*EDITOR'S NOTE: The following text is not the assigned gospel reading for Ephiphany 2: Series B. Please forgive our mistake.
Sometimes, there is an order to the gifts we give. This year, for your daughter’s birthday, you have chosen to give her one “big” gift. There are also a few smaller items there, things you picked up that you thought she might enjoy. But this year, there is really just one big gift. As she reaches for the presents, you point to one of the smaller gifts and say, “Why don’t you open that one first.” You want the last gift to be the best.
Whether it is presents or food, the order of music at a concert or the series of battles in a film, we like the last one to be the best. We like to close with something great. We even have a saying for this behavior: “Saving the best for last.”
We are not the only ones who do this. God Himself has a way of saving the best for last. Adam receives the gifts of creation. All of the animals of the world are brought before him and he names them. The beasts with their many colors. The birds who fill the sky with their flight. But, at the end of the day, there is no helpmate found for Adam. So, God causes a deep sleep to fall upon him and then God comes and offers to Adam someone who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones. As Milton remembers this moment in Paradise Lost, Adam says to Eve, “My fairest, my espoused, my latest found, / Heaven’s last best gift” (5.18-19). God saved the best for last.
In our gospel reading this morning, we come upon the first of Jesus’ miracles. It is an odd miracle when you think about it. Jesus is a minor guest at a major wedding. The crowds have gathered, but not for Him. A table has been set, but the guest of honor is not Jesus. A feast is going on, but we are not asked to sit with those who are eating. Instead, John asks us to linger in the background. He wants us to see what is happening on the outskirts of the feast. We never greet the master of the house. We never meet the bridegroom or see the bride. Instead, we find ourselves with the servants in the middle of a crisis. They have run out of wine. And here, in the background of this feast, Jesus reveals the beginning of something new.
John asks us to linger in the background. He wants us to see what is happening on the outskirts of the feast.
Jesus chooses things which are on hand. Six ceremonial jars for washing. Water from a well. And without a word, Jesus changes water into wine. Not just wine, but good wine. Wine that is so good and so abundant it causes the steward of the feast to shake his head in disbelief. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have saved the good wine until now.” And the steward is not talking to Jesus, he is talking to the master of the feast. “You saved the best for last,” he says.
The steward is talking about the wine at the wedding. But I wonder if John is talking to us about something more. Perhaps John wants us to hear these words as if they were spoken, not to the master of the feast about the wine, but to God about Jesus. At least, that is what I would like to suggest, because these words are a way of understanding the entire ministry of Jesus. In this, His first miracle, the disciples are just beginning to see how God has saved the best for last.
Lingering on the outskirts of this world’s celebrations… there is a figure. He is someone who goes unseen by many, who works in the background, who takes what is at hand and turns it into something beautiful. This one goes by the name of Jesus. He is God’s last, best gift.
So often, we can want God to work in ways that are seen and understood by everyone. We have friends who do not believe. We wish there were a way we could prove to them God’s presence; show them a work of God they could not question. Give them an answer from God they could not refute. But God chooses to come to us in the humble work of Jesus. He will linger at the outskirts of a wedding. He will be there in the hallway of the hospital. He will place Himself along the way back to the car from a funeral. Wherever the least and the lost are gathered, God chooses to be there.
Wherever the least and the lost are gathered, God chooses to be there.
Why? Because He loves His creation. When He first created the world, He would come to visit Adam and Eve. Now, after they have fallen, after their eyes have been blinded and their hearts have been hardened, after no one believes God could possibly exist, He will come again. Only this time, He will come in the flesh. He will not sit on a throne in Rome but be the guest at a wedding in Cana. He will not command an army of soldiers but offer directions to servants. He works with what He has. But what He does with what He finds is amazing. He will bring all things to their final fruition.
This Jesus will even be found outside the Holy City, hanging naked and dying on a cross. Why? Because He has come to visit His people, to live among the lost. He came to take all sin and all suffering into Himself that He might rise and bring us into the goodness of God’s new creation. There we will experience that which is good. So good and so abundant we will shake our heads in belief and, with the steward and with the disciples and with all who have ever been saved, we will cry out to God the Father saying, “You saved the best for last.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 1:43-51.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 1:43-51.
Lectionary Podcast- The one and only Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 1:43-51.