Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Canal’

Water, Wine, Love

John 2:1-11

Have you ever wanted to tantalize an audience with an amazing magic trick?
How about showing off your miracle skills in front of a bunch of people?
Would you like to turn water into wine?


Yes, even you can be a miracle worker! Thanks, science!


The Science of water into wine and wine into water:[1]
1. Place a small amount of sodium hydroxide in the first glass and a little phenolphthalein in the second. In the third, add a weak acid, such as vinegar. Using differently shaped glasses ensures that you will not get them confused.

2. Fill a jug with water when you are demonstrating this experiment to others. As this is plain water, you can let your audience taste it.

3. Pour water into the first glass and stir. This is now no longer pure water but a mildly alkaline solution.

4. Pour the contents of the first glass into the second and stir. Watch as the mixture changes color, because phenolphthalein is a pH indicator that turns red in alkaline solutions.

5. Pour the red liquid into the third glass and stir once more. The acid neutralizes the solution, which should now become clear again.

So wait…was Jesus a mad scientist or fake peddler of miracles?

Cartoon Sale man selling his wares outside his car

Probably neither.
I think we obsess [a lot] over Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel stories, and that leads us to obsessing over “miracle cures” that make it to our email inbox or redirect us to another link via Facebook or other social media. Personally, I don’t think that the Gospel stories intend for us to focus on miraculous things so as to prove Jesus was great.

I love the stories and try my best to respect them. And each Gospel IS a story; John is no different. So no, the whole “water to wine” thing was not all about Jesus being some sort of magician/mad scientist back in the day. It’s a story loaded with metaphors and symbols. So here is some background:

Cana is the setting–a village in Galilee, about 9 miles north of Nazareth. And it’s a wedding! Keep in mind that at the time of John’s Gospel stories about Jesus [i.e. the end of the 1st/beginning of 2nd Century], in Israel and Palestine, weddings were a big deal. They typically lasted a week.

So you can imagine just how much wine was needed. So it goes that the hosts of the wedding would serve the best wine at the beginning of the wedding celebration, when everyone could taste and enjoy. And then, after a few days of partying, the hosts would break out the cheaper stuff, because by that time, nobody noticed.


That is the setting in this John story, and it’s quite the story. Apparently, the wedding hosts ran out of wine–at least Jesus’ mom thinks so. That’s right–an appearance from Jesus’ mom! Mary [Miriam] appears suddenly in Luke and Matthew’s birth story that we read at Christmastime, but after that, she pretty much disappears. In John’s Gospel, however, Miriam/Mary appears twice–here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry [first miracle story], and then at his death. But in this case, at a wedding, we get an actual conversation between Mary and her son, Jesus. Mary notes that the wedding hosts have run out our wine. Jesus’ response is that they should have hired a better wedding planner. Mary then tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.

So the servants filled the water pots, six of them, with water, and then they brought the pots to the governor of the feast, the head planner of the event. Upon tasting the so-called water, the governor was shocked to taste good wine. Thus ends a fun and interesting story complete with a magic trick/miracle.


There’s more to the story

As you can probably guess. John’s authors are not just telling us a nice fairy-tale to remember something magical Jesus did. So let’s look at just a few of the symbols in John’s wedding tale.

First, the story begins with this phrase: And on the third day…a marriage…

Marriages and banquets are eschatological images, or in other words, symbolic events referring to what will happen in the future. Often the Hebrew prophets and the NT Gospels [as well as the NT book of Revelation] use the image of a wedding feast to symbolize paradise, the afterlife, or in general, some good ending for humanity, and the world. And I’m guessing that “on the third day” triggers your Spidey senses. Indeed, three of the Gospels explicitly go out of their way to state that Jesus’ resurrection took place on the third day. So what we have here is a pleasant, joyful, symbol of grace, community and abundance, as well as the idea of new life, even after death.

Also, are you wondering about what Jesus said to his mom?
“What to me and you, woman? 


Sounds a bit harsh in English, I’ll admit, and Raven thinks so, too.

Simply put, though, in Greek [and considering the culture and time], how Jesus addresses his mom is actually very, very respectful. He didn’t call her mother, but woman. This is expressing equality. Mary, in Jesus ‘eyes, is not just a mother, but a full human being with purpose that extends well beyond society’s conventions.

