John in July: Wine, Dine and Psalm 69 (Jn 2)

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Wine

So far Jesus has been portrayed as the Logos (the divine mediator) cast out of the world, the Passover Lamb to be slaughtered and the target and victim of Nathanael’s prejudice. And we’ve only been through one chapter! Jesus seems to be taking it all in stride, all of the many manifestations of the human need to scapegoat and blame.

In Chapter 2, Jesus’ mother also falls into the tendency of blaming Jesus or at least holding him responsible for the tragic social faux pas of running out of wine at a 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 me?”

Jesus asks his mother (who is not named in the Fourth Gospel) why he is to be held responsible for the lack of wine. “Why are you blaming me for this? This really is not my problem.”

I just officiated my first wedding a few weeks ago in Healdsburg CA and I loved it. However, there were more than enough things to stress out about. I had to remind myself not to worry out about concerns that I could not really control or for which I was not responsible. I was responsible for the ceremony, the homily, the wedding license and that was really it. I had to practice self-differentiation by not feeling the need to remedy family tensions, dinner issues, dancing anxieties and the millions of other things that called for attention. Fortunately, they did not run out of wine at the wedding. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why wine is so common at weddings: it helps people to relax. And that’s perhaps part of the reason why Jesus’ mother was so concerned: “We’ve run out of wine, Jesus! And if we’re not all buzzed, we’ll find a million things to worry about! So Jesus, you have to do something to help us relax.”

Maybe Jesus is enacting a healthy self-differentiation by asking why this issue concerns him because it really doesn’t, especially if he is just a guest. But if he is more than just a guest, if he is, in fact, divine, then yeah, maybe it makes sense to ask him for some assistance. If he is the embodied Logos who existed during creation, then surely he can do something to help the situation.

In fact, if he is the divine Logos who is partly responsible for all of creation, then he should be able to fix all our problems. Not only can he help me with all my social fears, anxieties and stresses like running out of wine at my wedding party, he can also help me with all of my physical, financial, emotional and psychological problems. Once he reveals his ability to fix one problem, people will demand him to fix all the problems. And when he doesn’t fix the problems in the way and in the timeframe in which we want them fixed, then he will have to answer for it.

Jesus knows all this. He knows he will be blamed (and betrayed) for not fixing all the peoples’ problems, particularly the problem of Roman occupation. So knowing the series of events that his powers will unleash, he chooses not to reveal his power too publicly at this point. “My time,” he says, “has not yet come.”

I think Jesus is also making clear to his mother (as he does later to his brothers) that he is working in his own timeframe and he does not need his family members to work as his publicists or his mother to be his manager. They seemed to know he was a big deal and they also seemed to think that they knew the best way for him to make a splash. Jesus needs to remind his family that he knows what he’s doing and that he doesn’t need them to keep his calendar: To his mother, “My time has not yet come” (2:4). To his brothers, “My time isn’t here yet, but your time is always here” (7:6).

Eventually, Jesus does fix the situation by providing the wedding guests with wine “straight from divine,” but he does it relatively secretly. Most of the guests do not see him perform this sign. Although Jesus reveals his glory, it appears to be mostly the disciples who really acknowledge the sign and believe in him. “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (2:11). He has already entrusted himself to the disciples, but his time has not yet come to reveal his powers publicly to the people of Cana.

Dine

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Here we have the first of several Johannine references to the Passover (after JBap’s references to the Lamb of God in John 1). This major Jewish festival involved tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims descending upon Jerusalem and the temple (or ascending since one always goes up to Jerusalem), where they would purchase a lamb without blemish (if they didn’t bring their own) and give it to the priests to be sacrificed. The priests would then slaughter the lamb, hurl its blood upon the altar (where the Akedah supposedly took place) and then roast it. The Jewish pilgrims would then enjoy the roasted lamb just as Jewish families often enjoy lamb at the Passover Seder today.

In order to purchase the sheep, the Jewish pilgrims would need to change their pagan money into kosher money called Tyrian coinage, which had exceptionally pure silver content (Mishnah, Bekorot 8:7) and no image of Caesar, because no such image was allowed in the Temple. So Jesus should not have been surprised to find in the temple “people selling cattle, sheep, and doves and the money changers seated at their tables” (2:14).

Although Jesus “cleanses” the temple in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 11; Matthew 21; Luke 19), John alone has Jesus make a whip of cords and drive the livestock and moneychangers out (v. 15).

So why did he do it?

Was it a political critique of the Temple authorities who were in cooperation with Rome?

Was he asserting his role and identity as the new Temple?

Was he foreshadowing the temple’s ultimate destruction in 70 CE?

Was he expressing anger at the moneychangers who were robbing the people and charging exorbitant rates?

Or was he aligning himself with the prophet’s critique of the sacrificial system?

See Robert Hamerton-Kelly’s The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark

Psalm 69

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Looking back on this event, after the resurrection, the disciples understood it in light of Psalm 69 which includes the following verses:

“It is for you sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my own kindred, an alien to my mother’s children. It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (69:7-9)

The word translated as “consumed” is אֲכָלָתְנִי in the Hebrew and καταφάγεταί from κατεσθίω which means “eaten me up” or “devoured me” or “burnt me up.” The translation is misleading. The zeal of Jesus is not burning inside of him and making him violent. The zeal of Jesus is going to get him killed! That’s what the Psalm is saying too.

“Other people will destroy me (devour me and eat me up) because of my commitment to you. Because I am so committed to you and your house and your will for my life, I will be killed.”

Also, the insults of those who insult God will fall on me. In other words, I will receive the blame and brunt of the violence and anger from all of those who want to blame God and express anger to God. If people are mad at God for the suffering in the world and in their lives, I am the one who will receive that anger, and it will eat me up. It will devour and destroy me.

And speaking of destruction….

The Jews said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”

…He was speaking of the temple of his body (2:18-21)

Jesus’ disciples knew that this prophetic act of cleansing the temple was going to get him in some serious trouble with the authorities. They knew he would likely be devoured by the Romano-Jewish machine. Jesus knew this as well, which is why he said, “Go ahead and destroy me! I know I will be vindicated.”

By destroying Jesus, the perpetrators would be revealing their own reproach against God, as Psalm 69 shows: “the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Jesus is saying, “My zeal for God will get me in trouble with all of you, but I know that whatever violence you throw at me is really violence you want to throw at God. So I know I will be vindicated. In fact, I will rise up in three days. And when I rise, I will not return to wreak vengeance. I will return as embodied forgiveness.”

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About deforestlondon

Episcopal priest
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One Response to John in July: Wine, Dine and Psalm 69 (Jn 2)

  1. deforestlondon says:

    See Douglas E. Oakman, “Batteries of Power: Coinage in the Judean Temple System.” In ‘In Other Words: Essays on Social Science Methods & the New Testament in Honor of Jerome H. Neyrey,’ ed. Anselm C. Hagedorn, Zeba A. Crook & Eric Stewart, 171 – 185. Sheffield UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007

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