Just Do What He Tells You
“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’” (John 2:5).
It really is this simple. Do what God wants. I have read the story of the wedding of Cana hundreds of times over, but I have never noticed this little passage. So much is happening: the wedding guests, the water jars, the miraculous wine. In all the stir, we lose this simple message. Behind Jesus Christ’s first miracle is a mother’s quiet advice: “Do whatever he tells you.”
There was once an old shepherd. Each day, he walked into his village church and sat. Hours passed, then he got up and walked out. This went on for weeks, when the priest finally approached the shepherd and asked him what he was doing. The shepherd responded quietly: “I look at Jesus and he looks at me.” Our faith can become so convoluted. We get wrapped up in complicated ideas or obsessed about having grand mystical encounters. In reality, the faith God asks from us is simple. We are not all called to spend our afternoons sitting in the pews. We are all called to remember the one important thing: “Do whatever he tells you.”
The Messiah revealed himself right here at this Wedding in Cana. All human history was building up for God’s revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. But is it not interesting where God chose to first reveal himself to the public? It was at a common, ordinary wedding. We do not even know the name of the bride and groom. There was nothing extraordinary going on. Jesus kicked off his ministry right in the midst of our normal human affairs. This is where spirituality happens — the little things.
Our Lord tests Mary and the disciples at the start.
The Mother of God comes to her son: “They have no wine.” Jesus responds: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” At first, this reply seems strange. However, it cuts to the core of what is happening.
We have to begin with the word ‘woman.’ The way a football coach might praise his star athlete, “You’re the man,” so our Lord elevates Mary as the exemplar woman. More profoundly, Christ links Mary to “the woman” whom God foretold in Eden. Speaking to the serpent: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” (Genesis 3:15). What sounds demeaning in English, is, in scriptural language, a word of praise.
Now look at his response: “What concern is that to you and to me?”
Can you hear it? Jesus is not dismissing Mary. He is challenging her and the audience to look deeper. In other words, you can hear him saying: “Tell me, why, indeed, should we be concerned about this situation?” Christ often puts into words what people are thinking. How do we respond when God gives us a job to do?
“Meh, why does this matter?” “I want to serve God in big things, not in setting the tables, or caring for nobodies.” “What concern is that to you and to me?”
Mary knew her son. She understood that we serve God best in the little things. She quietly turned to the servants, “Just do what he tells you.”
It gets better.
“Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it” (John 2:6-11).
What menial jobs! Filling up jars with water and serving people drinks — this is the work of common servants, or is it? Children have a way of picking up ideas that leave parents bewildered. A few months ago, when told to do their chores, my kids got in the habit of responding: “But papa, you’re making me work like a maid!” (I believe this was inspired by watching “Cinderella). We grumble in ways much less charming when we respond to the work God gives us in our day to day duties. How can I serve God? I can only serve Him precisely where I am, right now, right here. What does God ask me to do today? This alone should be our concern.
Pilgrims used to flock to St. Porphyrios. They wanted mystical insight. They wanted to hear something grand and spiritual. This was his advice:
“What is simple is also what is most precious…engage in your daily contest simply, easily, and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the singing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things.”
Study the bible. Read about the saints. Sing hymns. Say the Jesus Prayer. Keep it simple…
Modern life sure is complicated. Secular culture is constantly redefining everything. What is marriage? What is a man? What is a woman? While the world gets tangled up in its labyrinthine webs of arrogance, the Church quietly insists: There is one way. Follow it.
We spend our youth getting lectured about success and self-image: build a career; seek the pleasures that make you happy…We wonder through our lives if we missed our calling, if we married the wrong person, if we could be happier in a different lot of life. We waste so much energy fantasizing about endless possibilities and chasing rabbit trails. Christ simply insists: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
We get scared by the news, angry with our coworkers, or anxious about all our menial things to do. In all of it, Christ simply turns to us and says: “Just do what I tell you.”
I began this week feeling a little depressed. It is the new year. We have started out with the death of loved ones, with a schedule all jumbled up, and everybody sick. I often feel a little overwhelmed when I sit down to write my sermon and stare at the blank page. Then I sat and simply read the bible. There it was, all the advice I needed, and all we really need in any situation. Scripture has a way of healing the soul. Indeed, we often forget this. How can we know what God wants us to do, if we are not immersed in His words to us — in Holy Scripture, in the Saints, in the life of the Church? It is that simple. Sometimes, we just have to show up and sit down before God.
There it was, a simple solution, but the only solution, the only thing we ought to be concerned about, and coming from our Blessed Mother herself: “Do whatever he tells you.”