Did you ever see the movie Shrek?
In one of the scenes the ogre Shrek is trying to explain to his sidekick Donkey that there’s more to an ogre than meets the eye. The dialogue goes like this:
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example? Okay, er…ogres…are…like onions.
Donkey: [sniffs onion] They stink?
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.
Donkey: Oh, you leave them out in the sun and they turn brown and start sproutin’ little white hairs.
Shrek: NO! LAYERS! Onions have layers. OGRES have layers. Onions have layers…you get it. We both have layers.
The Gospel of John has layers too. When we take a closer look at the events and accounts that John relates in his book, we almost always find a story behind the story. This week’s passage is no different. Chapter 2 contains the narrative of an unnamed couple’s wedding celebration in the village of Cana. During the wedding feast we learn in v.3 that they had run out of wine. So they ran out of wine- big deal. Well, actually it was a big deal. In the traditional 7 day wedding celebration of Jesus’ day, running out of wine in the middle of the feast was a major catastrophe. Believe it or not a guest could by right take the couple to court for throwing a party that didn’t meet expectations. Think about that next time you’re at a wedding. On a side note, conversely, the couple could sue a guest for failing to provide an adequate wedding gift. Well, Jesus steps in to save the day, changes water to wine and the party goes on.
Now there’s much we can learn from this story but let’s look at something going on behind the scenes. In verses 6-7 we read the following:
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
John is careful to tell us that the source of the water for the miracle is six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. These stone jars each held somewhere between 18 and 27 gallons of water and were essential to the wedding celebration inasmuch as the Judaism of Jesus’ day required the ceremonial washing of the guest’s hands and also of certain utensils. Why would Jesus take these jars and this water that was key to their religious practice and rituals and transform it into wine? What was He trying to say?
The point Jesus was making is that he is taking the old order of Jewish law and custom and replacing it with something new. This theme is repeated throughout the gospel- in nearly every chapter. For example, in John 4 we find Jesus having a conversation with a Samaritan woman. Now Samaritans practiced an “unauthorized” form of Judaism. In chapter four, verse 20 we find this woman arguing with Jesus (a Jew) about the proper venue to worship God.
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Samaritans believed Mt. Gerazim was the place to worship and Jews believed it was the temple in Jerusalem. What is Jesus’ response?
“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus is in essence saying that neither venue is correct because He’s introducing a completely new paradigm where worship will no longer be tied to the temple and the priestly system but true worshippers will now be able to approach the Father directly through the Spirit.
Jesus is replacing the stale, meaningless religious formalism of his day with something new and fresh.
What does this mean for us today? Much like the Judaism of Jesus’ day our faith experience, both as individuals and as a group, can often too become old and stale. Has “church” become a routine for you? Is every week a different, new and vibrant encounter with God or just a carbon copy of the previous week? When we look at Good News corporately we must ask the same questions. Several years ago while vacationing in Europe, my family and I visited an 11th century cathedral. It was under renovation and was almost completely surrounded by scaffolding. The ironic part is that while great care was being taken to preserve the structure, people no longer frequent that building. They haven’t for decades. You will find this is the case with nearly all traditional churches in Europe. The same may be true of America soon as we further plummet into a post-Christian era. Many of us have seen once vibrant churches dwindle away to nothing. How does this happen? When we become comfortable in our buildings, with our rituals and “traditions,” and lose sight of the big picture of our true mission and calling to “go out and make disciples” and burn in unswerving devotion and worship to God, we’ve lost our way.
As we study the book of John we’ll see time and time again that being a Jesus follower is a dynamic, exciting, and often dangerous proposition. How can we, both as individuals and as a group, avoid becoming “religious” people and instead become fully engaged co-laborers with Jesus, carrying his precious message of reconciliation.