Sunday, January 20, 2013

2013.01.20 Weddings in Cana of Galilee and Massachusetts

When we were in Israel in June, 2012, we went to Cana of Galilee, just north of Nazareth. There is a Byzantine Christian Church in Cana erected in the 6th century.  Cana is the site of the biblical story about  the Wedding at Cana the place where, according to the gospel of John, Jesus performed his first miracle:turning water into wine when the wine ran out at a wedding feast.  If I were going to do a miracle I might have chosen something less dangerous, more dignified. 

Our group of pilgrims went into the convent garden to read the story aloud and to hear our professor tell us about its historical, cultural context.

 Here is what we learned about wedding customs in the Palestine of Jesus.............
     A whole village celebrated a marriage. It would have been a Tuesday, the third day of the week, the day set for marriages. The festivities lasted 2 weeks. So maybe they would need all that wine!
    Many guests at a wedding celebration were not invited. Were they crashers? No. All first-line members of the family were automatic guests. You had to expect your Uncle Oswald at your wedding, whether you liked him or not. AND, each family member brought 15 additional guests with them! 
    Mary, Jesus’ mother, was not an invited guest because she was a family member. Jesus as well, and he would have brought his disciples at least, and maybe a few anonymous women. Today we have problems with wedding costs and guest lists disputes. It can be a real hassle and expense, but in that day the custom of hospitality set the rules.  Y’all come, for days and days.
    But.............women and men had separate parties. Let’s say the women drank too much wine and Mary, a family member, was approached with the news. Since all family members were responsible for the hospitality. Mary would be expected to provide more wine. She would have to go home to get more, or to the store.  Instead she went to Jesus.
    In going to her son, Mary transgressed a social boundary. 
     Jesus was surprised to see Mary on the men’s side. “Woman,” he said, “what are you doing over here?” He isn’t rude, just astounded.  His mother had broken a strong social tabu.The plot thickens. We can begin to see why this is a miracle story, a reversal of expectations.
    Jesus had a choice: come out as who he understood himself to be, or send his mother away in disgrace for breaking a rule which, socially, was like breaking the sound barrier.  He took care of the wine shortage with a miracle. He followed his mom’s sense that now is the hour he should come out, show his true powers. She knew him well.

This story suddenly was no longer about water into wine, or even about the symbology of divine abundance, or the sanctity of marriage, but about daring to defy, to break down the gender barrier completely—far more dangerous, far more costly, and far more holy even than hospitality. Mother and son defied custom. This is radically prophetic they did together, out of mutual respect and love—and their knowledge of the divine hope, not for wine but for social change. 

My jaw dropped open. This old story came alive for me in new ways, just by knowing its culture and custom.  Never heard a Cana sermon with this radical prophetic message.

What Mary started is how social transformation begins.

It reminds me of the transformation that Chief Justice Margaret Marshall started in 2003 when she delivered her landmark court ruling that allowed same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Mitchell cited higher values: “a public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.” Marshall’s words are read at many same-sex marriage ceremonies. They are gospel to many, even those who claim not to be religious.

But here it is in our ancient scriptural text and in the 21st century in another setting and culture entirely: God’s bold, ongoing spiritual work of transformation toward oneness.