Monday, June 2, 2014

John 2

I know I'm only two chapters in but I'm finding the Gospel of John kind of odd. I realize that I didn't read it as much as I did the synoptic Gospels, in the past. Those are the ones that really stick in my mind, with at least a short recounting of Jesus' life prior to his ministry. John begins after that point, just sort of dropping into the story with Jesus going to John the Baptist and following from there.

But it also contains some of the stories that are most iconic from Jesus' ministry. The second chapter contains the Wedding at Cana and the Cleansing of the Temple, which I feel like anyone who attended Sunday School as a child remembers, no matter what their faith life may have been like after that point.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Two things strike me about this story. Aside from it being the first 'sign' or miracle of Jesus, I mean.

First, there are many groups of Christians who are teetotal. They don't drink at all, condemn it, etc. Which is fine for them. If you don't want to drink, for whatever reason, then by all means do not drink. There is limited health benefit from certain kinds of alcohol (or so I am told) and there are a lot of bad effects of alcohol. But these denominations generally go back to the Bible for their reasoning as to why alcohol is bad. And it's true that the Bible decries drunkenness. Yet here we have an example of Jesus, not only drinking wine, but making sure that there was more of it. And some good stuff too, if the master of ceremonies is to be believed.

We have later (in the timeline) example of Jesus drinking wine with his disciples. I know the argument that the wine at the time was not as strong, etc. etc. but the fact remains that the Bible does not condemn alcohol in and of itself. It condemns excess and drunkenness.

For most people a glass of wine, or even a cocktail, is not a big deal. They're not going to get drunk off of it. Certainly there are some people for whom that one drink is the pebble that starts the avalanche, and obviously those people should not be encouraged to have 'just one'. But I can't see that that has anything to do with a general prohibition on alcohol. 

Second, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, but John never refers to Mary as *Mary*, does he? It's always 'woman'. Which feels so disrespectful to me. But I've heard that the actual word used in these instances translates better as 'madam' or 'ma'am', which is more respectful but still something rather weird to call your mother in this instance. Like I wouldn't ever respond to my mother asking me for something by saying, 'Ma'am, how is this my problem?' 

I'd say 'Yes ma'am', because I was not raised in a barn.

I always feel like this exchange is missing something because it goes from Jesus saying, 'Not my department' to Mary (unnamed though she is) telling the servants to help Jesus get the party rolling.

I feel like we're missing the part where Mary grabs him by the ear and tells him that he is not too big to be taken over her knee.

Then she walks away, smiling, telling the servants to just go be dears and help Jesus out, he's gonna take care of this whole thing.

And how did Mary know he could do something about it anyway? Did he have a habit of turning water into milk as a child? Inquiring minds want to know. 

I mean we have the Infancy Gospels (which aren't canon) that tells us that Jesus performed miracles even as a child. But without those, her assumption that Jesus could take care of this seems kind of strange.

When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

I feel like this is supposed to be a message about how Christianity is not the 'inferior' wine. Because the bridegroom is typically a symbol of Jesus (the Bride being the Chuch) and so the good wine would be the New Convenant while the original wine (one assumes it was good wine since it makes no sense otherwise as a historical story) is the Old Covenant and Mosaic Law.  

And then we have the Cleansing of the Temple.

13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. 16 And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”

Okay. So, in the first place, this is not Jesus' first trip to the Temple at Jerusalem. At the very least, he was there once as a child (the story of Jesus getting 'lost' in the Temple). And I'm certain that he was *aware* of this stuff going on. It's not like he went there, was shocked, and overcome with righteous anger.

Righteous anger? Sure, sure. I can see that. But I feel like he went in with it. That this was, not just a cleansing, but a demonstration. A specific, thought out act.  

This also brings up the question of the church stores that some churches have. If Jesus was peeved about these people doing business in the Temple, what would he think of the stores? Selling religious items, of course, Bibles and books and whatnots (and I know that they're there to raise money for the church and operating expenses, don't get me wrong here) but then so were the people in the Temple. You couldn't sacrifice without the proper animal and the Temple only took money that didn't have the Emperor's face on it (since the Emperor was considered a god/demi-god and that doesn't mesh well with monotheism).