Also, notice these words of Jesus: My hour is not yet come.

Another reference to Jesus’ death, and because John’s author wrote this Gospel well after Jesus’ death, of course Jesus in the story can refer to something that has not yet happened. So John is reminding all of us that the wedding at Cana is the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and eventually, to the cross. John’s Gospel calls this the first of the signs–seven in total.

Some notable details
First, there were six stone water jars. Six being one less than seven [according to my mathematical genius], which you probably know is a good number, no wait–a VERY good number in Biblical literature. So seven means completeness or wholeness. Only having six water jars means that you’re so close, but so painfully far from wholeness!

Further, the jars were also set “according to the Judean cleansing” which is a reference to the Mosaic Law of the Jewish tradition. Even weddings were set up in such a way as to follow the Jewish rituals. But having six jars means that the rituals and laws weren’t enough to bring the people wholeness. So everyone was missing something.

Next, the governor of the feast is juxtaposed with the servants. The governor, when he is served the now wine-filled jars, is shocked at the good taste but also has no idea where the wine came from.

The story clearly tells us that the servants are not shocked and also know where the wine came from, because they were direct participants in its making. So once again, the powerful, the heads of society, the so-called elites, or celebrities don’t know what’s going on, and the so-called servants and lower-class people totally know what’s up, cuz they are making it happen!

And finally, the governor’s words of every person gives the good wine first, and when they were drunk, the lesser (wine). You have kept the good wine until now shows that Jesus and co. don’t care much for conventions or social rules. The good wine, the good life, should be available at any time, for anyone.

The details speak for themselves
Thus, you should be able to draw your own wonderful conclusions from this story. I hope you do.

My final thoughts:

Miracles, whatever that word means to you, don’t happen unless it’s a collective effort.

Miracles, to me, are surprising occurrences in everyday life. They could be explained by science, or maybe not. Either way, they are still miracles to me. But they happen in everyday life, and they happen because people make then happen, together.

Secondly, we should stop relying so much on social and religious customs and traditions. They just don’t cut it and leave us feeling a bit empty. Why should we only serve the best wine at a certain time? Who says so? Why do we have to have a certain number of jars, prepared in a certain way? Who says? Why should the rich and powerful always get to make decisions while others don’t? Why do we have to have all these social levels and categories of people? Who says so?

The good wine at the great feast is and should be accessible for everyone. And that good wine fills everyone’s cup to the brim, and the cup is full now.


An Inaugural Address

Luke 4:14-21

panamaJust a few weeks ago, Maria and I found ourselves in the crazy, huge city of Panama City, of course, the capitol city of Panama, the southernmost country in Central America. Panama is situated on the isthmus that connects North and South America; it is bordered by Costa Rica [remember the Ticos and Pura Vida!] to the west, and Colombia to the southeast. You can head to Caribbean beaches on the north and Pacific beaches to the south. As for the city, last year people estimated Panama City’s population to be about 3.5 million. It’s probably more. The city doesn’t really stop and it is full of contrasts. Casco Viejo is the old city of Panama—colonial and very distinct from the rest of the sky scraper-filled, concrete jungle you see in this picture. In fact, Panama City doesn’t look anything like the rest of the Republic of Panama. The majority of the country is full of rainforests, rivers, beach towns, incredible diversity of wildlife, flor, and fauna, and pockets of native, Amerindian communities throughout the land.

canal2Of course, in the U.S., many people know about Panama only for the Panama Canal. It certainly is an impressive sight. We were able, during our visit, to see a huge oceanliner passing through—we saw the canal at work, as the mechanized system of lowering and raising water levels smoothly transitioned the boat to the other side. The canal itself, actually, is the reason why Panama City is the way it is. The skyscrapers and foreign corporations are there for that reason. The Panama Canal, after all, connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. A ship enters from the Pacific, crosses the Canal just outside of Panama City, and then cruises down the Miraflores waters to Gatun Lake. Or, vice versa. This changed everything for maritime trade.

panama-canal0And it changed everything for Panama. The culture, the food, the way of life—everything changed. Whether it was for good or for bad–that is up to the Panamanians to decide. Certainly, since the canal was built [and it’s still being expanded as we speak] business has been streaming through Panama without ceasing. More and more people come to the city looking for work or are transferred there because international companies continue to put up more skyscrapers.

