John 2: 1-11
The Danger of Asking Jesus for Help
In the book series the Chronicles of Narnia there is a character in the series named Aslan. Aslan is the representation of Jesus Christ in the Narnia world; in this fantasy world the same being that is Jesus Christ in our world is Aslan in the fantasy world. Aslan is Christ. And Aslan is a lion, a large, glowing, golden lion with a beautiful mane of hair. And there’s a refrain that continues going throughout the series that says “Aslan is not a tame lion.” And basically what they’re saying is we prayed to Aslan, and sometimes Aslan intervenes, but we don’t know when, where, how, or if; because we do not control Aslan. No one controls Aslan. Aslan is not a tame lion. No one controls him. Mary could very well have said Jesus is not a tame lion in this story today. Mary gets that kind of a lesson. Mary and Jesus are attending a wedding here. Jesus is still a Carpenter, or maybe has just started branching out into his ministry as a rabbi, and Mary and Jesus attend a wedding in Cana. Cana is a little town near Nazareth, so this is probably someone they know, quite probably a member of Mary‘s family; but at least a friend. And in this wedding, the host of the wedding runs out of wine. Now this is a big deal. It’s a gigantic deal. Because the host of the wedding, the groom and bride whoever it was, was expected to be able to host. And weddings were a really, really big deal. They would last for a long period of time. And of course the longer you had your wedding, the better off you were. Weddings were huge celebrations and the family would provide wine and food for the celebration. And having that much wine and food was a symbol of the harvest, it was a symbol of how much God has blessed your family. God has blessed your family enough to have this much food, this much wine, etc. And here they run out. This means that the hosts of this wedding are not able to provide for their guests. It means that God has not blessed them well enough to have a wedding that last more than three days. Mary tries to help them out however she can. This is why I think that the host of the wedding were family to Mary, because Mary cares, which means that them running out of wine probably impacts her in some way. She is probably part of that family. And so she goes to Jesus and says, “Jesus, Jesus do something. Anything. They’re out of wine.” Now let’s wait a minute. We pastors love to say that she is asking him to perform a miracle. And we say this because of how he reacts. He answers like she’s asking him to make wine, saying “my time has not yet come.” But was she really asking him to perform a miracle? Was she really asking him to make wine? She would’ve had no reason to suspect that he could. He’s done no miracles thus far. He’s shown no signs of his divinity so far. For her to believe that it was capable for him to make wine would require faith in what the angel had said 30 years ago, that has had almost no evidence that’s far of being true. Now if anyone would have that level of faith in an event that long ago it would be Mary, so I’m not going to completely rule it out. But I don’t think she’s actually asking him to create wine here. I don’t think she’s asking for a miracle. I think what she’s asking is that he just go to town and get some wine, or go back to their place get some of their wine, and bring their wine back. I think she’s just asking him to get wine somehow, someway. And she does have faith in her son; she does trust that her son will try and do something to help this family, will show compassion and mercy upon this family. Because even though he doesn’t say he’s going to do anything, in fact he says quite the opposite, she turns around and tells the servants to do whatever he says and then leaves as if it’s settled. So she has trust and faith that Jesus will eventually do the right thing. She asked Jesus for help, even if she’s unsure how he could possibly help. I find myself identifying with Mary in the story. I routinely ask Jesus for help, even when I don’t necessarily know how Jesus could possibly help. And I think we all ask Jesus for help. You need only look at that piece of paper I have up on the pulpit that has the list of our prayers, the joys and concerns that get raised in service. 99% of the time the concerns list is longer than the joys list, often significantly longer than the joys list. And I don’t say that judgmentally, it’s just a fact. This is how we operate, right? We come to Jesus asking for help, even if we don’t really know what Jesus will do. And as Mary finds out here, sometimes when we ask Jesus to show up we get a surprise miracle. I think we long for that every time we come to worship. Jesus still performs miracles in the world today. Jesus still over performs our expectations when we pray. We asked for help, but Jesus can, and often does, answer prayers in ways that we do not expect. We see that with Mary here. Mary expects him to just go get some wine from their house and instead he creates wine; he creates 180 gallons of wine, enough wine to make this wedding last three or five more days. And it’s the best one they’ve ever tasted; it makes Burgundy look like child’s play. Sometimes Jesus does what we want, and just goes way above and beyond. Sometimes though he answers our prayers, but not in the way we expect. The problem for which Mary is asking a solution here is that they’re out of wine, and the wedding is still happening, and people are going to be thirsty and unable to quench the thirst. Sometimes Jesus answers that solution by making wine. Sometimes he answers that solution by making the guests not thirsty so they won’t ask for more wine. Sometimes he brings a storm in so that the party has to be canceled and everyone goes home without knowing that they had run out of wine. Sometimes the answers to our prayers don’t take the form that we expect. Sometimes they don’t look like blessings at all. But they are still what Jesus does to answer our prayers.
And sometimes Jesus works in ways to which we can’t even see that it was Jesus. There was a quote that I ran across this week by theologian Roy Harrisville, “Some have come to question the divine response to human suffering and have concluded that there is no God. But this quiet miracle belies that conclusion by suggesting that sometimes God does His work without taking out an ad in the paper.” Here the host gets the credit. Only the servants and Jesus, and maybe Mary, know that Jesus performed a miracle to make wine. Everyone else at the wedding thinks the host not only had all that wine to begin with, but saved the best wine for last; and they congratulated the host on that. How many people at that wedding witnessed a miracle and didn’t know it? How many people at the wedding witnessed the work of Jesus Christ I didn’t know it?
When you ask Jesus for help, be open. Ask in expectation that Jesus will help, trusting in Jesus like Mary did. And be open to Jesus helping in ways you do not expect; ready perhaps to help him the way the servants are ready to do whatever Jesus asks; even if it seems strange, or even counterproductive, to our goals at the time. Because Jesus answers prayers in ways that we do not expect. And that should maybe bring us a little bit a pause before we ask. After all, Jesus is not a tame lion. Amen.