An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman walked into a bar, and the barman said, “Is this a joke”.
There are not many jokes in the Bible. You may think that was not one either – one to think about. But there is humour.
Today we are going to be following our reading about the wedding at Cana. It is, in many ways, a rather strange story. We know it well, but there are some odd things here:
- It was Jesus’ first recorded miracle, but it seems to be completely unplanned, and that Jesus actually did not want to do it.
- The miracle appears to happen because Mary completely ignores Jesus, and tells the servants to follow Jesus’ instructions even after he has asked her not to.
- Jesus makes an extraordinary amount of wine, about 800 bottles. And this for a wedding where they had already finished all the wine the bridegroom had laid on. If there were a thousand guests, with what they had had already, they would have been having a bottle or so each.
Commentaries on this passage often read a lot of significance into it. It is special because Jesus chose this as his first miracle. Jesus makes use of the vessels used for Jewish ceremonial purification, and replaces it with wine that represents his cleansing blood. Wine then leads you into thinking about ‘new wine’, and communion.
I am not sure about this. It may be in the gospel because John saw it as particularly important (which is a good argument), or it may be there just because it happened. What it has made me think about is the softer side of faith. Of joy, and humour, and kindness, and friendship, and good company, and how that is also part of Christianity.
In the Bible is says that ‘Jesus wept’, but it does not say ‘Jesus laughed’, or even that he smiled. But he obviously does have a sense of humour. As you read the parables, there are lots of witty illustrations: houses built on sand (Mt 726), lamps hidden under baskets or beds (Mk 421), pointing out the speck in someone else’s when you have a plank in your own (Lk 642), dead people being left to bury dead people (Lk 960), picking a gnat out of your drink then swallowing a camel (Mt 2324). Huge crowds went to listen to him, so he must have been a good speaker, entertaining as well as thoughtful and challenging. One of my favourite bible stories is Jesus’ way of paying his temple tax. He tells Peter to go an catch a fish, that there will be a coin in the fish’s mouth, and that he should use that to pay the tax (Matthew 1724-27). Can you imagine him saying that without a smile?
Jesus was also obviously good company, because he was regularly invited into homes, and joined by large numbers of people for meals. These were not always posh, polite dinner parties, because Jesus’ enemies accuse him of being a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Lk 734).
Consider in today’s reading the amount of wine Jesus made. This is not a kill-joy whose mind is only on higher things, who does not like people enjoying themselves. Jesus is being kind at a very personal level, helping out some family friends, not with a matter of life or death, but so that their wedding would not be spoiled.
Of course faith is about important things too. It is about obedience to God, about sacrificial love for others, about justice and truth. Jesus says hard, difficult, uncomfortable, demanding things as well. He does not avoid suffering so that he can have a good life. But an enduring theme in the New Testament is joy, and you cannot have joy miserably. Jesus demonstrated that he was good with people, he cared for people, he enjoyed being in their company. In this passage, and others, he demonstrates his humanity, in a sense that is down-to-earth, neighbourly, friendly. And we are his followers.