Serving the Good Wine Last

A man is walking down the road in ancient Israel. He checks the voicemail on his phone, notices a message, and returns the phone call.[1]

Hi, James. It’s John.

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Congregation of St. Thomas the Doubter
January 16, 2022
Isaiah 62:1-5: John 2:1-11

No, not that John. . . . No, not that one. . . . No, John Mark. From work. You called me. Yeah, I know there are a lot of Johns out there.

Did I borrow the owner’s manual for the new abacus? No, I didn’t. But check with Philip the Greek. I think he was asking about it on Friday. Right, short guy with the thick accent.

Me, what am I up to?  I’m on the road back from Cana toward Sepphoris.  I was at a wedding.  No, nobody from work.  It was my cousin Rachel’s wedding.  She married a scribe.  Yeah, I know.  Well, the family isn’t that excited.  Mostly because those scribes spend a fair amount of time with Pharisees and my cousin’s family’s all Sadducees.  Me, I stay out of it.  I know better than to talk politics at family gatherings.

Did I go with anyone? Yeah, I took Mary as my date. No, not that one. . . . No, not that one. . . .Yeah, that’s the one. . . . Yeah I know, there are a lot of Marys out there. . . .

Ah, it was mostly scribes and a few lawyers. A bunch of extended family, mostly. There was this one rabbi there. . . . No, no, not the rabbi who did the ceremony. . . . Who did the ceremony? Rabbi Simon. . . . No, not that one. . . No, not that one. . . . Yeah, I know, there are a lot of rabbis named Simon out there. No, you remember the guy who spoke last year at the memorial service when the Tower of Siloam fell over? . . . It was the guy to his left. Right.

Anyway, there was this other rabbi there. From Nazareth. Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s son. Was there with a bunch of his disciples. . . . I don’t know. . . maybe twelve? . . . I know, well it was a buffet so they didn’t really have to worry about table service.

Oh! That reminds me! The craziest thing happened at this wedding. . . . No, no. That didn’t happen. I mean, really, how many weddings will I go to where the rabbi runs off with the bride? . . . Well, it’s just been the one so far. No, this was about the reception.

So all day they’re serving food and drink. The wine is really flowing. I mean, people are drinking. People are dancing around. We were having a really good time. . . . I don’t know what they were serving. It was your basic Galilean table wine, you know. Anyway, at one point, I can see the waiters are running around a little nervous. I see Mary . . . no not my Mary, Mary from Nazareth, I see her talking to her son. They’re clearly talking about the wine or something. So anyway, he goes back into the kitchen and is talking to the waiters. A few minutes later, they come out with more wine.

And let me tell you, this wine was fantastic. I mean, I’ve been to my share of weddings. They always serve the good wine first. And then the cheap stuff comes out and that lasts the rest of the evening. . . . Right—just like that kebab place around the corner from the office that has all you can eat Thursdays. . . . The second and third kebabs are always inferior.

But this wine. Let me tell you. It was amazing. . . . No, have no idea where they got it from. . . . Maybe they had it in the backroom somewhere and had forgotten about it. . . . I suppose they could have mixed it up with the cheap wine and served the other stuff first by mistake, but have you ever done that? . . . No, I didn’t think so.

Do I think this Jesus had anything to do with it? I don’t know. I mean, it did seem kind of strange, that really good wine coming out of nowhere. . . .

I suppose it’s possible that they went out and bought some, but why risk coming upon some Romans out to harass us and cause trouble?

Well, I didn’t see Jesus and his disciples bringing the wine in. . . . Though, to tell you the truth, I peeked into the kitchen at one point and saw them pouring the wine out of the water jars. . . . What, am I supposed to think somehow he turned the water into wine? . . . What will you say next, that this guy can walk on water?

You know, the kid was always a little special. . . . No, I ever tell you about that time we all went down to Jerusalem for Passover? On the way back one of the kids is missing. It’s this Jesus. So his folks go back and look for him. . . . They found him in the Temple. . . . No, I thought he’d be at the hippodrome watching chariot races, too! No, he’s at the temple, and from what I heard through the grapevine, he was talking with the priests and the teachers of the law. . . . Right, not my idea of playing hooky either.

So, who knows? Maybe he’s got the inside track with God and can pull a neat trick or two. . . . Well, it was some awfully good wine.

But that makes me think: who serves good wine last? . . . Well, right, clearly my cousin. But it’s so unexpected. That’s not like her. I mean, she’s marrying a scribe, after all.

I mean, the whole thing kind of upends the way I am used to thinking about the world. . . . What do I mean?

Well, it’s like you were saying the other day, it’s all downhill from here. . . . Right, and not just at work. I mean, isn’t that so much easier to believe, that everything is going to Gehenna in a handbasket? . . . I mean, take my Uncle Mordecai. All he does is sit around and say how everything was better in the old days. “Back when the Maccabees were in power. . . yada yada yada.” I know that Antipas is a crook and that his father Herod sold us out to the Romans. . . . I know, the poor Judeans get to have the Romans rule directly. It’s like you were saying, Herod Antipas is a crook, but he’s our crook.

