“You will make known to me the path of life;
In your presence is fullness of joy;
In your right hand there are pleasures forever”
In a world system overstuffed with indulgence, Christianity can be seen as a religion of poverty–self-abasement and self-denial as the competitive disciplines to winning the prize of self-righteousness. Oh, but I tell you that that is a famished version of the story. Everything about life in Jesus is rich.
“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’ This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him”
Jesus reveals Himself as the “New Wine” in this passage, the coming of the new covenant through His blood. The rituals of purification will be redeemed to bring life and life more abundantly–not merely rigid attempts at holiness, but holiness itself will be infused as vessels empty themselves of cheap pleasures and open themselves, standing in a posture of waiting for the filling of the fullness of God.
I desire holiness because the sweetness of his presence is like a delectable nectar–only truly appreciated when the diet hasn’t been spoiled. It is in the presence of God that true life emerges. “You have saved the best until now.” Timing that seems to be late or cruelly delayed is in truth for our maximum pleasure.
What has been confused for poverty is “poverty of spirit”, but that is really only the means to a rich life, not an end in itself. A glass can only hold the best wine when it is empty of cheap beer. Poverty of spirit is only realizing that I am barren of anything good apart from God. “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit…” But the beauty of this is the grace of God: “…for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” What follows an honest emptying of self is the ultimate filling of the fullness of Christ: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” If only we understood the lavish, wasteful generosity of our God, who “Gives the spirit without measure” (John 3:34)! The mysteries of heaven are at our disposal when we give Him our ear; life without fear is available when we give Him our trust; ever-enfolding love is near when we give our lives.
In truth, it is the world’s systems that are impoverished and famished. It can only steal from what is real, distorting and destroying it. Dissatisfaction emerges from a limited array of rotting, depressed resources, whereas life in Jesus presents an abundant feast of the universe, presenting the best of creation, even taking what was ruined and recreating it for His own purposes. He doesn’t condemn the broken vessel, He restores it.
“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it”
Because of this we musn’t just “throw out” the world, but only it’s systems of finding satisfaction. Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). Every moment has been freed to become an encounter with the Lord. I think that’s one of many reasons Jesus was so comfortable around the lost, broken, and sinning–in addition to His overwhelming love for them, it was yet another opportunity to find communion with the Father.
When life is lived in eager expectation of experiencing God Himself, one can live in the true freedom of indifference–pleasure is either indulged in for the sake of finding a greater facet of God, or it can be left behind. Maximum pleasure has been found–communion with the Lord!
Communion with us is evidently His favorite activity, as well. Just watch Jesus:
Though He did nothing except what He saw the Father doing, His presumptuous mother’s faith must have obtained a special nod from the Father. What a delightful God, who would bend His eternal will to the desires of His beloved. And here while the servants serve the “water” with trepidation, Jesus looks on, glad of their obedience and trying to contain himself as they’re shocked to see the headwaiter proclaim it the best wine! He must have leapt with laughter inside. And notice it is the best wine, unconventionally served as a surprise to the honor of the bridegroom (who had nothing to do with it and gets to retain the glory). This was the manifestation of the glory of Jesus. In the words of St. Ireneaus, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
I fell in love with this passage when reading the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Alyosha is wrestling through a crisis of faith, disillusioned by barren and caustic religion, when he is confronted by this passage of scripture being read aloud in the monastery: “Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men’s grief, but their joy Christ visited. He worked His first miracle to help men’s gladness… ‘Mine hour has not yet come,’ He said with a soft smile (He must have smiled gently to her). And indeed was it to make wine abundant at poor weddings He had come down to earth? And yet He went and did as she asked him.”
This is the richness of Christ in the midst of the poverty of this world, where He can transform even things that create dissipation into a true encounter with His love.
It is not poverty that we find in Christianity, but rather the richness, the fullness of Christ (Eph. 3:19)–it is not an uneasy and reluctant stripping of pleasure for the sake of “higher” righteousness, but indeed the pursuit of righteousness for the sake of higher pleasures!