not Lord. Guilty here….)
The treatise on the gifts of the spirit that follows this, then, really is about healing those divisions through these good gifts. The root of the word religion – lig – as in ligament, as in that which links us back together, this part of the body with another. (Isaiah – we are coming together in a new union…) That Paul…
John 2: 1 - 11
Since we have already addressed the significance of this passage for John and how it is linked to Isaiah and Paul, let me just offer some other observations.
The stone jars. Much too big in size and number for a household, they are more suited for the Temple. But that takes us to the subplot of the story – the collision between Jesus’ ministry and the convention and tradition of the religion of his time. (Funny how things never seem to change where the Gospel is concerned).
The jars are used for the rite of purification. The Jews were pre-occupied with the problem of impurity. (Without purification controversies, we might not have had enough material to publish any gospel) Jesus re-purposes them. They now hold wine, and not just any wine, but the best for last, as in the last banquet, as in Isaiah’s banquet, the wedding feast to end all wedding feasts (until you get to the book of Revelation, but that’s the same banquet reset for another audience).
And, another confession here. I have always had problems with John’s gospel, particularly in those passages where it is not too difficult to read a supersessionist or even an antisemitic meaning. Taken a certain way, this is one of them. The rite of purification is replaced by the act of eucharist, wine for water.
iate the remarks of Gil Baile in his lecture on the Gospel of John, tape #2, as he takes this head on:
“The stone jars are not for wine, but for ritual washing. And note they need filling; they are depleted. Jesus is not rejecting the jars and what they stood for; he is filling them. You could say that he is filling the rituals with meaning and then transforming them.
Three notes in passing: (1) the gentleness of this transition from one dispensation to another. Not a rejection, but filling it and transforming it. A continuity and a discontinuity at the same time. (2) The devout Jews of the time were habituated to these rituals and clung to them, not only because they order life but also because it gave them an identity. So when Jesus begins to offer an alternative, he runs into the fundamental human phenomenon of our clinging to such rituals. (3) This all takes place in furtherance of a marriage. That is to say, the daring boldness of permanent, life-long commitment. The root of the word “troth” is the root of the word “truth.” We discover truth in troth.”
(And please, search Youtube for Rowan Atkinson’s reading of this text. Terribly funny and borderline sacrilegious at the same time, you are absolved of all guilt for laughing. Never forget, God has a sense of humor)