Saturday, January 07, 2017

John Chapter 2: "Do Whatever He Tells You"

I've been doing a different kind of devotional practice since Christmas. Since I have more time in the mornings than I used to -- in fact, I need to ease very gently into each day now, since night-times are extra hard on my body -- I am spending longer in the Word. And it is very good.

I am basically practicing lectio divina more than I used to. One of the things I'm allowing myself to do is to spend time with daily passages of Scripture, sometimes by reading them more than once, or by reading them in different translations or in translation/paraphrase tandem. And then I am writing up my initial thoughts and responses to the passages in a document I am simply calling "ribbons" (to reflect the idea of ribbons I can carry with me during the rest of the day). Praying and meditating through the Scriptures is a good thing, and I feel I am doing it more deeply and purposefully now.

Sometimes the thoughts I have are long or even convoluted (I am trying my best to take my hard feelings and big questions to Jesus directly, laying them at his feet...and these days, I have so many difficult feelings and questions when I read the Scriptures, many of them borne of my illness) but sometimes what grabs me is just one phrase, one line or word, and the reflection is a simple one.

Such is the reflection I had today when reading the beginning of John chapter 2, Jesus's first miracle at the wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine. What grabbed me here was Mary's response when he told her "it's not yet my time." She simply turns to the servants and says "Do whatever he tells you." Bless her.

Now some verses you read in the Scriptures can be translated with slightly different nuances, depending upon the translation, which is one reason why it can be great to read more than one. Especially Scriptures like the Psalms, which are filled with images. But really, what can you do with Mary's simple words, her calm and loving imperative declaration to the servants who have run out of wine? Not much. Thus you get these "different" translations:

"Do whatever he tells you." (ESV)
"Do whatever he tells you." (GNT)
"Do whatever he tells you." (HCSB)
"Do whatever he tells you to do." (ICB)
"Mind you do whatever he tells you." (Phillips)
"Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." (KJV)
"Whatever he tells you, do it." (MSG)
"Do whatever he tells you to." (TLB)
"Do whatever he tells you." (NIV)
"Do whatever he tells you." (RSV) 
"Haced todo lo que os dijere." (Jubilee, Spanish)

No translator or even someone moving into the more flexible realm of paraphrase wants to meddle with this one. (J.B. Phillips stretches a little by giving Mary more of a "motherly" tone with the verb "mind" but I honestly think that works fine.) None of the easier to read translations, including the International Children's Bible (ICB) feels they have to simplify this word. Mary has already done this for us. "Do whatever he tells you." There could be no clearer word than that. She wants the servants to obey Jesus. 

And wonderfully, they do. There's a good chance none of them has a real clue who Jesus is (he's not taken his ministry public yet) beyond the possibility that they know him as a neighbor or friend of the wedding family. But they do exactly what Mary tells them to do. Which is to do what JESUS tells them to do.We don't get many words from Mary, but you sense these are important ones.

And what he tells them to do might not have made immediate sense -- fill these twenty-thirty empty stone wine jars with *water.* "What? But Jesus, we're not out of water, and even if we were, no one at the wedding wants to drink it! We need wine!" Wouldn't it have made sense for at least one of them to (forgive the pun) whine that kind of question? But if they do, we don't hear it. John simply tells us that they do what they're told. They fill the vats with water, and then they draw the water out and take it to the master of the feast who discovers that he's drinking the best wine yet.

Of course, wine looks very different from water, so the servants must have known as soon as they got to their second obedient action -- drawing the water out from storage and pouring it into a pitcher they could carry to the master of the feast -- that something incredible was going on here. The water they had put in had been transformed into something completely different, something worthy of the wedding celebration. And so are we. We are transformed when we obey whatever Jesus tells us to do. When we obey, we are transformed more into the likeness of the true Master of the Feast, Jesus himself. 

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