A few years ago, my staff presented me with an unusual gift, a recurve bow and arrow. I was quite surprised and elated. On several occasions, I casually mentioned that I had wanted to learn to shoot a bow and arrow. I did it once when I was about 8 years old and I never forgot the thrill of releasing the arrow from a bow that I drew. When I restarted my martial arts training in karate, I was introduced to weapons and the idea of archery re-ignited. Now I had one of my own. Although clearly a novice, I have enjoyed the times I have engaged in target practice in my backyard.
Since then, I have added additional weapons to my armamentarium including a wooden bo staff, eskrima sticks, and my latest, throwing knives. Utilizing the same target for archery, I have undertaken my first cautious steps to learn to throw knives. I was sharing my excitement over my new hobby with my staff, who were curious about the origins of my peculiar interest.
“Did someone give you the knives?”
“Oh no! Knives can never be given as a gift. One must undergo rigorous training by a trained master before they are deemed worthy of owning their own knife!” I folded my arms in a triumphant and defiant pose.
One of my colleagues, who is Chinese-Malaysian, coyly asked me, “Is that true in Japanese culture?”
I laughed. “No, I just made that up!”
Smiling, she replied, “Well in my culture, that’s not a gift!”
“What do you mean?” I questioned.
“In my culture, if one gives a knife to another, it is telling the recipient that you are cutting off the relationship. It is bad luck and a bad omen.”
When I researched the topic, I learned that many cultures, including my own Japanese culture, view the action of gifting a knife with disdain and a sign of bad luck. I was jesting but I had unwittingly stumbled upon a cultural faux pas.
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
John 2:3 (ESV)
The Gospel of John records an interesting first miracle of Jesus Christ; it is the well-known story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Running out of wine at a wedding celebration during this time, and quite likely any time including the present would have been the ultimate faux pas and social mishap. The family would have been forever shamed and shunned.
Why did Jesus choose this social occasion as the setting for His first miracle? While there are many deeply profound theological issues represented by this miracle, one beautiful lesson is a reminder that Jesus does understand our moments of potential social embarrassments.
When traveling, meeting new people, or being introduced to new situations, the uninformed and naive may unknowingly commit one or several cultural faux pas. Christian missionaries, embarking upon a new mission field, are keenly aware and copiously educated about these potential minefields, but there will always be some key informational item that is overlooked. We may not be able to anticipate all faux pas and awkward social situations, but Jesus Christ never promises this. Our goal should always be what Mary told the servants at the wedding.
“Do whatever he tells you.”
John 2:5 (ESV)
The servants obeyed and Jesus turned six stone jars filled with water into wine, rescuing the hapless family. Jesus takes the ordinary and socially awkward events of our lives and creates a miracle. All we need to do is obey Him. Shouldn’t we do the same?
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.