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Does God change? John 2:1-12


I have sat with this one for a bit longer then I did the first chapter of John.  I needed to spend some time with it to consider if I was seeing what I wanted to see, or what is actually there.  I feel more confident now.  Let me explain.

In order to look at this section of scripture we need to first consider several other verses and the conclusion often drawn from them. Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Isaiah 40:8, and Hebrews 13:8 all report that God and/or Jesus do not change.  From these verses, as well as some poetry from the book of Psalms, we have decided that the orthodox view of God is a God that is unchangeable.  We are not able to sway God, he never changes His mind, and He certainly does not evolve.  The problem with this conclusion is that it ignores the context of each of these verses.  The Psalms are poetry and they make use of overstatement, just like our poems today do.  When I say in poetry that the road stretched on past the horizon...I am not describing a road that breaks the laws of physics, but a long road.  The scripture from Malachi is a prophet encouraging the people that they are still chosen by God because God has been merciful, like he always has been.  James is concluding that God gives good gifts, just like he always has.  Isaiah is stating that God keeps his word.  Hebrews is encouraging people that the message of Christ does not require new strange things from them, but instead is the same simple message they heard the first time.  In each case the scripture is making a point that God loves and that he is dependable.  I could say similar things about my sister.  My sister is trustworthy, reliable, and dependable.  She has always been that way and I would encourage her children to notice these qualities about her when they are struggling with things.  Nobody would think that I was claiming that she was static and unchanging, yet we do this with these verses of the Bible.  We take a claim and we beat it into some strange literal mutation that it was never meant to be.  Viewing God in this way will make the scriptures seem very dull.  You miss all of the give and take between the divine and humanity.  John chapter 2 is that sort of chapter, so if you think God does not change you are going to miss something in this section.

Now to the story at hand:

Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding.  Weddings in this culture were a big deal and they usually lasted several days or longer.  We are left with some questions because it says "on the third day" they went to the wedding, but the party is already out of wine.  It could be that they ran out of wine on the first day, but based on the context of the story this seems unlikely.  I doubt that the master of the banquet would have thought the bridegroom had "saved" the best wine for later if it was still day one of a party.  I read quite a few opinions on this anomaly, but none satisfied me.  I think that the "third day" comment is probably a literary device connecting this event to the previous and the following events.

Either way, Jesus and the disciples show up, the party runs out of wine, and his mama shows up.  It kind of looks like she had some authority at the party, but it is not definitive.  She tells Jesus about the lack of wine and he says something like "Woman, why are you bugging me with this, you know it is not time for me to do my thing".  When you read Jesus' reply to his mother you may be tempted to read it with a mess of attitude like I did above.  I admit I tend to read a lot of sarcasm into Jesus' words, but I don't think that this is actually the right place for it.  The word for "woman" is not a disrespectful term in the original language, quite the opposite really.  You could read it something more like this "Dear Mother, you know you are the only woman that matters to me, what you are asking does not fit with my plans, but I defer to you and if you think it is best I will do as you ask".  His phrasing is really respectful, almost formal, and it defers to her.  This makes her response make much more sense.  She does not argue, she simply tells the servants to do what Jesus tells them to do.

Jesus tells the servants to fill these huge stone jars with water.  Normally these are the jars that are used for a ritual cleaning that the Pharisees did before meals.  Jesus later calls this practice out as a man made practice, not a commandment from God.  They would probably not be very happy to find out that these jars were used for a party keg.  It is also worth noting that this process probably took a long while.  These things held anywhere from 20-50 gallons of water and since they were made of stone they were way too heavy to carry.  It probably took several servants an hour or more to fill them, even if they were close to the water source.

They fill them up and the Jesus tells them to serve the water/wine to the master of the banquet.  They do as they were asked...I bet they were a little worried.  The water may not have had time to settle so they could have been worried that it was just muddy water, or some parlor trick.  They had faith though and they did it.

The master of the house was impressed and praised the bridegroom for saving the good stuff for last.  The party went on and Jesus remained unnoticed by the common folk, but the servants and the disciples noticed and they remembered.  The scriptures tell us this was the first sign of the glory of Christ.

There are all kinds of neat things in this story, but I am stuck on one simple thought.  No matter how you read this text, Jesus did not plan to turn that water into wine.  He did it because his mother asked him to.  She petitioned on behalf of the bridegroom, and the divine agreed to change his plan.  God does change.  I think it is so important to realize this simple fact, it pulls us out of our hopeless stupor.  God is not unreachable, he does not ignore our problems.  He is even willing to change his plans to meet our "wants".  Wine at the table is not a "need".  Even those of us that are willing to consider that God may change, we say that he will only do it if we really need it.  This is our poor way of excusing why he does not intervene more often.  I think we can find other ways to explain this without diluting the relationship that is available with the divine by claiming the divine is unchangeable.  This scripture demonstrates that a give and take relationship is available with God.  Jesus was willing to show a sign early to meet his mother's desire.  It may be worth noting if it is not obvious that this was not a trivial change of plans.  With every sign, Jesus came one step closer to being put on the cross, and that was one less day to prepare his disciples for what would come next.  Think of how many times he told the benefactors of his miracles to keep it on the hush...he did not want people to know what he could do, but he did it anyway, he changed his plan.

I encourage you to ask for what you want, and ask often.  Clearly God is interested and willing to put his plans to the side because of his love for us.

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