Playing with expectations


My favourite miracle in the Bible is the story of the wedding at Cana.

For those who may not know it Jesus is a guest a a friend’s wedding. Half way through the wedding the wine runs out and his mother comes to him and asks him to do something. There is a strange conversation between him and his mum where he literally says “What to me and to you, woman? My time has not yet come.” and then Mary goes to the stewards and says “Do whatever he tells you” so clearly she is expecting action. Jesus then tells the attendants to fill some nearby purification jars (6 to be precise and all holding twenty to thirty gallons) with water. Then he asks them to draw some of the water and take it to the steward. The steward, rather than tasting water, tastes wine and not knowing where it has come from calls the bridegroom and says “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now”.

Weddings in the 1st century AD were important social occasions with the burden of the financing the festivities, often up to a week lon. For a bridegroom to run out of wine, failure to show adequate hospitality would have brought great shame on the couple. But it doesn’t happen becuase not only do they not run out of wine, they also serve up the very best.

I love this parable for two reasons. I love it primarily because it shows God in a situation of play, a social situation. But it also shows him not playing by the rules rather he plays with the rules to make the best out of a situation. Let’s be clear he turns 180 gallons of water into the very best wine, that’s not the action of a teetotal, rule-driven martinet. That’s the action of someone who value social play and the importance of the rituals of life, enough to subvert them and bring  about what we would all recognise as a happy outcome.

This is completely characteristic of God, as it was pointed out to me in a comment on one of my posts (and not by a Christian either). The freeplay of forgiveness couldn’t coexist with the idea that everything is bound and circumvented, pre-determined. The freeplay of intercessory prayer also could not work unless God was an entity that was prepared to play with the rules as well as by the rules. The generosity of God and the willingness to outpour well over our small and human expectataions is something we often choose to forget.

Would exploring this generous and caring exuberance help us to better understand why society is increasingly seeking out forms of play? I wonder if the various kinds of play that characterise our society need to be answered directly  in our spirituality and I don’t mean by getting people pissed, but perhaps recognising that in getting pissed they are searching for an aspect of God that we Christians have been subjugating or miscommunicating for too long.

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