Whatever He Tells You, Do It - 27th February 2010 - Fr. Gareth Jones
Gospel Reading: John 2: 5
Homily for FIF North Yorkshire Festival by Fr. Gareth Jones, Regional Dean North Yorkshire at Holy Trinity Micklegate, York.
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”
Any of us who are parents will, at one time or another, and to a greater or lesser degree, have been faced with a dilemma. We say, to one or another of our children, “Don’t do that!” or, “Do, something else.” Which is often followed by the retort, “Why?” or worse, “Why should I?” As parents we are now faced with a choice. Do I reason with this child, and explain why it is a sensible thing to do, or not to do, a particular thing? Why Mummy or Daddy is saying what they do, or do we simply retort, “You’ll do it because I say so!” I confess that in my own parenting often, perhaps too often, I have relied upon the answer, “Because I say so.” Which is often accompanied by the implied threat that, “I am bigger than you and, if you don’t do what you are told, there will be consequences,” for you. Most children recognise the threat and comply, but they really don’t like it. Indeed they often resent it bitterly and store up the resentment for future use.
The words from my text are, as you are well aware, from the event in St. John’s Gospel of the, so-called, “Wedding at Cana”. When the wine runs out Mary, ever helpful I suppose, speaks to her son, “They have no wine.” No wine at the wedding equals disaster. Jesus, on the face of it, rebuffs His Mother, “What is that to do with you, or me, woman, my hour is not yet come,” whatever that meant. (I am told by those who know that His statement was not a rebuff but rather Jesus telling His Mother that His final actions were still to be accomplished. The use of the word “woman” was no more than the old English use of “Lady” or “Madam”.) Whatever the case Mary speaks to the servants, “Whatever He tells you, do it.” Unlike our children they do not ask, “Why?” but do as they are bidden and the results are, to say the least, spectacular. It was a 180 gallon wine bonanza, and good stuff at that, not some ghastly plonk.
So in this incident, obedience to Jesus’ command resulted in a spectacular “Sign” as St. John labels it. Therefore, those words of Christ’s Holy Mother, “Whatever He tells you, do it”, must contain within them some eternal principle of obedience for Christians’ relationship to Jesus. Indeed I suspect intellectually we know that this is true. The Christian life, our Christian pilgrimage, our relationship to God of whom we are made part through our Baptism, is to reproduce the very life of Christ within ourselves. In cooperation with the Christ who saves, we are bidden to become more like Him as we move on. In our daily lives we are called to hear His word, “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Then too perhaps we hear echoes of those words of the Mother of God to the servants at the feast, “Whatever He tells you, do it.” And I suppose we think we know, or hope, that the results should be spectacular.
Now, that’s where the trouble starts. We hear the words and we tell ourselves that we should take them seriously. Words, I might add, not spoken with the tone of an exasperated parent, but with the loving direction of our Heavenly Father. Yet, just like our children, we cannot stop ourselves asking, “Why? or, “Why should I?”. Unlike our children we now have the power to disobey, or even express our earlier resentments, in opposition to Jesus’ gentle commands. “If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross daily,” says Jesus. “You must be having a laugh,” is our response. “That’s all to difficult and dangerous.” Jesus’ words on forgiveness, His words on neighbourliness, His strictures on the use and abuse of money and the dangers of wealth are all there for us to hear and obey. That is only a part of it. What then of those words of the Virgin Mother, who was herself totally obedient to the Father’s will, “Whatever He tells you, do it”? They echo in our ears, not so much as a faithful duty to be performed, but rather as a reproach to our disobedience and complete lack of trust. Our lives seem to be lived out in that eternal internal dilemma, “I know what I ought to do but…” Or as St. Paul puts it, “The good I want to do I fail to do, the evil I do not want to do is what I find myself doing.” Just so!
As Catholic Christians in the Church of England we find ourselves in such a dilemma over the issues that have the power to break the Church of England permanently. Those same issues which have brought us to this place today. I suspect that we are tired of the eternal squabbling; of the political machinations of the life of General Synod; of the rebuffs offered to our hard working representatives on the Revision Committee. Their hopes, and ours, apparently dashed. Fed up with hearing people say, “We won the theological argument but lost the practical war.” For we know, far too well, that it is the practical outcome that will deliver our future.
Those of you who know me well enough will know that I have said, repeatedly, “As Catholics in the Church of England, we are where we are, because this is where God has called us to be.” In other words for me Jesus is saying in our situation something profound, and His Mother is quietly insisting, “Whatever he tells you, do it.” I know that the temptation to give up the fight may be strong even, we fear, overpowering. Even the temptation to change sides has a weird attraction. As if that is not enough, now we have the siren call of the Ordinariates to complicate things.
However, for me, and I suspect thousands of others at this moment, and as far as I am able to see into the future, I can only hear Jesus saying, “Stay.” Witness to the Catholic Faith you believe you have received. Stay, and be faithful to my words, “I have overcome the world.” Stay; and rely upon my Grace, which will be sufficient for the task. Stay; receive Grace from my Holy Word. Stay; receive the grace of the sacraments that I have given to my Church in order that I may be ever present with my children. None of that has gone from you. I love you, I want you, and I need you. The Church and the world need you. Rejoice when men speak ill of you, because that what I promised you, if you remain faithful to me. Behind these words from the Lord, echoes that whisper of love and encouragement from His Holy Mother, and Mother of the Church, “Whatever He tells you, do it.” Whatever He tells you, do it.” Whatever He tells you, do it.”