Jesus’ first miracle was one that would have made a lot of religious folk angry.He was at a party, a 1st century Jewish wedding to be exact, an event where people party – for many days. The wine had run out and Jesus’ mother pressed him to “do his thing” and fix this most heinous faux pas. There are a million ways He could have done it, but He chose to make about 180 gallons of wine in 6 large containers used for a sacred Jewish cleansing ritual.
A modern day version of this would be to walk into a Baptist church, fill the baptistry (a small swimming pool where folks are baptised) with wine and say, “Party on dudes.”
Jesus’ first miracle was to keep a party going. Why is He almost always portrayed as such as buzz kill?
You don’t have to go far to find someone who’ll tell you that Jesus wants nothing more than for you to control yourself, avoid sinning, and get your sh!t together. I’ve been a pastor for many moons now and can tell you that most American Evangelicals live under this very misguided piece of theology.
When I first got into this whole Jesus thing I had recently witnessed the shooting death of a good friend (long long story, I’ll post it here in the near future). I was torn up with PTSD, etc and didn’t see a way forward. My uber religious, very frisky girlfriend, who had just dumped me, had previously dragged me to church enough for me to think that maybe there was something behind the Jesus door. I had tried everything else, what the hell. I had a very powerful experience and began attending church on a regular basis. It was weird growing up Catholic then finding myself in the midst of this Evangelical wonderland. My early experiences were especially interesting.
A girl took me to church one time, a very large Dallas church. As we passed by the bookstore I asked if Jesus would be by to turn over the tables? She didn’t laugh. After the crackers and the tiny plastic cups of grape-juice were passed out, the offering plate came my way. “What’s this, the bill for lunch?” “Get it? The bill for lunch?” I thought it was hilarious, but obviously had a few things to learn about the culture.
At this new place, and within this new culture, the message was clear – we are all charged with spending our lives trying to get our sh!t together. The Bible studies, the sermons, the small groups, all were focused primarily on rule following. So, I spent the majority of my adult years believing that God wanted obedience first and foremost. He’s only happy when we’re doing what we’re supposed to. When we’re not, he’s shinin’ up the lightening bolts.
A few years later I was accepted to grad school where I would spend the next 4 years working on my Master’s degree (it was a 120+ hour program – not bragging, just didn’t want anyone thinking I’m a slacker. There’s other evidence for that). A big chunk of my curriculum was focused on ancient Greek and Hebrew so that I could study the scriptures more in-depth. Our professors encouraged us, over and again, to not let our biases, our emotions, or our culture do the translating/interpreting. We were to try our best to let the texts speak for themselves. I was once instructed that if I didn’t agree with widely held beliefs that was ok. If I didn’t defend them well however, I’d get an F. Not bad for a conservative Christian Seminary that many would consider to be the mecca of all close-mindedness.
A couple of years after I graduated I read a passage in the New Testament that I had read a thousand times. This time it hit me differently. In our Greek manuscripts it reads:
ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν
I came so that they might have life, and have (it) overflowing.
Note that He didn’t say
- I came so that they would all get their sh!t together
- I came so that they would think right things about me
- I came so that they might learn to defend themselves from the evils of this world
- I came so that they might find some people to harass, belittle, and marginalize
- vote a certain way
- hate the gays
- avoid alcohol
By “life,” He wasn’t referring to the next life. There are plenty of scriptures where Jesus clearly refers to Heaven. This particular statement gives no evidence that he’s referring to anything other than life in the here and now. This is something that He wants for you and I – today. Right now.
For me, in this moment, I decided to let this passage govern my thinking about God, Jesus, the Bible, and my life till the day I die. Whenever I run into confusion, fear, apathy, or general stupidity, this passage gets me back on track.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that everyone on the planet is desperately looking for life. Some of us are killing ourselves (and sometimes others) because we want LIFE. What Jesus claimed to be devoted to giving to us, we’re all trying like hell to get. More intimacy, more significance, more fun, more laughter, more pleasure, more more more more more. The entire world – dead, alive, and yet-to-be-born will always have at the core of it’s life the quest for life.
And here’s this not-so-attractive, unassuming, friend-to-whores-and-sinners, so-called Rabbi, claiming that the purpose for His very existence is the very thing we’re all clamoring for. He’s not going to give us a jet, or a mansion, or a hot wife. It’s not that these things are bad, they’re simply not what we’re looking for – they’re merely symptoms of deeper wants.
It’s a hell of alot easier to be a rule-follower than it is to trust that Jesus has my best interest at heart, that He actually wants what I want (not the corrupted, selfish version of what I want, the good stuff that hangs out underneath all that). Sadly, for most religious folk, everything revolves around the rules, which drives so much “death.” It’s a truly miserable way to view God, yourself, other people, and the world you live in.
I dare you, place at the center of your understanding of God the fact that He wants you to suck the marrow out of your life (His way, not your way by the way) and read one of the Gospels (the book of John is my favorite). It’ll change your life.