Nathanael of Cana sat in the early morning darkness, watching the waves of the Sea of Tiberias quietly splash up on the side of the boat. He and the other disciples sat in silence together, as they had done more than once over the last weeks. He felt the waves take the boat up and down. Up and down. Just like his soul had felt over the last weeks, and even years. Up and down. The up of the entry into Jerusalem. The down of the last Passover with Jesus, the guilt that he had run away with the rest of the disciples at his arrest, and the agony of the crucifixion on Saturday. And then the up of the unbelievable joy of the early reports that Jesus was alive! Nathanael was there when Jesus appeared to them. In the upper room, where he showed them the holes in his side and hands.
But now, the gravity of the situation started to sink in on him. Jesus would not be with them forever. What would happen once he left? How could they make it without him? As he looked around the boat at the rest of the disciples, he wondered how this group could do anything together. He was even surprised that they managed to get the boat in the water and row in the same direction long enough to put out the fishing nets. Of course, they weren’t catching a thing. Seemed like an appropriate symbol for the powerlessness he felt. The ineptitude of the disciples. The fear that paralyzed him. The waves continued to splash quietly against the boat as something caught his eye. On the beach, Nathanael could barely make it out, but it looked like there was a figure walking toward them.
Nate hurried through the streets in the rain, running from his car toward the church. It had been yet another hard morning at home, and so he gave up on getting the rest of the family to church and just went himself. It wasn’t the first time. It seemed like more and more, the conflict between he and his wife was growing. She would criticize him and he would lash out at her. The kids felt the conflict, too. They were acting out more at home and school, and each time Nate came down harder on them, they acted out even more. It was having an impact at work, too. He felt his confidence shrinking lower and lower. There was more pressure to increase sales, but as he worried more, his effectiveness got lower and lower. It was like he couldn’t do anything right. So, he slipped out the door by himself this morning, hoping that God wouldn’t be mad at him for being late to church. He left a note for his family to meet him at the restaurant later…if they wanted to. Maybe springing for a fancy lunch would impress them enough to calm things down.
He hurried from the parking garage downtown to church. As he did, he noticed a man sitting by the newspaper racks in the rain. He looked to be homeless, and held a sign that Nate didn’t slow down to read. Because he knew the man’s story. In fact, he knew the man. He used to work with him. Caught in the corporate layoffs that Nate was so afraid of, his wife had become sick at the same time and they had lost their house. They were living in the family shelter last he knew. He knew that the man was a good worker, and he could use him on his team. But he didn’t want to rock the boat and was afraid of what might happen if he said anything. In fact, that was the loop that Nate was stuck in. A loop of fear. The need for security told him to keep him mouth shut, which hurt his productivity, which made things worse at work, which made things worse at home. Nate felt stuck. He felt worthless and afraid. He hurried by to the other side of the street and into church. He dripped off and found a pew in the back.
Nathanael squinted his eyes to see the figure waving and calling out to them in the boat. He couldn’t make out his features, but he could somehow hear his voice, as if he were standing right next to him. He asked if they had caught any fish, and told them put the net on the other side of the boat. Nathanael and the disciples looked at each other, and rolled their eyes at this “helper.” The fish on the right side of the boat are the same ones on the left…it’s not like they can’t swim under! But, there was something about the man’s words…and besides, what did they have to lose?
And as soon as they did it, Nathanael was amazed. All of sudden, the nets were filled with fish! The disciples all set to work, struggling to pull the nets in. He didn’t remember who said it first, but someone whispered, “Jesus.” Of course! It was Jesus standing on the beach! As they all struggled with the nets, they heard a splash. It was Peter…he couldn’t wait any longer and jumped out of the boat to swim to Jesus. Before long, the fish were all in the boat, and they were all paddling to shore. Nathanael laughed as he pulled at the paddle as hard as he could. In fact, in his haste, he clunked the side of the boat and lost the paddle! But he just reached down and used his hands instead. Anything to get to Jesus!
