We have talked this Epiphany about being on a journey when we are disciples of Jesus. That as individuals and a community, a church, we are always moving if we are people of faith.
This morning I think our readings remind us that because we are on the move, because we are changing, being changed as a community, then we need to work hard to take the things passed on to us and make them useful and relevant in our world and our context.
Take our reading from the Psalms today. At face value I think it is a rather sexist sentiment isn’t it. It portrays women and children as possessions of men. It’s all about how a man who is blessed by God will have a wife who bears him lots of children and they will be a sign of success and favour. That’s all very well but what about the women and the children. What will make them feel blessed and cared for. There is no mention of how a woman should feel about her husband as a sign God has blessed her. And we like to think of children in a less possessive way these days don’t we. Not just as signs of parents achievements.
What is clear is that unless we seek to unpack the spirit of this passage, it’s deeper meaning and message, it is rather difficult to see it as having value in the modern world where so much has changed. We have journeyed so far in the years between now and when the Bible was written. We cannot simply read the Bible without a grasp of context and change over time.
Let us consider the Gospel story of Jesus first miracle to examine this principle a little more. We might read about the turning of water into wine as a strange miracle. But the meaning of the miracle is perhaps lots over time to us. Consider this ..
There is in fact a deep theological message behind Jesus actions in this story. John is quite clear to tell us the way in which Jesus provided the wine. I think the fact that Jesus used the ceremonial stone water-jars for this miracle is crucial. Why is this important? These jars were available to all good Jews to be able to continue eating and drinking in a ritually clean way. They would have performed cleansing rites prior to eating and drinking. With these jars unavailable there would have been a dilemma. Should the guests carry on feasting in even though it would be in what Judaism taught was an unclean way.
I think it is reasonable to say that Jesus was setting out His stall for the rest of His ministry when He challenged the Jewish practices through an act of compassion. It is a message at the heart of the rest of John’s Gospel .. that Jesus came to transform the way in which we understood religion so that people could be truly free to meet with God.
Unless we remember the context of the story of the wedding we miss the real point … and it is that real point which is still so important to us today. Not that Jesus was able to do miracles .. but that Jesus wants us to be free from the burden of rituals and rules which prevent us from being free.
So it is important this morning if we read a passage like Psalm 128 to dig a little deeper than face value. To ask, outside of the context in which it was written, what is the eternal truth we can take with us on our journey of faith. I have heard this example of how the Bible is best understood in the context of a pilgrim people …
In our Bible we see have kernel of truth protected in words of wisdom because that truth was so precious to early generations that they wrapped it in stories to preserve it. The unseen spoken word was placed in stories which kept it safe. But as time went on the kind of stories used to preserve precious things changed their shape and form .. like the manner in which we have preserved precious things in the material world. Precious things at first protected in a cloth wrap then in an earthenware pot .. and then in time to a wooden box? These days we can preserve things in the most remarkable ways.
This process reminds us how we preserve truths by placing the kernel in the bes protective surrounding we can and in fact it is this which makes them precious.
So here we have a truth .. eternal truths are often wrapped in changing forms and stories and ideas. What might the packaging of the Bible stories need to look like today if we are to preserve them for another generation?
Let us do what we can to find the truth of God’s message to us and package it as best we can to preserve its value.