Tuesday, February 7, 2012

God's Timetable, Our Need

I've been studying the Gospel of John for the last week or so.  This morning, I was pondering on the miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, described in John chapter 2.

Parenthetically, it's clear to me here that the wine in question was alcoholic.  I don't know how else to read the response of the "ruler of the feast" to Jesus' miracle in verse 10.  It's clear to me from this and other New Testament texts that not only did Jesus not disapprove of wine-drinking, but that he partook himself.  See, for instance, Luke 7:34/Matthew 11:19.  I live the Word of Wisdom, and I believe it is divinely inspired, though I see it as a sign of obedience/devotion that is asked of the Saints in this dispensation, not necessarily in others.  This is an important clarification; a reminder that what is most important is that we be attentive to what God is asking us to do now, in this time and place, not necessarily what he has required of Saints in other times and places living in other dispensations.

But this was not what interested me most in this chapter.  In verse three, when Jesus' mother drops a rather broad hint that Jesus should use his miracle-working power to help provide wine for the wedding, Jesus' response is rather brusk: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come."  Some of the translation notes I've studied suggest that the original Greek is at least as harsh-sounding as this comes across in English.  Imagine addressing your own mother as "woman," and responding to her request for help by saying "What do I have to do with you?"  One translation note I looked at pointed out that this is the same question the demons address to Jesus in Mark 1:24 and Luke 4:34.  Harsh.

The harshness of Jesus' response to his mother reminds me somewhat of the harshness of Jesus' response to Peter in Matthew 16, after Jesus had revealed his impending death in Jerusalem, and Peter had protested, "Far be it from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee" (Matt. 16:22).  Here, in John, I think the key to the harshness of Jesus' response to his own mother is in the phrase, "Mine hour is not yet come."  Here, as in Jesus' response to Peter, it was a question of Jesus' devotion to the calling he had received from God.  Human beings should not, it seems, try to interfere with or "manage" that calling in any way.  As Jesus understood it, that particular time and place -- the wedding feast at Cana -- was not his time yet.  And he let his mother know in no uncertain terms.

Yet -- and in this, I can totally imagine Mary as a mom -- Mary is not phased in the least by the harshness of Jesus' response.  She simply proceeds to instruct the servants at the wedding to do whatever Jesus asked them to do -- implying that he's going to go ahead and perform the miracle requested anyway.  And Jesus, in fact, obliges her, in spectacular fashion, as attested in verse 10.

So the puzzle in what ensues is: Why, if his hour had not yet come, did he go ahead and perform the miracle?  It's not that Jesus can't say no to his mother.  He apparently does, for instance, in Mark 3:31-35 / Luke 8:19-21 / Matthew 12:46-50.

But this account's summary of the miracle (in verse 11) was that "this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."  So the miracle in fact served a divine purpose.  It became essentially, Jesus' "coming out," the beginning of works and teachings through which he would manifest his mission.

So even though this was not "his hour," at least not the one that he would have chosen, at Mary's insistence, he made it his hour.  In other words, God's timetable was in fact rearranged to meet human requests/needs.

This tells us something important, I think, about the theology behind prayer.  It seems to me that in fact there are blessings that God withholds from us, until we are willing to ask for them.  Cross reference this story with the parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8, or with Revelation 8:1-4.  If we are suffering an injustice, God does not expect us to fatalistically accept injustice.  He invites us to plead, to pray with all the energy of our souls, for injustice to end.  And if we exercise faith, and turn to him in faith, divinely ordained timetables of history can be changed.  God will reward our faith, hope and persistence.


I just learned that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that California's Proposition 8 is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.  I have long believed that the patchwork of DOMA laws and state constitutional amendments denying marriage to same-sex couples were unconstitutional.  This ruling affirms that.  Though, obviously, now this is going to have to be settled by the highest court in the land.  And who knows how that will go?

