TMOC 8: Rolling with the Roles
In Hebrew language and culture, context is everything. Sometimes a person’s actions or words might be inappropriate because it was tantamount to assuming prerogatives from a role they couldn’t claim. A typical Hebrew response would be to correct impertinence by pushing things to the logical conclusion. Seize the wrong role and you’ll be treated accordingly. “Is this really what you want?”
So it happened at the Wedding in Cana. Jesus was fresh from announcing His mission, spending more than a month in seclusion to clarify His thinking on that mission, then selecting the first members of His crew of apprentices. They all returned to the Nazareth area in time for the wedding in a nearby village. Keep in mind, this was often a week long affair, with guests feasting and sleeping on site the whole time.
The standing joke among Jews is every Jewish mother believes her son is the Messiah. Mary knew it for a fact in Jesus’ case. She was just as ambitious for her son as every other Jewish mother would be. Unfortunately, she suffered many of the popular delusions about what the Messiah should be like. She expected Him to play a socially prominent role, and relished the glow such a thing would reflect on her. If Jesus was a real human, His mother was no less so.
Weddings could be make-or-break social affairs for just about anyone involved, not merely the bride and groom. It was not unknown for one family to sue the other family involved in a wedding if there was some kind of embarrassment, something which put them in a bad light. The caterer noticed the wine was running low, and it was the groom’s responsibility to fix the problem. It was time to panic.
Mary prompted her son to play the big shot rabbi and solve the issue. Surely among His entourage was someone who could pull strings and get some good wine even in this remote nowhere village? Jesus had no intention of playing her social games. What He said to her was a colloquial equivalent of, “If that’s your game, I’m not going to admit you are my mom.” Undeterred, she simply advised the servants to keep pestering Him until He did something. It’s doubtful she in any way expected what followed, since He had performed no miracles up that point.
Turning water into wine was for the benefit of the Twelve. That others knew didn’t matter. It inaugurated the ministry of restoring justice. Not so much because the party needed wine, but this sign was because the disciples needed to see something of His very real authority as Messiah, that His teaching was backed by God’s own power. They would recognize this as some part of the Messianic Expectations — miraculous supply of the best quality food — and He couldn’t help that, so He used it to His advantage.
Word got out, of course, and when they eventually went back to Nazareth, we discover what a mean and nasty little town it was. This was what was behind that smart-alecky remark made by Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The folks tried to lynch Jesus, but failed. Calling Him “Jesus of Nazareth” provided a strong distinction among all the other guys named Jesus, but it wasn’t necessarily a positive association. On the other hand, Nazareth clearly didn’t claim Him.
That, along with His mother’s pushy interference, were pretty good reasons for Jesus to move His base of operations to Capernaum. It was still out of the dicey political situation in Judea proper, yet within the nation’s borders. It was rather like the rebel hero hiding out in pirates’ nest. The city was an Imperial crossroads, but also bore the nasty history of idolatry associated with the likes of that breakaway clan of Danites during the Period of Judges. Traveling north they chasing out the pagan Canaanites, only to turn and build even worse religious practices than those they were supposed to cleanse. Then there was Caeserea next door built over a Jewish graveyard, of all things. The area was reputed a moral black hole, passively hostile to the nosy Pharisees who avoided the place, yet perfectly happy with Jesus and His crew.
It’s hard to know precisely how long Jesus stayed here, but His early ministry lasted at least some months, and is the context for His early fame as a prophet who worked miracles, with massive numbers healed and fed from nothing.
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