patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Today I reread John’s account—the only account—of what he says is Jesus’ first miracle: changing water into wine. His mom, having noticed that the wine has run out, talks him into doing something about it, even though, as Jesus points out, his “hour has not yet come” (John 2:4 NIV). Mary’s motive is presumably to save the wedding hosts embarrassment, although John doesn’t specifically say this.

That wouldn’t have been my motive. I’d have been interested in there being more wine.

And this story’s all about wine. We don’t know whether the wine Jesus vinted was white or red, sweet or dry, but we do know it was quality wine. After Jesus makes it, he sends some to the “master of the banquet”—who would have been something like a caterer and butler and sommelier rolled into one job. Even though the guests are already drunk, as the master of the banquet marvels, this newly arrived wine is not the cheaper wine one would have expected to be served at that late hour, toward the end of the celebration, but “choice wine.” He tells the bridegroom, “you have saved the best till now" (John 2:10).

And Jesus doesn't just make really good wine. He makes a lot of it. A whole lot of it. Specifically, “six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons(John 2:6), and Jesus has servants fill them “to the brim” (John 2:7).

That’s, um, somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. Translated into the 750 milliliter bottles of today, that’d be between 606 and 909 bottles of wine. Really good wine. Even if it was a really really big wedding and those already drunk guests got very very drunk, the bride and her husband were still enjoying that wine for years to come, I’m guessing. A happy ending that John neglects to report.

Except that, without being bottled and corked and without the sulfites vintners add to wine nowadays to preserve it, whatever didn’t get drunk up that night would have turned to vinegar soon afterward. I know this because, when I lived in Berlin—where people drink beer, not wine, so wine is expensive—the only wine cheap enough for me to buy for a dinner party was this Portuguese red wine that came in those five liter bottles with basketry on the outside. It was a tasty, sour, peasant wine, thin-bodied and without any sulfites. Whatever was leftover after my drunken guests left to zigzag their way to the U-Bahn turned to vinegar within a week.) A sad ending that John also doesn’t report.

Friday, February 15, 2013

what was it, if not miracles

John opens his account of Jesus’ life with those big scary philosophical statements—In the beginning was the word, etc.—and then tells about Jesus’ being baptized by his cousin John and then recounts certain of Jesus’ disciples being called to drop what they’re doing and follow him.

With that introduction, we arrive at what John identifies as Jesus’ first miracle: his changing of water into wine at somebody’s wedding, having been talked into it by his mom. John writes, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11 NRSV).

I can understand why, having witnessed this miracle, Jesus’ disciples “believed in him.” What I can’t figure out, though, is what it was—if not miracles—that caused the disciples to drop everything and follow Jesus in the first place.

I mean, he was just some guy from around where they lived. Not rich or well-connected, without even, if Isaiah’s prophecy was correct, “beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV).

I’m guessing the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy—that the Messiah would be “despised and rejected…and…held…in low esteem”—evidences Jesus’ later treatment by those around him, his torture and execution, not the attitude of those he encountered. He seems to have had, in any case, some sort of attraction for those who left home and family to follow him. Some charisma—a Greek word that originally meant favor or divine gift—that not only drew others to him but convinced them, right from the start, without any miracles, that, as Philip tells his friend Nathanael, they had “found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 NIV).

That said, John himself records, and thereby discounts, a pretty amazing miracle that predated the wedding at Cana. Nathanael—having dismissed his friend’s discovery with the words, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46 NIV)—subsequently meets Jesus and comes to believe in him himself after Jesus tells him, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (John 1:48 NIV).

If seeing what happened without being present to see it is not a miracle, I don’t know what is. Nathanael’s response, in any case, suggests that he thought Jesus’ divine gifts as a seer miraculous: “Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel’” (John 1:49 NIV).

And Jesus’ own account of Nathanael’s instantaneous conversion also references that miracle—“You believe,” he tells him, “because I told you I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:49)—and he promises even “greater things than that” (John 1:50 NIV). Not just magic tricks like fortunetelling or changing water into wine or walking on the surface of a lake but the very miracles people wish for: miraculous healings of their loved ones and bringing dead people back to life.

Very truly I tell you,” Jesus tells Nathanael, tells us—just like Jacob at Beersheba, we’ll see “‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (John 1:51 NIV).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

but they were unaware of it

Backing up slightly in Jesus’ life to his early adolescence, I was thinking last night about Luke’s account of how, at twelve, when he traveled with his family to Jerusalem—almost seventy miles away—for the Passover Feast. Walking let’s say three miles an hour for eight hours each day, that’d be a three day walk.

Luke reports, “After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it" (Luke 2:43 NIV). In other words, Jesus, surely aware that his parents were leaving, um, didn’t bother to tell them he had other plans than going on home with them that day or even trouble himself to say goodbye.

I woke at three this morning, as I often do to pray-worry about my daughters, and it occurred to me that probably Mary had done the same thing—probably many times—even though, unlike Charlotte and Lulu, her son was sinless. Thoughtless, maybe, in his dealings with his earthly parents in this instance and maybe, probably, others—he was, after all, not only 100% God but 100% teenager—but he was surely never mean-spirited or self-centered or unwilling to forgive a slight. And, since times were somewhat different back then and he didn’t go off to college as far as we know, Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have had to worry things like beer pong or designer drugs or the weird sexual culture of today (so horrifyingly in evidence in the Jodi Arias trial).

Nevertheless, many years later, when Jesus is a grown man in his thirties roaming around Galilee, Samaria, and Judea with his buddies and surrounded by crowds so thick “that he and his disciples were not even able to eat,” we find Mary worrying still. Mary enlists her other sons’ help to go “take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’ (Mark 3:21-22). Jesus’ response? Who are my mother and my brothers?’” he quips to the crowd. “Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3: 33-34).