I have been getting more and more involved in the statewide campaign here in Minnesota to stop our state constitution from being amended to ban marriage for same-sex couples.  Last night, spent two hours calling Minnesota voters and talking to them about the proposed amendment.  I had some incredible conversations with people who are opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage.  I went into these conversations in a spirit of prayer and humility.  My hope was that these conversations would be an opportunity for us to discuss real issues -- and the impact that laws and amendments like this have on real couples, real families.  Like mine.  I did feel the Spirit present, keeping me calm, and helping me find the words to move conversations forward in a constructive, positive manner.  More importantly, I felt it present helping people to understand why -- if marriage is a sacred commitment -- its sacredness and value as a form of commitment only become more meaningful by including couples like me and Göran, not less.  I have had an intense sense of the sacredness of these conversations.  I can hear it in the tone of voice of the people I speak with, as they begin to realize -- in talking to a real live gay person, in a real live relationship -- what this is all about.

I have prayed about this.  I've actually even agonized about it a bit.  I love the Church, and I have a testimony of it.  And there's nothing that I want to say or do that would in any way undermine the Church, or the authority of those who have been called by God to lead it.  There is no doubt in my mind that they are divinely called.  And yet, every particle in me says that the current positions on homosexuality and on marriage for gay couples are wrong.  And now that this fight is in my home state, I can't be any less than fully committed to be in this fight.  But I don't want this to appear in any way as a rejection of my faith.  Because every particle in me also says that the Church is true.

I understand why many in the Church believe what they believe about homosexuality.  But I honestly believe much of the quandary over homosexuality is the result of the fact that folks are misapplying scriptures and commandments that were given in another time and another place for other reasons; and that we as a Church have not spent enough time seeking to understand God's mind for us here and now, in this time and this place on this issue.

And I have prayed and pleaded with God for help and insight as regards my own personal path.  I've asked God if what I was doing in relation to marriage, and this campaign was the right thing.  Because, for me, the bottom line is that if I received even a hint from the Spirit that being involved in the campaign to defeat the marriage amendment was wrong in the eyes of God, I couldn't in good conscience participate.

But the Spirit has said to me simply: "Fight."  If I want justice, if I want people to understand the truth about me and my marriage, now is the time to stand up in faith, patience, love and hope, and expend all the energy I can in helping them to understand.  I am pleading every day and night for God's help too...  Like the woman in the parable.  Like the saints under the altar.  Ultimately, I trust that it's in God's hands.  Things will proceed according to his timetable.  But God also expects us to be active in the unfolding of his kingdom.  To ask for what we need and want.  And to let our lives be the unfolding of those prayers.


Duck said...

Beautiful post, John. Thank you for edifying me today- I needed that.

I, too, have been studying and reading from John. And, I had the exact same reaction that you had (when Mary asked Jesus to turn the water into wine and he responded tersely to her). Your thoughts on this subject are very welcomed as I had wondered about the very things which you wrote. Again, thank you for the edification today.

Best courage to you as you continue working to bring legal equality to same-sex marriage.

Love and respect, always.

Matthew said...

"So even though this was not "his hour," at least not the one that he would have chosen, at Mary's insistence, he made it his hour. In other words, God's timetable was in fact rearranged to meet human requests/needs."

This had never really occurred to me before. I shall have to give it some thought. Great post - God bless you in your efforts!

J G-W said...

Hey Duck! Thanks! I'm always glad if something I've wrestled with is helpful to someone else. Hope you are doing well!

Thanks, Matthew!

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that Christ again addresses his mother as "Woman" when his hour (his dear Passion) had fully come. This occurred at the foot of the life-giving cross when the Blessed and Ever-Virgin Theotokos is entrusted to the care of the beloved apostle.

Mary is often referred to as the New Eve. In Gen 3, we see Adam's wife referred to as woman. In Rev 12, we read of the woman who gives birth to the Child who would conquer the dragon (Satan), bruising his head (Gen 3:15). Who is this Woman who is the birth-giver of this Child? Mary!

Christ now gives another Woman, his dear bride, the Church, the best wine, his own very Blood to drink, a fortaste of the everlasting Wedding feast to come.

Jeff H.

J G-W said...

Hey, Jeff... That is beautiful. I had never thought to read this text against those other texts at the end of John's Gospel, in Genesis and in the Book of Revelation.

I think Mormons do not pay nearly enough attention to the role that Mary played in the plan of salvation -- though they do have a more elevated understanding of the role Eve played.