Epiphany II, Year C
1 Cor 12:1-11
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
(1 Corinthians 12:1-11)
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
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.
Deconstruction is a term associated with the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. We find reading Derrida difficult but illuminating. For clergy interested in deconstruction and mimetic theory Andrew McKenna has written the brilliant Violence and Difference. Andrew is able to demonstrate that both Girard and Derrida find the origin of language in the victim, for Girard it is the scapegoat, for Derrida the extruded differ(a)nce.
Our story today is about the beginning of the deconstruction of religion. Commentators frequently observe that the wine Jesus creates is made from water found in jars for ritual purification. Some see a supercessionism here. Some suggest that the Fourth Gospel is saying that Jesus replaces Judaism. There is no replacement here. There is something added, namely that which was extruded and this addition will change everything.
The juxtaposition of this narrative at Cana with that of the Temple in Jerusalem brings together two components: deconstruction and transformation. The miracle at Cana is about the transformation of religion by spirituality, that is, by the Spirit that is given in the cross (7:37-39). It is no surprise that some see eucharistic illusions here (e.g., Cullmann). In our discussion of Johannine passages in Year B we saw the many layered textuality of the Fourth Gospel. More importantly we saw that a theology of the cross and all of its implications permeates both the Synoptic and Johannine narrating of the story of Jesus. It is in the cross of Jesus, the extruded victim, that God reveals his glory. John’s ironic use of the verbs doxazo and upsao are evidence of this.
The addition of the cross to the mechanism of religion is the single most transforming reality that can occur. For in the cross of Jesus, the Creator abba is revealed as non-retributive. It is non-retribution or forgiveness that empowers the Christian faith. The transformation of religion into spirituality occurs when we are oriented to the lifestyle of the cross of Jesus, that is, to a lifestyle that ventures to live the forgiveness of God in Christ. As long as we restrict forgiveness to our personal relationship with God, we will remain within the sacrificial realm of religion and find ourselves spending way too much time trying to appease an angry God.
Bonhoeffer had already asked some 60 years ago whether or not Christianity, had run its course. He speculated we were moving to a religionless time. Christianity had its bright lights during Bonhoeffer’s lifetime but for the most part Christianity had more to do with the problem than with the solution. The same question can be raised about American Christianity today. People hunger for spirituality and to have their deepest longing met. They seek peace and want to be loved. But they are fed from tables of sacrifice, they are given water from stone jars instead of wine. There is fundamentally little difference between much Protestant Christianity in America and American civil religion.
What is missed is what is revealed in the Fourth Gospel, namely the transforming power of the cross. The cross deconstructs Christian religion. But it does more than that. Where it is central to faith it transforms and empowers. It reveals the inadequacy of religion grounded in victimage and power. The cross of Jesus exposes the powerlessness of ritual and prohibition and calls for repentance where we have succumbed to both the Romantic lie of ‘the individual self’ as well as the lies we perpetuate as part of the mythmaking crowds. Wherever Christians or churches are creating scapegoats they are not listening to the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
So while we can talk about the deconstruction of Christianity, we can also talk about its transformation. Recalling Walter Wink’s thesis in The Powers (the powers are good, the powers are fallen, the powers will be redeemed), the deconstruction of our faith and our theology is, while painful, ultimately healing and restorative, but deconstruction must remain penultimate. God is finally all about the transformation of all life, the overcoming of death and new creation. This is the good news of the Fourth Gospel and the gospel of Jesus.
Perhaps, if we give our stone hearts to our abba, we may just find ourselves changed.
No hell below us, above us only sky,
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”
Have we lost our imagination today? Do we no longer have the ability to think about eschatology in hopeful, positive terms? Has the well of religion run dry and left us sucking dust? Do we long to be fed at God’s table or do we prefer our own bloody altars?
What are we giving our congregations? Do we dispense the water of ritual and prohibition? Or the wine of spirituality? Do we preach the Christian myth or the Christian gospel?
Christianity is at a crossroads. It can either recognize its accommodation to the generative mimetic scapegoating mechanism and repent, or it can remain another religion of the world. We have choices on every level.
May God open the eyes our hearts, the ears of our minds and clear a path for our feet so that we may walk confidently in the transforming presence of Jesus.