It took a long time for me to warm up to the idea of being called to ministry. In college many of my closest friends encouraged me to apply to seminary. Instead, after graduation I headed off to a resort town to wait tables with my college degree. Even after I did finally end up in divinity school, I was convinced that my time there was nothing more than an interesting detour on my way to law school. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan I was most definitely a “slow train coming”.
When I read the story of the wedding feast at Cana it opens a space for me to wonder if Jesus Himself might have had similar reservations. Throughout most of John’s gospel, Jesus is preeminently in control. He feeds 5,000. He walks on water. He steps through closed doors. But before all that there is the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus seems far less ready to plunge into a life of ministry than we might expect from someone with such an esteemed religious pedigree as Son of God.
Jesus, His disciples and His mother Mary have all come to Cana for the wedding. At some point the wine runs dry. Mary pulls her Son aside. “They have run out of wine,” she says.
Behind the subtlety lies a hidden but unmistakable imperative tone. In order to understand what Mary is communicating I only have to remember how my own mother would often tell me that the trash was full. Mom was telling me not just so that I would know, but so that I would do something about it.
Jesus’ eyes dart back and forth over His mother’s head. “Woman,” He whispers, “what business of ours is that? My hour has not yet come.”
What Jesus means by His “hour” is important. In one respect He means the hour of his revelation—when the world shall know that He is the Messiah. But that hour of revelation is inextricably bound up with the hour of His death. Jesus knows that by turning the water into wine He will also be turning Himself down the path that will ultimately lead to His crucifixion.
I love Mary’s response. She doesn’t even bat an eye at Jesus’ rebuff. She simply turns and instructs the stewards to do whatever Jesus tells them. We get a sense that Mary is more than just a woman unwilling to take no for an answer. In a much more profound sense she is a mother unwilling to allow her Son to say no to the needs of the world.
Mary’s resolve has an effect on Jesus. He chooses to answer the call and step into His role as the one who provides—not only the wine, but also the salvation of the world.
Having just completed my second year of ordained ministry, I am grateful that I too had a mother who did let me say no to my calling. In my last year of divinity school, just as I was preparing to move on to law school, my grandfather passed away. I delivered the eulogy at his memorial service. I remember after the service my mother coming up to me with tears in her eyes. After hugging me she pulled back and looked me squarely in the face. “Are you sure you’re not supposed to be a preacher?” she asked.
“No,” I said honestly. “I’m not sure.”
It is those closest to us—our mothers, and fathers, and partners, and, spouses and friends—who know us well enough to questions the assumptions we make about our lives. They help us to see where the world most needs us. In the end they, like Mary, help us to see that though our hour may not yet have come, it is coming.