The second chapter of the Gospel of John presents an interesting tension. The chapter opens with what the writer describes as Jesus’ first “sign,” the turning of water meant for ritual handwashing into wine meant to keep a party going.
Theologian and historian N.T. Wright notes that this scene plays off of the end of the previous chapter, where Jesus tells his new disciple Nathaniel that he will see angels descending from and ascending to the heavens. According to Wright, what the writer of John means to describe is the opening of the realm of the divine into the realm of humanity…the place where heaven and earth come together, located in this man Jesus of Nazareth.
Thus, turning water into fine wine is not just a magic trick meant to impress a bunch of wedding guests. It’s a way of showing what life can be like when the fullness of Divine Love is expressed in human relationships.
But the gospel immediately follows that celebratory scene with one in which Jesus confronts what author Diana Butler Bass calls “religious profiteers” in the Temple, a challenge which incites the authorities and gatekeepers of the time to eliminate Jesus and crush his movement. Writing in a recent post about the season of Epiphany, Butler Bass says:
…[T]here are powers and principalities that will press against Epiphany with fear and great violence. To see the deep structure, to follow the star, to hear the breaking of the ice encasing the earth is threatening to those who benefit from “normal,” the accepted veneer of “ordinary” injustices and oppressions and indignities that bedevil and deceive the human race.Diana Butler Bass, “Epiphany Now”
As we approach our annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s a salient reminder that the pursuit of the Beloved Community will always face opposition from those who benefit from the status quo. Sadly, that often includes the institutional church.
Join us this Sunday, Jan. 16, on the eve of MLK Day as we continue our Epiphany conversation with a discussion about what it looks like for us as a community of spiritual exiles to keep turning water into wine and to keep upending the tables of the temples of injustice and oppression.
6:00pm EST: Happy Half-Hour (informal meet & greet time)
6:30pm EST: Presentation & conversation begin