Epiphany 3: The generosity of God

In this reflection, Archdeacon Colin Williams, Archdeacon of Germany and northern Europe and Archdeacon of the Eastern Archdeaconry, draws links between this Sunday’s Gospel reading, John 2.1-11, and the contemporary life of Europe.

‘Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.’ (John 2.6)

That is a key sentence of the Gospel passage set this year for the Third Sunday of Epiphany.  The wedding feast at Cana in Galilee would have operated within the same context as any other wedding feast of Jesus’ day.  No tame affair of a few hours.  It would last for days.  The host’s reputation would stand or fall on the degree of lavishness he poured out upon his guests. At this wedding, though, the wine was about to run out. The host’s reputation was about to take a nosedive.  Jesus saves the day.  And how!  The figures speak for themselves.  From a shortage of wine, the host suddenly finds himself with 120-180 gallons on his hands.  Enough to float a battleship, had there been such a thing in the Palestine of Jesus’ day.  Unreasonably, extravagantly, unashamedly generous.

John has a characteristic word for this as for other acts of Jesus. ‘Jesus did this’, John tells us, as ‘the first of his signs…, and revealed his glory.’

water into wine armenian

Depiction of the changing of water into wine on a tile in St James’ Armenian Cathedral Jerusalem: replica by Armenian potters in Jerusalem.

In this act at a wedding feast In Cana of Galilee, Jesus points away from himself and towards the Father.  He demonstrates that unreasonable, extravagant, unashamed generosity is key to a full understanding of the divine life.  We worship a God who from no motive other than generosity created our world and our universe and all that is in them and saw that they were good. We worship a God who in Jesus Christ generously gave of himself to come and live and walk among us in human form.  We worship a God who generously pours out his love and his sustaining power on his Church.  A God who in Jesus Christ gives of himself as we reach out our hands to receive all that he has to give of himself in bread and in wine.

Our calling as followers of Jesus Christ on our continent of Europe is to bring in God’s Kingdom. To work with him and each other so as to mould Europe in such a way that more and more it becomes a god-shaped continent.  That means many things. It does though mean in particular that we are called to make of our continent a space which is characterised precisely by generosity.

In our better moments in these last decades the peoples of Europe have dared to be generous. Though our post-WWII willingness to reach out and be reconciled to those whom for   too long we had called   enemies.  Through the Schengen Agreement and the breaking down of physical barriers between nations. In the particular case of Germany in 2015, through the outrageously generous reception of over one million refugees from Syria and other war-torn lands in the Middle East.

A key task in the Europe of the second decade of the twenty-first century is to foster such generosity still.  In a Europe in which individuals outside the UK Parliament are harangued for holding views which the haranguers find uncongenial.  In a Europe in which a leading member of the German Bundestag is viciously attacked and hospitalised on the streets of a German city because of the views which he holds.   In a Europe in which the popular and open Mayor of the Polish city of Gdansk is murdered on the street by reason of decisions which in good conscience he had taken.  In such a Europe, there is an urgent need for us to rediscover generosity and openness towards each other.

In Cana of Galilee, Jesus shows the way.  Generosity can take us from anxiety and fear to joy and  rejoicing. Through our generosity, mirroring his generosity, God can act, God can make a difference.  In our churches,  in our communities, in our nations, in our dealings one with another, let our first instinct again  be to show unreasonable, extravagant  generosity towards each other.  For in our doing that, God’s Kingdom will draw near.

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