Yes, I see what he was getting at. And certainly, having been visited by an angel and impregnated while a virgin, she failed her son, failed God, in not trusting what he was doing. But I just want to look at the parenting issues here.

Evidently, being a parent to even the perfect son was tough going—not just when he was a teenager but long after he was grown and out on his own. This doesn’t augur well for us parents of not so perfect kids. Even so, in some perverse way, these stories give the night-worrier in me hope. Or, at least, the comfort that comes with knowing I’m surely not the only one awake at three.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

lenten challenge

I’m  nowhere near the torture and death of Jesus in my current talking-about-scripture project of progressing chronologically through the accounts of his life. However, it being the first day of Lent and the purpose of this blog being to get myself (and maybe a few others) to take to heart the command to talk about scripture when we get up and lie down and walk down the road and sit at the computer and so forth, I would like to issue a challenge: Talk about a specific passage of scripture with at least one person every day for the next forty days.

Here’s how the idea came about, in case you’re interested. I have been thinking for weeks about all the possible things I might give up for Lent this year. My nightly glass of wine. Meat (a reenactment of the Lents of my childhood in honor of my dad, who died this year). The Jodi Arias murder trial (which I’ve discovered I can access on my computer). Google. (My workstudy: “But don’t you need Google?” Me: “Sort of, but I need that glass of wine more.”)
None of these givings up seemed likely to succeed to me, and, if there’s one thing I was sure I wanted to give up this Lent, it was failing—as I always do—at giving something up.

So, at breakfast this morning, the first morning of Lent, I was thinking about this dilemma, and my husband, a CPA, started telling me about a conversation he had with one of his clients yesterday about the barn parable, where the guy stores up all this grain in his barn and then finds out he’s going to die the next day.

“What I don’t get is what’s wrong with that, storing up stuff for the future,” Kris's client said.

And so they struggled through it, landing on not the storing as the bad thing, per se, but thinking of oneself, not God, as the source of one’s security.

I so liked the idea of my husband—generally pretty private about matters spiritual—discussing scripture with some guy who came to him about his taxes and then afterward telling me about the discussion—in each case spreading scripture around to those he encountered—that I decided to do the same, at least once daily for the next forty days, as my Lenten discipline.
I’m determined to succeed this year. Join me!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

at once

The calling is more dramatic in Matthew’s account: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20 NIV).

At once.

So, continuing on my speculations of yesterday, I’m wondering about that net, surely an expensive thing. And the other fishermen with Peter and Andrew, since casting a net and heaving it back in would likely require more than just two pair of hands. What did their fisherbuddies think? What would I think if one of my colleagues abandoned her or his job to join some guy talking weird about fishing people and going around saying “Follow me” to all the able-bodied guys around?

It gets even more dramatic: “Going on from there, [Jesus] saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22).

Immediately. They're preparing nets—so, not yet out on the water. They just step out into the shallow water and take off.

And their father's like, “Boys! Sons! Get back here and help me!” No fish that day—or, probably, for many days after that. No fish. No money. No work. Wife yelling at him. Little ones hungry.

But mostly, the worry about those boys—good boys, Zebedee’s helpers, their parents’ hope, their pension in their old age—going off after a guy who does magic tricks at wedding parties. It all happened so fast—immediately, at once—they hardly knew how to process it, how to talk about it to each other, much less to their friends and neighbors, the people they went to church with.

When Zebedee and his wife encounter James and John in town, or maybe at church—since, weirdly, they still showed up there on occasion—the boys told them, “But he’s for real. It really happened. We saw the water in those jars, drank the wine!”

Clearly it was already too late to talk them out of this silliness. As John himself tells us and probably told them, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).

Monday, February 11, 2013

follow me

I never can get over the fact that Jesus’ disciples just abandoned everything important to them when he said, “Follow me.” Wives. Children. Extended family. Homes. Land. Jobs, apparently.

I just can’t imagine doing this, so I always try to explain it away by telling myself that the details of their reluctance are just left out. That they dithered and hesitated and asked him, “But who will take care of…?” And, indeed, who did take care of? Someone had to. Jewish Law is very clear about that, with its insistence on providing for widows and orphans and all its rules about marriage and patrimony, which governed how one’s children would be provided for after they left home. Jesus himself, as he was dying, transferred his responsibility for his mom as firstborn to his best friend John.

I always have wondered why his younger brothers—James, Joseph, Judas, or Simon (Mark 6:3)—didn’t look after Mary after Jesus’ death. While they are decidedly skeptical of Jesus’ divinity and purpose early on (John 7:5), that doesn’t mean they were necessarily scumbags, and at least one of them, James, later became a leader in the early church. Why didn’t they assume care for their own mom?

The closer I look at it, the more familiar it all looks to me. Siblings unequally invested in the care of their aging parents. Perhaps fighting about it, as many families do. “Don’t you see I have my own family to take care of?” I can imagine Simon or Joseph railing. Or Judas or James saying to Jesus, “It’s all very well for you to talk about Mom’s needs. You don’t have anyone else who needs you. You don’t even have a job!”

And those men who followed Jesus. In their twenties or thirties, probably, as he was. Surely married by then and fathers. Employed. Landowners perhaps.

But, as Peter points out, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10: 28). Everything they had. Everything they cared about until that moment, when a wifeless, childrenless, fieldless, homeless man beckoned. How did they convince themselves to do that? And how did they feel about it after they did?
And what happened to the families they left behind to follow Jesus? There’s virtually no mention in the gospels of the wives and children and fields and aging parents that Jesus commends his disciples for leaving behind (Mark 10:29).

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about as I read about Jesus gathering up his followers from around where he lived. What that would have meant.