I love to tell the story, indeed I do. In fact, pretty much all of my life – as actor, singer, counselor and priest – can be summed up in a telling of stories, of narratives, told and retold, lived and remembered. I love to follow the creative Spirit to find new ways to tell familiar stories, so they can be heard by new ears. I also love to study and discover, in the words of radio journalist Paul Harvey, “the rest of the story”.
When we read our Gospel story today, a story that you might find familiar, even boring, it might interest you to listen for the voices, for the stories, between the lines. For example, I like to imagine those servants, who knew where Jesus got that good wine, peeking around the corner to watch the fun, perhaps snickering as the rest of the guests, and the educated steward puzzled over the mystery.
If this were a movie, I’d cast the Steward – sort of the ancient sommelier, a Near Eastern wedding planner if you will — as a stuffy Tim Curry, or befuddled Hugh Grant. “Where have you been keeping this wine?” What about the wedding couple? Where are their voices? Were they especially good family friends of Jesus, or someone for whom Mary felt an affinity? Perhaps she saw something of herself in the young bride, and so she asked her son to help them.
For Mary does ask Jesus for this, the “first” of his miracles. I use the “rabbits of emphasis” around “first”, since the Gospel according to John is actually the “last” of the Gospels, written around 100 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and using materials from the other three Gospels as some of its source material. This Gospel writer, writing to Greek speakers, uses a high Christology, a more divine way of speaking about Jesus than the other three “synoptic” Gospel writers. He seems to assert that Jesus is superior to all the other prophets before him. In a way, “saving the good wine for last” might be this Gospel writers’ way of talking about his own book!
The wedding is said to have taken place on the “Third Day”: this is not meant to mean literally on day three, but rather that this was the third action in this Gospel account. Following of course John’s famous prologue when he introduces Jesus as the Word, the Logos, the first action was the Testimony of John the Baptist (another John; they were everywhere). The second action was Jesus’ recruitment of apostles, such as Andrew, Simon Peter, Nathanial, etc. This “third” action is the first of seven “signs” in John’s Gospel: signs of Jesus’ divine power. And it is Mary who prompts the miracle. John’s Gospel does not refer to Mary by name, she is merely “the Mother”, and Jesus really gives her what my daughter would call “sass”. Woman! He says, “what concern is this to you or me?”. Jesus says that his time has not come yet, but Mary knows differently.
Mary not only helped to prompt this beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but after the death and resurrection of her son, Mary, along with Mary Magdelene, was instrumental in gathering and growing the early Christian community. The Book of Acts and other ancient documents tell about how disciples gathered with Mary, Jesus’ mother, to celebrate the Eucharist and to pray. Mary, this “Woman” of whom John writes, composes some of “the rest of the story”.
Tomorrow, our church office, along with many offices around our country will be closed in honor of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of us know and are inspired by Dr. King’s sermons, and his tireless, nonviolent work to spark the Civil Rights Movement. We might think of his wife, Coretta Scott King, as merely his widow, who continued to raise their four children after Dr. King’s death. But her story is so very much more than that.
If not for the steadfast love of Coretta Scott King, and her tenacious advocacy on behalf of Civil Rights, there would not be an MLK day! It was she who finally got this holiday recognized by Ronald Regan in the 1980’s. I was surprised to learn that Mrs. Scott King had been a classical singer before she married Martin. In fact, she went to school where I myself had sung, at the New England Conservatory. By the time she met Marin, Coretta was already not only an accomplished singer, who transferred to NEC from Antioch on a full scholarship, but also a civil rights activist in her own right.