19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

Now it must be remembered that the Gospels were all written well after Jesus' death and resurrection, so there's a lot of stuff that is included in hindsight, as it were. Like this. The whole 'temple of his body' bit. I assume, at the time that this was said, nobody thought he was talking about rising from the dead. 

Who's to say that the disciples didn't take him literally? After all, man turned water into wine. Maybe they believed that he really could put the Temple back together if it got physically destroyed. It's only in retrospect, with Jesus dead that the thoughts turn to a different kind of Messiah-ship. After all, the Jewish people (at least some of them) were expecting a Messiah. A King David kind of Messiah who would give them back the land that God had promised them. A warrior-king-priest. 

Jesus wound up not being exactly who they thought they were looking for.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, 25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.

I'm going to be honest, I'm not really sure what is trying to be said here. Jesus didn't commit himself to these people who believed in him because...they were people? But so are his disciples. What does 'commit himself' mean in this context? He 'had no need that anyone should testify of man'? But they wouldn't be testifying of *man*, they'd be testifying of him. 

Really. I don't get this part. There're no notes for it in my Bible or on the Biblegateway site. So. 

Thoughts? Guesses? Suppositions?

Dirty limericks?

Probably no dirty limericks. I can't see how they'd apply, really.


  1. I love your notes. You might find this site helpful. Under the verses, they have a couple commentaries.

    I agree that "Woman" sounds formal for addressing your mother. I've often thought the phrasing of things seemed weird. I wondered if that were cultural or a product of our translating...or if Jesus just spoke rather oddly like that seems to my American ears.

    I enjoyed your observations!

    1. Interesting. Thanks.

      I wouldn't say that 'woman' sounds formal, really. To my ears it sounds kind of insulting. Assuming that the proper translation should be more like 'madam' it becomes very formal, on that I agree, and not at all what you would expect a son to say to his mother. It's just all very strange.

  2. Hey, Amber. Susanne told me about your blog series here, so blame her. :-) Are you interested in comments from me here? I don't want to butt into someone else's musings, and if you'd rather just post what you're finding in John without a bunch of back-and-forth discussions, I'll be happy to just read and stay out of the combox.

    1. Hi David!

      I blame Susanne for many things, all of them good.

      I'm more than happy to have discussions, so if you have comments or insights, please feel free. Very little gets solved when I'm just talking to myself. After all, I always agree with myself. :)

  3. Well, your blogging on John is moving fast and in depth, so nobody will probably be parked on any one entry for too long. So I'll try to be much less wordy than I have been known to be before. *cough*

    1) As odd as it sounds to our Western 21st century ears, I think "Woman" is generally considered by Hebrew scholars to have been a polite, respectful form of address for Jesus to use with his mother. We'll run across it again in ch.19 when Jesus, from the cross, is making provision for his mother's future needs, again calling her "Woman".

    2) One of the nice side things to notice in this chapter is the metaphor of feasting and joy - a theme repeated in many books, and especially in Revelation where it is seen as a part of heavenly experience. The God who created us to enjoy good food and wine is showing here how all things are given richly to be enjoyed. I like that.

    // (v24-25) But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. //

    I think this is an early indication that Jesus is aware that people are already beginning to look at him as a messiah... at least, what they wanted their messiah to be. We'll see the people coming again and again to try to make Jesus their king by force, and Jesus resisting this. This section also leads into ch. 3-4 where we'll see Jesus' omniscience of the thoughts of men and women applied with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.

    (and I think the phrase "he had no need that anyone should testify of man" is just a way of saying "He had no need for anyone to explain to him what men were thinking", because "He knew what was in man")

    1. The blogging is fast right now (though I'd hardly consider it in depth - I mean I used silly gifs, that's the antithesis of in depth) but I happen to be on vacation so I have extra time. I expect it will slow down when I go back to work next week.

