Relevant Passages John 2:1-22
Something Better. After the highly abstract prologue, John continues his Gospel with two down-to-earth stories in chapter 2 Jesus’ week-long stay at a wedding and his cleansing of the temple. Both events were surprising, but still important, though in quite different ways.
- Parables in words or in deeds? One surprise in the Gospel of John is the fact that it contains none of the “teaching” parables which feature so prominently in the synoptics. Instead, John seems to have used real life events such as the wine at the wedding and Jesus’ angry cleansing of the temple. In our modern age, which form is more likely to gain a hearing and be effective?
- Wedding feast. The following questions are worth asking about this event:
- A week of leisure and enjoyment. For those inclined toward an ascetic view of Christian life (if it looks good, feels good, tastes good, don’t touch it), what does the wedding feast at Cana tell us about the Christian’s use of time? The feast lasted seven days. Apparently Jesus and his disciples were there the whole time.
- Foreshadowing Jesus’ death. The regular Sabbath School study guide sees significance in the fact that Jesus turned “ritual cleansing” water into the best wine ever, thus suggesting that the death of Christ would clearly remove ritual to a position of lesser value. Is such an interpretation obvious and/or important to the average reader?
- Jesus and his mother. Interpretations vary widely on the meaning of Jesus’ response to his mother. How does one determine whether the words were polite, rude, or a needed rebuke?
Note: Ellen White’s interpretation of Jesus’ words to his mother moved from seeing them as a rebuke of Mary’s sinful pride, to understanding them simply as a polite response to a fond mother’s “natural pride” for her son. Here are the contrasting quotes:
1877: “In rebuking his mother, Jesus also rebukes a large class who have an idolatrous love for their family, and allow the ties of relationship to draw them from the service of God. Human love is a sacred attribute; but should not be allowed to mar our religious experience, or draw our hearts from God” (Spirit of Prophecy 2:101-102).
1898: “This answer, abrupt as it seems to us, expressed no coldness or discourtesy. The Savior’s form of address to his mother was in accordance with Oriental custom. It was used toward persons to whom it was desired to show respect” (The Desire of Ages, 146).
The context of these two quotations further underscores the contrast between them. In the 1877 context, the tone of rebuke continues on in the next paragraph: “But Mary, in the pride of her heart, longed to see him prove to the company that he was really the honored of God.” The parallel is not precise, but the 1898 quote is preceded by words which affirm Mary’s natural pride: “Yet she would have been more than human if there had not mingled with this holy joy a trace of the fond mother’s natural pride” (DA, 145). For a full discussion of Ellen White’s development, see “From Burdensome Asceticism to Joyous Simplicity: The Interplay of Theology and Experience in the Life of Ellen White” (Pacific Northwest Region of AAR/SBL, 5 May 2002, Eugene, OR). Available on the web at aldenthompson.com.
- Miracles and belief. Several times in his Gospel, John points to miracles as convincing evidence on Jesus’ behalf. How can one compare the stability of the experience of those who have been persuaded by miracles and those who have simply believed on quite “ordinary” grounds?
Note: In Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis argues through the voice of Screwtape that the most stable and genuine experience is apparent only in the time of God’s apparent absence:
He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys (The Screwtape Letters, 39).
- Cleansing the temple. Note the following questions:
- Chronology. John has Jesus’ cleansing the temple at the beginning of his ministry; the synoptics put the cleansing at the end, just before Jesus’ death. How crucial is the placement of each story likely to be in the author’s purpose? Should one attempt to determine whether there was one or two cleansings? In what sense can all the stories be “right” even when they differ in details and in their placement in the story of Jesus?
- Jesus’ anger. The stories of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple have been used to justify a great deal of “righteous indignation.” How should gentle and/or passionate Christians relate to Jesus’ anger?
Note: In Ephesians 4:25-27, Paul admonishes believers: “Be angry but do not sin.” Thus there is biblical precedent for “good” anger. In Matthew 5, it is clear that murderous anger is always wrong. But that doesn’t exhaust all the possibilities for understanding the proper role for anger for modern-day Christians.