Sometimes preaching and hearing about God’s abundance is harder than one might expect. Take, for example, Jan. 17, the Sunday after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. On that Sunday, pastors and congregations who use the Revised Common Lectionary will have read John 2:1-11, the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, who blogs on the Sojourners weekly e-mail-zine wrote, “When I realized [the suggested text] was the wedding at Cana I thought, great. Jesus at a big party making sure the wine flows freely. No one wants to hear that today. . . . Nobody wants to hear a quaint little miracle story about how generous God is, when the poorest country in this hemisphere lies in even greater waste than before. Nobody wants to hear of an abundance of wine when people on the streets of Haiti are thirsty.”
It is not always easy to reconcile an affirmation of God’s abundance and generosity with an experience of scarcity.
But then scarcity was the context of the wedding in Cana, where the wine was exhausted. This event happened in the “backwater of Galilee,” as Marcus Borg puts it, in a peasant village. This community likely knew what it was just to get by and sometimes to do without. Some inhabitants might have been teetering on the edge of having nothing at all. Perhaps in Cana it wasn’t a surprise that the wine, one of the staples of a wedding banquet, had run out.
In the context where there was no reason to believe that there would ever be enough, Jesus provides a sign of profound abundance. A sign points out that something important is coming, so pay attention! This sign revealed a generous, compassionate Jesus that caused his disciples to believe in him. They would continue to learn from Jesus, as John records in his gospel, that this extravagant generosity was to be shared liberally. Have we seen this sign as believers?
As time goes by, the urgency to respond to crises like the earthquake in Haiti fade. Our perspectives become a bit narrower again as we focus on our worlds of work, home, school, sports and credit card bills, among others. One of the biggest challenges we face is to cultivate a perspective of enough, of generosity and abundance over scarcity, every day. It is a perspective that looks beyond our own needs to those of others. If we’ve seen the sign, we have the potential, as the body of Christ, to become the outpouring of God’s lavish generosity in the world.
The story of the wedding in Cana reminds us that God is present where the wine has run out, waiting to be revealed in profligate abundance. Today in Haiti; tomorrow, who knows? Maybe next door. There will always be opportunities to be God’s abundance as the body of Christ. Hopefully, we see the signs.