The Life of the Party
In his most recent sermon, my dear friend Pastor Bob talked about John 2:1-11, wherein Jesus changes water into wine. For whatever it’s worth (and it’s certainly not worth what Pastor Bob had to say about it), below is a little something I once wrote about John 2:1-11. It’s an excerpt from my book, I’m Okay, You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers, And Why We Should Stop, a book I wrote in 2006 about the relationship between Christians and non-Christians.
The miracle of Jesus’ that I just think completely rocks the universe—the one that I can definitely say most often comes to my own little mind—was his full-on, first-shot-out-of-the-box, Debut Miracle: turning water into wine.
And why does that particular miracle mean so much to me? I think the answer’s obvious: because of how often I wish I had wine faucets in my house.
I’m kidding, of course. I wish they were beer faucets. But that’s not the point. The point is that when Jesus first decided to prove that he possessed powers never before seen on this earth, what did he do?
He kicked a party into high gear!
He didn’t turn a gopher into a wooly mammoth. He didn’t make trees run around and turn cartwheels. He didn’t fly around in the sky, leaving Repent! I Am God! written in black smoke behind him.
What he did, figuratively speaking, is pop a little funk on the stereo, and then turn that bad boy up.
He busted out the quality booze at a wedding!
He became nothing less than the all-time, hands down, Ultimate Party Guest.
And his turning water into wine wasn’t just some practice miracle, or anything. It wasn’t the result of Jesus being at a wedding, and thinking, “Shoot—I forgot to bring a gift. I know! I’ll turn these huge barrels of water into wine! Well, maybe not; I’m still not all that good at miracles yet. Yesterday I tried to bring that bird back to life, and all that happened is its feathers fell off. Still, I should be able to handle something as simple as turning water into wine. Water practically is wine. Plus, no one even knows I’m at this party; if the miracle flops, I’ll just shoot back home. They’ll think it was Baal, or Pan, or somebody. And even if the miracle does fail, so what? They’ll probably still have water afterwards. At worst they’ll have grape juice. People love grape juice. As long as I don’t turn the water into sewage water or anything, I should be all right.”
What Jesus did that afternoon at that wedding was, to my mind, as powerful a testament to how much he loves people as was his very sacrifice on the cross. I believe that his choosing to make his first miracle turning all that good water into all that good wine says everything any of us will ever need to know about what Jesus wants our attitude to be toward not just fellow believers, but toward virtually everyone.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Jesus fully understands the power of first impressions, don’t you think? He knew blessing that wedding with more wine than any of its guests could drink would be recorded as his opening miracle. He knew that for as long as people told his story, they’d remember that that was how he first chose to conclusively prove his divinity.
Pretty clearly, he was meaning to tell us something with that choice. And I believe that something was love people just as you find them.
He didn’t lecture the people at that wedding. He didn’t frighten them. He didn’t try to convince them of the error of their ways. He didn’t start dividing them into groups of good and bad. He didn’t in any way interfere with what they were doing. He quietly and without fanfare enhanced what they were doing—and that was all.
And what were they doing? Dancing, singing, hugging, whooping it up, crying, and in every way acting like people usually do at wedding receptions: Like they’re celebrating all the things about being human that deserve to be celebrated.
In a real way that we all understand, there’s nothing more gloriously human than a wedding reception.
And that’s where Jesus decided to launch his ministry.
And that’s how: by doing nothing more dramatic than making sure that the lovely couple and all their lovely guests didn’t run out of wine.
And not that cheap, comes-in-a-gallon-jug wine, either. Jesus gave them good wine. He gave them great wine.
Because he wanted them to just keep doing what they were doing when he got there.
I don’t see how Jesus could have made any clearer what he obviously intended to be his first Big Message to anyone who would ever follow him: accept and love people exactly as they are when you first meet them.
I think he’s telling us to just be with people.
If we’re with someone who’s soda is running low, we should ask if we can get them another soda. If their wine glass is empty, we should fetch ourselves a glass, and ask them if they’d like any more. If they’re smoking, we should act like we don’t mind their smoke blowing on us, and get them an ashtray. If they’re eating french fries, we should at least try not to steal one when they’re looking the other way.
If they’re wearing a nose ring, we should tell them it looks cool, and maybe ask them if it hurt them to get it.
When it comes to engaging others—all others—we don’t have to wonder what Jesus would have done. The Bible’s really clear about telling us, over and over again, exactly what he did do when engaging others. He loved them. He didn’t assess their worth, or evaluate their moral standing, or in any way determine their quality before he loved them.
He “simply” loved and respected them, exactly as they were.
Who are we to do any differently?