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Sermons on National Subjects, 47 - THE MARRIAGE AT CANA

By Charles Kingsley


      There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage.--JOHN ii. 1, 2.

      It is, I think, in the first place, an important, as well as a pleasant thing, to know that the Lord's glory, as St. Paul says, was first shown forth at a wedding, at a feast. Not at a time of sorrow, but of joy. Not about some strange affliction or disease, such as is the lot of very few, but about a marriage, that which happens in the ordinary lot of all mankind. Not in any fearful judgment or destruction of sinners, but in blessing wedlock, by which, whether among saints or sinners, mankind is increased. Not by helping some great philosopher to think more deeply, or some great saint to perform more wonderful acts of holiness, but in giving the simple pleasure of wine to simple commonplace people, of whom we neither read that they were rich or righteous. We do not even read whether the master of the feast ever found out that Jesus had worked a miracle, or whether any of the company ever believed in Him, on the strength of that miracle, except His mother and the disciples, and the servants, who were probably the poor slaves of people in a low or middling class of life. But that is the way of the Lord. He is no respecter of persons. Rich and poor are alike in His sight; and the poor need Him most, and therefore He began his work with the poor in Cana, as He did in St. James's time, when the poor of this world were rich in faith, and the rich of this world were oppressors and taskmasters. So He does in every age. Though no one else cares for the poor, He cares for them. With their hearts He begins His work, even as He did in England sixty years ago, by the preaching of Whitfield and Wesley. Do you wish to know if anything is the Lord's work? See if it is a work among the poor. Do you wish to know whether any preaching is the true gospel of the Lord? See whether it is a gospel, a good news to the poor. I know no other test than that. By doing that, by preaching the gospel to the poor, by working miracles for the poor, He has showed forth His glory, and proved Himself the true, and just, and loving Lord of all.

      But again, the Lord is a giver, and not a taskmaster. He does not demand from us: He gives to us. He had been giving from the foundation of the world. Corn and wine, rain and sunshine, and fruitful seasons had been his sending. And now He was come to show it. He was come to show men who it was who had been filling their heart with joy and gladness; who had been bringing out of the earth and air, by His unseen chemistry, the wine which maketh glad the heart of man. In every grape that hangs upon the vine, water is changed into wine, as the sap ripens into rich juice. He had been doing that all along in every vineyard and orchard; and that was His glory. Now He was come to prove that; to draw back the veil of custom and carnal sense, and manifest Himself. Men had seen the grapes ripen on the tree; and they were tempted to say, as every one of us is tempted now: "It is the sun and the air, the nature of the vine, and the nature of the climate, which makes the wine." Jesus comes and answers: "Not so. I make the wine; I have been making it all along. The vines, the sun, the weather, are only my tools wherewith I worked, turning rain and sap into wine; and I am greater than they; I made them; I do not depend on them; I can make wine from water without vines or sunshine. Behold, and drink, and see my glory WITHOUT the vineyard, since you had forgotten how to see it IN the vineyard! For I am now, even as I was in Paradise, The Word of the Lord God; and now, even as in Paradise, I walk among the trees of the garden, and they know me and obey me, though the world knows me not. I have been all along in the world, and the world knows me not. Know me now, lest you lose the knowledge of me for ever!"

      Those of the Jews who received that message, as the disciples did, found out their ancient Lord, and clung to Him, and know now, in the world of spirits, that His message was indeed a true one. Those who did not, lost sight of Him; to this day their eyes are blinded; to this day they have utterly forgotten that they have a Lord and Ruler, who is the Word and Son of God. Their faith is no more like the faith of David than their understanding of the Scriptures is like his. The Bible is a dead letter to them. The kingdom and government of God is forgotten by them. Of all God-worshipping people in the world, the Jews are the least godly, the most given up to the worship of this world, and the things which they can see, and taste, and handle, and, therefore, to covetousness, cheating, lying, tyranny, and all the sins which spring from forgetting that this world belongs to the Lord and that He rules and guides it, that its blessings are His gifts, and we His stewards, to use them for the good of all. May God help, and forgive, and convert them! Doubt not that He will do so in His good time. But let us beware, my friends, lest we fall into the same sin. Do not fancy that we are not in just the same danger. It would be a cowardly thing of a preacher to call Jews, or heathens, or any other absent persons hard names, unless their mistakes and their sins were such as his own people wanted warnings against, ay, perhaps, had the very root of them in their hearts already. And we have the root of the Jews' sin in our own hearts. Why is this one miracle read in our churches to this day, if we do not stand just as much in need of the lesson as those for whom it was first worked? We, as well as they, are in danger of forgetting who it is that sends us corn and wine, and fruitful seasons, love and marriage, and all the blessings of this life. We, as well as the Jews, are continually fancying that these outward earthly things, as we call them in our shallow carnal conceits, have nothing to do with Jesus or His kingdom, but that we may compete, and scrape, even cheat and lie to get them, and when we have them, misuse them selfishly, as if they belonged to no one but ourselves, as if we had no duty to perform about them, as if we owed God no service for them.