But, I wonder how much I think like Mordecai myself. Who on earth would ever have expected the good wine to come last? . . . Right. Nobody.

I’ve gotten so used to the idea that things just get worse, it’s never occurred to me that something surprising could happen like that. . . . Hey, I only had maybe five or six glasses, tops. . . . It just makes me wonder.

What does it make me wonder? Well, alright. Remember the other day at the office, Solomon was saying how much it bothered him that no one ever got along with the Samaritans? Remember how he was saying that he wondered whether we’d ever be able to get along with the Samaritans? Well, what if we can? What if this all means that instead of the best times being behind us, they’re still ahead?

Okay, maybe 7 or 8 glasses . . . but trust me it’s not the wine. Well, it’s the wine, but you know. Here we are, in an occupied country, brutalized, longing for justice. And you hear folks hoping for things to get better. The cynics keep saying that things are only gonna get worse. There’s no hope. There’s nothing ahead but more oppression. More pain.

But what if what’s ahead is sweeter than anything we were expecting? What if what’s ahead is actually the sweetest thing of all? Just, you know, saved for last?

Yes, I am aware of how I sound. . . . The other travelers? . . . Mostly they’re just staring at me. But you know this road, it’s full of religious quacks. I’ll blend right in.

I am starting to think that this Jesus fellow had something to do with this. . . . Well, even if he didn’t turn the water into wine—how would he even do that, by the way? Where does a Nazarene get that kind of technology?—even if he didn’t turn the water into wine, maybe it was his idea to save the good wine for the end.

Why? Well you know how these rabbis are. . . they’re always trying to teach some lesson. Maybe that’s what he was doing. . . . Sure, I guess he could have been just performing a sign. But really, what are the chances that he’s the Messiah? . . . Right. I mean, he’s from Nazareth!

But let’s think about this: you know how Salome was saying how unfair it is that women don’t get to be religious leaders? . . . Right, it’s still so funny. But, imagine if Salome expected the best to come last. Imagine if she had that kind of hope. What that would do for her in her life. . . . Well, of course, there will never be women religious leaders.  That would be like saying that one day all the Greeks and the Romans will believe in our God and that the city of Rome will have a high priest who prays to God.  . . . Exactly, ridiculous.  But maybe not ridiculous for Salome.

Maybe not ridiculous for my cousin Simon. . . . No, not that one. . . . No, not that one. . . . The leper. Lives down in Bethany. He is always feeling left out. Marginalized. No one wants him in the synagogue. No one wants him to be a part of the community. Everyone tells him that he will never be welcomed and that he just needs to accept that. What if he will be welcomed? What if he will be healed? What if God has some surprising and wonderful things in store for us that we’ve given up on? . . .

Yeah, I suppose that could go for everyone who is looking for justice. Like the poor. Maybe they will be fed. And the homeless sheltered. Those who suffer loss and death will be comforted. Those who have been kept on the outside will be let in. All those who have ever felt that they were excluded, that they were different, that they were less than. They would be welcomed. They would be loved. . . . Okay, it was only 9 or 10 glasses. But let me tell you: this was some really good wine.

This was some really good wine.

Maybe too good. Must have gone to my head. Because I just can’t stop thinking how surprising it was. The way that the old rabbis always talked about how surprising God’s grace was. Remember? . . . Right, in Hebrew school when we were kids. How surprising it was that God chose Moses. How surprising that God chose David. God was always doing things in surprising places and at surprising times with surprising people. What’s to say that the good old days are the only times we could have hope? Maybe the good old days weren’t so good after all. The Maccabees were kind of crooks themselves. Maybe, there is hope ahead. Maybe God is still capable of doing some amazing things. Maybe we should be looking forward to even better wine in days to come.

Hey, did you ever find that owner’s manual? . . . Yeah, check with Philip the Greek. . . . I know, I don’t know why they have to issue “improvements” to our office equipment. I don’t even know what an “Abacus 2.0” is. . . . Right. Just a money-making scam.

What’s that? You just heard that Jesus will be teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum? Yeah, I’d be interested in going. . . . Next Saturday, sure. . . . No, I’ll come by your place and we can head over together. No, I think after this weekend, I’d like to go hear. . . I’d like to ask him about that wine. . .

Alright, I’m gonna need to go here, there looks like there’s some kind of accident in the road ahead. No, wait. It looks like some animals have decided to take a rest in the highway. . . . Well, I’ll see if I can see. . . Well, it looks like it’s a wolf lying down with a lamb. Huhn. Isn’t that the damnedest thing?

Alright, James. See you at the office. Bye.

The Text

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

[1] With both sincere admiration for and profound apologies to Bob Newhart, from whom the idea for this entire sermon was stolen.