Academic journal article Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue

Hearing Different Voices

Academic journal article Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue

Hearing Different Voices

Article excerpt


When we hear someone expounding Plato, we are actually hearing a medley of voices: Plato, his ancient and modern commentators, and the speaker himself. None of these voices should be discarded without a hearing, but we must be careful not to mistake one for another.

Many of the world's religions have sacred scriptures. Some, like Mary Baker eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon were written for communities where silent reading of machine-printed texts was the norm. Others, like the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Qur'an, were written for communities where, on the other hand, vocal recitation of hand-written texts was the rule. The experience of reading a printed text, with all the apparatus of titles, numbering, cross-references, and footnotes, is very different from the experience of hearing a sacred story recited in a living voice. The living voice provides a linear experience, demanding a response to the story-as-it-unfolds. A printed text provides entry into a web, in which the medley of voices may be more easily discerned, inviting a response to the-way-things-connect, in which the story may become atomised, with each fragment valued for how it connects to other things.

On 14 January 2007, the Right Reverend Richard Randerson, Dean of the Anglican Cathedral of Wellington, gave a sermon on the story of the Wedding at Cana. (1) This article reflects on two paragraphs from that sermon.


It is in this way that we understand the story from today's Gospel (John 2:1-11) about how Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The wine at a wedding had run out, and Jesus' mother reports this to Jesus. There were six stone water jars standing by, used for Jewish rites of purification. Jesus instructs the servants to fill them with water and to take them to the wedding steward. The steward draws from the jars and finds wine of the highest quality, in super-abundance with about 150 gallons of supply, and he comments that it is unusual for the best wine to be kept until last.

Now you can have a great debate about how Jesus could turn water into wine, and you might decide it is quite impossible and write the whole story off, and Christian faith with it. Or you might decide Jesus clearly had some magic powers and regard him in consequence as a magician. But a magician falls a long way short of a messiah. Or you might decide that the water-to-wine dimensions of the story are not important in a literal way, but are highly significant for their symbolism. And this, of course, is precisely what John the Gospel-writer wants us to understand. The symbolism of the story is incredibly rich:

   Jesus himself is referred to in several places in the Gospels as
   the Bridegroom come to save his people and here he is incognito at
   another wedding as the ultimate bridegroom-in-waiting.

   The super-abundance of wine symbolises the rich and overflowing
   nature of God's love.

   One might see a reference to the Eucharist, symbolising Jesus'
   blood which is to be poured out on the Cross, and which will be
   life-giving in its consequences for all who believe.

   We see as a central meaning that the old Jewish rites of
   purification, and indeed the whole Jewish dispensation, will be
   superseded by a new dispensation of God revealed and achieved
   through the life, death, and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus

   The water-to-wine event is described by John not as a miracle but a
   sign, something that points to a truth beyond itself, namely the
   saving and transforming power of God in Christ

The consequence of the sign is that Jesus' glory is seen, and his disciples believe in him.


This is familiar fare, and on a sleepy Sunday such a sermon would slide smoothly in one ear and out the other without catching our notice. …

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