      Still, one of the joys of the blogging platform is that it doesn't move. But be as brief or as long wordy as you like. :)

      1 - Yes, that's what I've read too. It still just...sounds so wrong. It's one of those instances where I know that it isn't meant to read the way it sounds to me but my initial reaction is still, 'How rude!' I'd have gotten slapped if I'd spoken the way it sounds to me to my mother, you know?

      2 - How much were we created to enjoy good food and wine though, practically? We were created to worship God and to ultimately return to Him (or so I was taught). Wine and food are things that are of the world (though very necessary in the case of food) and can be a stumbling point for many people.

      I understand that the practicality of it is very different from the metaphor, especially when we see the feasting in heaven in, as you say, Revelation. Rejoicing I can see, certainly, but eating is something for the flesh, not the spirit.

      3 - It seems that many think this verse is referring to people who were following Jesus because, as you say, they thought he might be the Messiah they were imagining - the King type - but who would fall away when it was proved that he was not. So he didn't reveal the same kinds of information to them that he would to his disciples later. Which makes sense

      "This section also leads into ch. 3-4 where we'll see Jesus' omniscience of the thoughts of men and women applied with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.

      (and I think the phrase "he had no need that anyone should testify of man" is just a way of saying "He had no need for anyone to explain to him what men were thinking", because "He knew what was in man")"

      I'm not sure that this passage necessarily lends itself to Jesus being omniscient (and would he have been omniscient in an incarnated state? Doesn't he indicate that he does not know everything when he says that no man knows the hour in Matthew 24? Does that even argue that the Son is not omniscient even prior to incarnation?)

      I'd agree that Jesus' interaction with the Samaritan woman shows a knowledge beyond that of the normal but I'm not sure where it comes in with his interaction with Nicodemus in chapter 3. I just reread that section and he doesn't seem to answer anything that is not obviously asked and what he says does not seem to be any particular insight into humans in general either.

      It seems a preaching moment, speaking of the new birth and faith, etc.

  4. // How much were we created to enjoy good food and wine though, practically? Rejoicing I can see, certainly, but eating is something for the flesh, not the spirit. //

    The good news is that God is really interested in both body AND spirit. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the church (along with most religions) hasn't always done a good job at keeping this in mind. There's a certain pious, "enlightened" sound to saying "My body is unimportant. What's really important is my (mind, soul, spirit, essence, etc.), and when I'm in heaven, I will be free of my body and all physical things."

    Randy Alcorn calls that idea "Christoplatonism", a way of dressing up in Christian terms old Platonic ideas that the spirit is good but the physical is bad. But God made both the body and soul, and viewed both as very good. Both were marred by the fall, and both are redeemed by Christ. And both body and soul will be free from the effects of sin and weakness in heaven.

    Furthermore, the new heavens and new Earth will be real, physical places. We won't be floating on clouds strumming harps for all eternity, nor be sitting on cold marble benches in a clinical, sterile heaven. I think it's entirely likely that the New Earth will be exactly the existing earth, freed from the curse, which I will be able to explore in a perfect, but still physical body.

    God is a God of ridiculously beautiful things - a walk around the neighborhood on a spring day, or an episode of "Nova" will show that. He gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17). If God's children are to live on a new Earth one day, it seems entirely reasonable to assume that our experiences and pleasures on the current earth will be full of clues of what the new Earth will be like.

    We can talk about this more if you want, but I am trying REALLY REALLY hard to not talk so much.

    (I did teach a Sunday School on heaven though, if you're interested! )

    // and would he have been omniscient in an incarnated state? Doesn't he indicate that he does not know everything when he says that no man knows the hour in Matthew 24? //

    Good catch! Yes, I will amend my statement - I think you're right, that Christ in his humanity did not fully avail himself of his divine abilities. And so I believe at the time he spoke the words you quoted, he did not (as a real human being) know the date of the second coming.

    1. It is entirely possible that I am projecting my own issues with the 'feasting' descriptions onto what the Bible is saying.

      It's not that I don't think the body matters, but that I have so many issues with my own and with food in general that I find it impossible to focus on it as a metaphor for divine levels of goodness and reward.

      Now if it was described as a never ending library...we could talk.


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