      And again, we are, just as much as the Jews were, in danger of spiritual pride; in danger of fancying that because we are religious, and have, or fancy we have, deep experiences and beautiful thoughts about God and Christ and our own souls, therefore we can afford to despise those who do not know as much as ourselves; to despise the common pleasures and petty sorrows of poor creatures, whose souls and bodies are grovelling in the dust, busied with the cares of this world, at their wits' end to get their daily bread; to despise the merriment of young people, the play of children, and all those everyday happinesses which, though we may turn from them with a sneer, are precious in the sight of Him who made heaven and earth. All such proud thoughts, all such contempt of those who do not seem as spiritual as we fancy ourselves, is evil. It is from the devil, and not from God. It is the same vile spirit which made the Pharisees of old say: "This people--these poor worldly drudging wretches--who know not the law, are accursed." And mind, this is not a sin of rich, and learned, and highborn men only. They may be more tempted to it than others; but poor men, when they become, by the grace of God, wiser, more spiritual, more holy than others, are tempted, just as much as the rich, to despise their poor neighbours to whom God has not given the same light as themselves; and surely in them it shows ugliest of all. A learned and high-born man may be excused for looking down upon the sinful poor, because he does not understand their temptations, because he never has been ignorant and struggling as they are. But a poor man who despises the poor--he has no excuse. He ought above all men to feel for them, for he has been tempted even as they are. He knows their sorrows; he has been through their dark valley of bad food, bad lodging, want of work, want of teaching, low cares which drag the soul to earth. Surely a poor man who has tasted God's love and Christ's light, ought, above all others, instead of turning his back on his class, to pity them, to make common cause with them, to teach them, guide them, comfort them, in a way no rich man can. Yes; after all, it is the poor must help the poor; the poor must comfort the poor; the poor must teach and convert the poor.

      See, in the epistle for this day, St. Paul makes no distinction between rich and poor. This epistle is joined with the gospel for the day, to show us what ought to be the conduct of Christians, who believe in the miracle of Cana; what men should do who believe that they have a Lord in heaven, by whose command suns shine, fruits ripen, men enjoy the blessings of harvest, of marriage, of the comforts which the heathen and the savage, as well as the Christian man, partake; what men should do who believe that they have a Lord in heaven who entered into the common joys and sorrows of lowly men, who was once Himself a poor villager, who ate with publicans and sinners, who condescended to join in a wedding feast, and increase the mere animal enjoyment of the guests. And what is St. Paul's command to poor as well as rich? Read the epistle for this day and see.

      You see at once that this epistle is written in the same spirit as our Lord's words: by God's Spirit, in short; the Spirit which brought the Lord Jesus so condescendingly to the wedding feast; the Spirit which made Him care so heartily for the common pleasures of those around Him. My friends, these are not commands to one class, but to all. Poor as well as rich may show mercy with cheerfulness, and love without dissimulation. Poor as well as rich may minister to others with earnestness, and condescend to those of low estate. Not a word in this whole epistle which does not apply equally to every rank, and sex, and age.

      Neither are these commands to each of us by ourselves, but to all of us together, as members of a family. If you will look through them they are not things to be done to ourselves, but to our neighbours; not experiences to be felt about our own souls: but rules of conduct to our fellow-men. They are all different branches and flowers from that one root: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

      Do we live thus, rich or poor? Can we look each other in the face this afternoon and say, each man to his neighbour: "I have behaved like a brother to you. I have rejoiced at your good fortune, and grieved at your sorrow. I have preferred you to myself. I have loved you without dissimulation. I have been earnest in my place and duty in the parish for the sake of the common good of all. I have condescended to those of lower rank than myself. I have--" Ah, my dear friends, I had better not go on with the list. God forgive us all! The less we try to justify ourselves on this score the better. Some of us do indeed try to behave like brothers and sisters to their neighbours; but how few of us; and those few how little! And yet we are brothers. We are members of one family, sons of one Father, joint-heirs with one Lord, the poor Man who sat eating and drinking at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, and mixed freely in the joys and the sorrows of the poorest and meanest. Joint-heirs with Christ; yet how unlike Him! My friends, we need to repent and amend our ways; we need to confess, every one of us, rich and poor, the pride, the selfishness, the carelessness about each other, which keeps us so much apart, knowing so little of each other, feeling so little for each other. Oh confess this sin to God, every one of you. Those who have behaved most like brothers, will be most ready to confess how little they have behaved like brothers. Confess: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son, for I have not loved, cared for, helped my brothers and sisters round, who are just as much thy children as I am." Pray for the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of condescension, love, fellow- feeling; that spirit which rejoices simply and heartily with those who are happy, and feels for another's sorrows as if they were its own. Pray for it; for till it comes, there will be no peace on earth. Pray for it; for when it comes and takes possession of your hearts, and you all really love and live like brothers, children of one Father, the kingdom of God will be come indeed, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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