As you can imagine, traffic in the city is pretty intense. Like any city, Panama has taxis, cars, buses, and will soon have an under and above ground metro train. But that’s not what you should know. What’s great about Panama is el Diablo Rojo.


It is not your typical public transit bus. The Red Devil is a unique, personalized cultural expression of Panama, all wrapped up in a school bus. Each driver’s bus is different. Some are painted with slogans, cartoons, political figures, singers, religious icons, artists, or celebrities.

And don’t think that Panamanians weren’t thinking about the upcoming election in the United States.


But you should really see the bus at night.


insideDiabloRojoOn the inside of the bus, there is really no other way to say it: it’s pimped out. As you can see, the driver decorates the interior as he pleases. And the music…is…blasting. It IS an experience, to say the least, for not only do you hear the music blasting, see the colorful paintings and murals, but you also experience the driver’s NASCAR tendencies. I really don’t know how they do it. It’s amazing. The guy was driving the school bus as if it were a jaguar. He weaved in and out of traffic with ease, skidded around corners like they weren’t there, and encouraged all of us to never look out the window. Oh, and did I mention that el Diablo Rojo is packed full of people? Maria and I tried the first time to get on the bus, but were thwarted by the fact that there were people literally hanging out of the bus doors as it sped off. Yeah. You just have to believe me. In fact, our lovely host at the small hotel where we were staying, when she heard that we rode el Diablo Rojo, started cracking up and then went on to tell some stories from her childhood.

It’s true that this bus is an icon in Panama. It’s part of the local flavor that is their culture. Despite its name and reputation, el Diablo Rojo is a positive expression of the Panamanian community. This picture of students going on a learning trip via el Diablo Rojo, says it all.

Why, then, is this bus facing extinction in Panama? Well, because outsiders are saying that it’s too chaotic, too dangerous, not palatable for the tourism trade and foreign businesspeople coming to the city. So now the typical, more sanitized [and newer] buses like the ones we see in Europe are rolling out in Panama City. It’s been said that el Diablo Rojo may soon disappear. But fortunately, there are many Panamanians who are hoping to keep that from happening. Facebook, Twitter, and written petitions are all echoing the phrase: Viva el Diablo Rojo! Long live the Red Devil!

In this case [and in most cases, I think] how we see and hear things determines how we act. In other words, our perspectives of our experiences mold and shape our lives. To most Panamanians, this bus is a cultural icon, a taste of home—part of who they are. They see a mode of transportation that is open to all people of all social classes. It costs 25 cents to go anywhere in the city. It’s a shared experience where you sit [and often stand, or hang on for dear life] next to another human being. Personal space is not important. The sounds of the bus’ horn, the loud music, the driver’s bantering with others—Panamanians hear this as a sign that they are alive. To others who don’t get that, they just hear loud noises and think the driver is going to drive off a cliff while jamming to the beats. They don’t like the fact that someone will brush up against you on this bus. They see graffiti and chaos and want to cover their ears and close their eyes.

How we see and hear things in life really does affect how we live. Likewise, our perspectives about religion completely parallel this. How we hear the words of scripture, how we see God [or in the Christian context, Jesus]—does indeed affect how we live. It is appropriate, then, to hear and see this small passage from Luke’s Gospel, which might as well be titled Jesus’ Inaugural Address.

He was in Galilee [specifically Nazareth], not Washington D.C., teaching in synagogues. This speech follows his temptation in the wilderness and happens at a time when Jesus’ celebrity status was on the rise. Luke’s Gospel writers present the speech as a monumental moment in Jesus’ life. It is, in Luke’s story, the beginning of what Jesus will do—his ministry. Notice the specific details: Jesus went in; he arose to read; the book of Isaiah [the scroll] was given to him; he opened the book; he found the place. And he read from what we know as Isaiah 61:1-2 and some parts of Isaiah 58. And the focus was certainly on the poor.

