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"Being Volun-told" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer


February 4, 2024

John 2: 1-11


            I’m starting a support group and I want you to be the first to know about it. This cause is close to my heart because I suffered through it as a young person, particularly in my teenage years. And while I didn’t have a word for it until I was well into my professional career, I’ve come to understand that I was afflicted with being volun-told throughout my childhood.


            I suspect many of you suffered this same affliction but might not be familiar with the terminology, so let me explain. Being “volun-told” is to be volunteered for something without your consent or knowledge and then being volun-told about the task later. Like, “Oh, I told Mrs. Wilson that you’d babysit for her Friday night.” Or “the Pastor was looking for help with the garage sale next weekend and I told him you could help.”


            The most common “volun-tellers” are parents, but grandparents and spouses are a close second. I learned this term for one of my youth parents at my last church and while I would often take the parents up on their offers, I always felt a little guilty doing it. Likely because my mother was the worst about “volun-telling” me for things. I can’t count how many times I heard my mother say, “Oh, Jillian will do that” and having no idea what “that” was. Jackie Farmer is the epitome of a “volun-teller” thus my need for a support group.

 

            But I must admit that as with so many other things I am becoming my mother and have found myself volun-telling my family members about tasks. I feel less compunction about doing this to Robyn, particularly when it comes to things at church. I figure they’re good for her. But Erich and I have had several marital conversations and reached the agreement that I always make the effort before volunteering him for things or putting him in sermons.


            Having experienced “volun-telling” and being guilty of it myself makes me wonder if Jesus and his mother had a conversation after this wedding in Cana. Did Jesus look at Mary and say something along the lines of, “I know you meant well Mom, but you gotta stop! I can’t keep turning things into other things!” Because Jesus is volun-told to do something about the wine in this morning’s story from John’s gospel.


            Follow me on this short reminder of biblical composition. Put very simply, the first three gospels are called “synoptic” because they tell many of the same stories of Jesus, in mostly the same order, and with much of the same wording. “Synoptic” comes “from the Greek word synoptikos, meaning ‘able to be seen together.’”[1]


            John’s gospel, on the other hand, is not considered synoptic because it includes stories, timelines, and wording all its own. To put it another way, if Matthew, Mark and Luke are the kids all quietly coloring together at a table, John’s the kid across the room building a Lego time machine for dinosaurs. John unapologetically dances to its own tune and is full of “paradoxes and contradictions.”[2] Fans of this gospel often like it “because of its sublime language and imagery, and its ability to lift its readers out of the historical moments of Jesus’ life to the lofty heights of the cosmos.”[3]


            It’s also important to know that John is generally considered the last Gospel to have been written with its final, most complete version being dated to around 85-93 BCE.  “The Gospel identifies the beloved disciple…as the eyewitness author,”[4] and tradition holds that this “disciple whom Jesus loved” was John son of Zebedee, one of the twelve, but this is unlikely to be correct. As with the other gospels, it’s more accurate to understand the true author as lost to history.


            We’ll dig into the background and minutia of the gospel as we journey through it over the coming months, but for now let’s return to this morning’s story and consider how Jesus says the word, “Woman” when addressing his mother in verse four. What intonation should that word have? Irritation? Embarrassment? Long-suffering at again being volun-told for something?

 

            It strikes me as coming from a place that mingles all of those emotions and more as the thing to notice about Jesus’ address to Mary is that it’s less personal. He could have called her “Mother” or even “Mary” when she tells him the wine’s all gone. Certainly, his question to her, “What concern is that to you and me?” feels pointed.


            “Lady, why are telling me this? I’m not in charge here.” For as Jesus goes on to say, “My hour has not yet come.”[5] “This isn’t my time. Don’t push me”[6] “Dear woman, is it our problem they miscalculated when buying wine and inviting guests? My time has not arrived.”[7]


            After all, this is a rather odd place for Jesus to begin his ministry. Particularly if this is a family wedding as some scholars suggest, Jesus is not the center of attention and really shouldn’t try to pull focus. He’s also not the host but just a guest who seems set on simply enjoying the gathering until his mother once again volu-tells him.


            Turning to the servants Mary says, “Do whatever my son tells you,[8] and more or less backs Jesus into a corner. He could walk away. Ignore his mom and refuse to get involved. But instead, Jesus takes action as his mother anticipated he would, though he does so in an understated way. On his terms and as privately as possible in this public setting.


            John doesn’t refer to this as a “miracle” preferring to use the word “sign,” but Jesus’ ability to change water into wine is miraculous and very Jewish. One of the commentators I listen to weekly, Dr. Amy Robertson is Jewish, as she described Jesus’ actions here as “peak Jewish teaching” because he gives charitably to the groom - the host of this party - in a way that blesses his host without anyone being aware of what he’s done. Jesus changes this water into wine in a way that isn’t ostentatious or that draws attention to himself but rather allows his host, the groom, to take the credit. As I said, it’s a miracle performed on Jesus’ terms.


            Now, you might be wondering why the gospel writer is so specific about the number of stone jars and how much water can hold. First, they’re specifically stone because stone doesn’t absorb impurities in the way something like clay does. Second, the purification rites mentioned are likely a form of ritual handwashing that doesn’t individually require that much water. So, 120-180 gallons of water speaks to how many people are present.  Finally, keep in mind that Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars implying they were partially or completely empty. It’s a small detail, but one that tells us that Jesus’ actions here aren’t intended to replace anything but to start something new. Nothing’s being discarded, something new is taking place. This is a new shape within a previously existing structure and speaks to the many examples in the Hebrew Bible of wine being associated with the day of the Lord. Or as in Joel 3, the opening of the Messianic age.

 

Therefore, “wine is significant not over and against Jewish tradition, but exactly within Jewish tradition.” Said another way, “Here’s abundant flowing wine” from Jesus who’s quietly and subtlety fulfilling messianic expectations. By doing what his mother volun-tells him in this situation, Jesus begins his ministry and takes on his role as the Messiah, but without fanfare or a fuss. This speaks to the first part of this morning’s Good News which is that God’s kin-dom can unfold in small, subtle ways. As with this first of Jesus’ miracles, the in-breaking of God is possible behind the scenes and in unexpected places. Because God’s kin-dom is, to a certain extent, improvisational to make room for a variety of giftings which help express it. All of us have a hand in sharing the in-breaking of God in our unique ways, so we must remember to look around for it. To look for God’s kin-dom everywhere and participate in it “even in improvised ways rather than waiting for something earth-shattering”[9] to happen.


            And that leads me to part two of the Good News; starting big things can be hard and we sometimes need a push. There can be too many paths to choose from, and too many starting places when it comes to starting big, important work. Too many options for working to address the world’s needs and injustices. Too many places where our time and talents would be useful. We can end up being stymied by where to begin and in those moments “it’s okay to just take the [path] in front of you and not wait until everything’s perfectly aligned.”[10] It’s okay to start something and be flexible and nimble as you go along to make the necessary improvements to your work. It’s okay to start out in a direction boldly and then realize you need to adjust. And sometimes it’s best to start quietly, publicly but on your terms, with a gentle push from a loved one even if you don’t think the time is right. So perhaps being volun-told isn’t so bad after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[2] The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Editors, pg. 152.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, pg. 153.

[5] From the NRSV

[6] From The Message

[7] From The Voice

[8] Ibid.

[9] BibleWorm podcast.

[10] Ibid.

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