Someone was counting the fish. Fifty. A hundred. A hundred and fifty…one, two, three. The abundance of which Nathanael had not seen before. At least not a long time. His mind flashed to the days when he first met Jesus. He had been pretty fearful and small-minded then, too. “A Messiah from Nazareth? What good can come from there?” But then Jesus had spoken to his heart. He knew him, like no one else had known him before. And Nathanael was amazed. But Jesus just laughed…”you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Wait until you see what’s to come!” And he was right! The very next day, the disciples and Jesus were at a wedding and the wine was running out. Jesus’ mother noticed and quietly slipped over to him. Before anyone knew it, there were jars and jars and jars of wine! Huge stone jars, filled to the brim! The best wine that Nathanael had ever tasted. Nathanael laughed as he remembered the abundance, the extravagance of Jesus. The way that he laughed and joked through the party…the way his extravagance led to joy for everyone else. It was infectious…you couldn’t help but celebrate along with Jesus! Even when he was telling you how hard life would be to follow him, you still wanted that life. Even when the Pharisees walked around grumpy and judgmental and guilt-trippy and full of themselves, you felt sorry for them. You still wanted to celebrate beside him. Jesus made you want to throw a party! This was what life was all about! Jesus had taught them how to live a life of extravagance. Not financial extravagance, but spiritual extravagance. A life of celebration. What did he call it once? Abundant life! Life to the full!
Even now, the fear of the early morning was overwhelmed by the joy of the moment. With the boat filled with fish, they landed it and finally drug it ashore. Jesus was already there, with a fire started to grill the fish. Of course, Jesus was ready for another party! Nathanael ran into his arms and almost tackled Jesus as they both laughed out loud. He started to finally get it – the joy wouldn’t be gone when Jesus was. It was eternal. The party wouldn’t be over…it would just be beginning. Nathanael listened and laughed with Jesus as they fried up what seemed like half of the fish. He wouldn’t need to eat the rest of the day. He would live on that meal forever! And he would live on the extravagance of Jesus forever. Just like the jars filled to overflowing with wine, there would always be enough of the love and grace and forgiveness of Jesus to go around. There would always be enough reason to party!
As Nate dripped a puddle under his pew, he looked down feeling guilty for the mess that he was making. But before long, the music lifted his spirits, and lifted his head, and he was looking up at the beautiful stained glass and ornate features of the sanctuary. Nate started the service feeling bad about himself, but couldn’t stay that way for long. The music was amazing that day, and he found himself singing louder than he intended to. The sermon was about the miracle at Cana, and the ridiculous abundance of the miracle. In fact, it was the passage of abundance from Amos that the preacher read before communion that really caught his imagination: “The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with it!” Abundance. That was something that Nate hadn’t thought of for a long time. He had lived so long in the scarcity of fear. Nate didn’t know what he would do with such abundance. It even scared him a little. But at the same time, it made him hopeful, excited, ready for more.
Before he knew it, he was down the aisle for communion, but he was really transported to Cana. He imagined himself along with the disciples, laughing at the extravagance of the huge jars filled with wine. When it was his turn for communion, he tore off a huge piece of bread, and let it soak good and long in the wine. He inhaled both and could feel the richness on his lips and the burn all the way down. It was for Nate a revelation of abundance. God had more in store for him than fear and conflict. It didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be hard days, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The abundance and extravagance of God…that was the story! He almost skipped out of the service when it ended, and forgot his umbrella dripping in the pew as the sun came out.
On the way to the restaurant, he just wanted to share his extravagance with everyone. He smiled at the people he saw on the street, and laughed when he saw children playing in the puddles. As he got near the restaurant where he was to meet his family, he stopped in his tracks. There was the man from work. His family had joined him with signs asking for help. And they waited together under the drip of the overhang. All of a sudden, Nate had an idea. He ran to the family and shook the man’s hand. “Jim.” “Nate.” “I’d like to have you and your family join mine for lunch.” There was shock on the man’s face. He stammered about how they weren’t dressed and didn’t want to intrude. But Nate wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He escorted them into the restaurant, and did his best to make them feel comfortable. He saw his family, all sitting in a corner booth, already fuming and looking down at their phones. They were just as shocked as they looked up to see Jim and his family with Nate. Of course, there was no room at the table, so Nate made room. He pushed another table up to the booth, and made a loud scraping noise that made the other patrons roll their eyes. But Nate didn’t care. He introduced everyone, and began to order appetizers and wine for everyone to enjoy. Jim and his family seemed incredibly uncomfortable at first, as did Nate’s own wife and kids.
But before long, the food and drink were flowing and everyone started to smile. Nate’s family looked at him like he was from another planet, but then they remembered what it was like when Dad used to be like this all the time. Before he was afraid and angry all the time. And they liked it. Everyone ordered and ate their fill, and boxes were brought out to send the leftovers with Jim and his family. Of course, Nate couldn’t let them go without another round of drinks with dessert. He planned in his mind what he would say to the right people at work tomorrow. He might not be able to get Jim’s job back, but he would sure do his best. As he paused over his chocolate torte, he looked around the table at the smiles and the laughter and knew that he had touched the face of abundance. It was the extravagance of Amos, of Cana, of God. It was abundance and for the first time in a long time, he was full.