Who were the poor in Jesus’ world? Joel Green, NT Professor at Fuller Seminary, defines poor in the 1st Century Mediterranean world as a status not merely limited to financial problems. He writes:

In that culture, one’s status in a community was not so much a function of economic realities, but depended on a number of elements, including education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics, and so on.  Thus, lack of subsistence might account for one’s designation as “poor,” but so might other disadvantaged conditions…and “poor” [meant] low status…in the Mediterranean world.[1]

Proclaiming good news to the poor, then, included a wide variety of people who were not honored or treated fairly. According to Isaiah and Jesus, this good news also extended to captives—literally, prisoners of war, and to the broken. They are to be forgiven, or released from bondage. This entails not just a spiritual release, but a release from economic, political, even religious bondage. In Jesus’ world, the captives were those who owed money to the authorities; those who were physically ill; or those who were left out of the religious community. This forgiveness [release] welcomed them back into the community.

It is a short speech. Jesus concludes with: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears—in your hearing of it. Then he closes the book and sits down. Imagine the hearers of that speech after Jesus finished. Surely they had heard political rulers and religious authorities say such things before. It was common for kings and priests to say that they were grand liberators and oh so generous to the people. But Jesus’ speech had nothing to do with money, possessions, or power paving the way for liberation. Freedom, for Jesus, was release from oppression–from being subject to a thing or a person. In God’s kingdom-world, such a cruel imbalance could not exist.

So today, what do you and I hear? What then do we see? Jesus’ vision is quite clear. It is good news, but not good news for the religious elite. It is good news for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. For anyone to hear the good news of this message, we must be humble, we must be open, and we must recognize suffering and all the awful stuff in the world. We cannot ignore it. Only then do we truly hear. We hear that we actually have a lot of work to do—that we are not perfect, that our religious practices haven’t saved us or anyone, really. We hear that we do discriminate and contribute to poverty and oppression and captivity of others and of ourselves. We see that we ourselves can be obstacles to freedom.

We hear that the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing of it. This means that we have a choice: will we hear and change, or will we hear and stay the same? As David Lose, Luther Seminary Professor says, We are invited, that is, not just to hear and receive good news, but to be it.[2] Hearing this good news for real means that this good news is seen in how we live.

Jesus’ speech is not about change in governmental leadership or a new regime. It’s not an endorsement of any political agenda. The words are about change. But they are not mere words. Jesus himself is the change, is the freedom, is the healing, is the forgiveness of debts, is the reversal of the status quo—Jesus is the lifting up of the poor, the brokenhearted, the left out, the discriminated against, the pushed down, and the forgotten. Jesus IS the message. He embodies what he says. He practices what he preaches. And in setting such an example, he says to us: the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing of it. Liberation for all people happens when we embody this message. We cannot talk about it, read from our scrolls or books, pray about it, and then go home.

WE are charged with freeing captives, releasing bonds of slavery, forgiving debts, including those left out, accepting those who are different, lending a hand to those who have been pushed down, remembering and speaking for those without a voice—WE, like Jesus, are the personification of God’s good work in the world.

Some hear this speech as a blueprint for their lives, The Idiot’s Guide to How to Get to Heaven. But Jesus’ words are not meant to make us feel better. They are meant to wake us up, shock us, and move us forward. Our personal space is gone; the music is blasting; the colors are vibrant and loud; the urgency is palpable. We cannot be passive, cannot hear the message and then tuck it away where it’s safe. If we claim this Jesus Christ and say we follow him, we ourselves must embody liberation for all people.

This is messy; it will be unpopular; your political affiliations will contradict it. You may have to let some previous perspectives, habits, and ideologies go. It won’t be easy. You will fail quite a bit and sometimes you will reach the edge of despair, because the world as a whole won’t stand with you.

But who says that releasing prisoners will be easy?

Who says being more loyal to a common humanity than to a country, theology, or tradition comes without struggle? The very fact that people are poor and pushed down; marginalized and in bondage, tells us that change is needed. And if our following of this Jesus doesn’t lead us to such positive impact in our community and the world, then we’re just not listening.

Then we’re just not listening to the one we claim to love and follow.

We hear. Now, what will the world see? Amen.

[1] Green, Joel, The Gospel of Luke (1997), page 211.

[2] David Lose, Working

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