A woman sits in quiet dignity on her own whilst there’s a boozy party going on.
Is the person at the centre of it all, at work or at a party?
Why is His first action one that seems almost frivolous when He later heals serious illness; calms terrifying storms; and feeds the hungry?
By the way any correspondence between anything above and recent events is of course purely coincidental.
“On the third day … and the mother of Jesus was there”
“Jesus did this, the first of his signs … and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”
John isn’t simply a reporter. He’s a theologian who reflects deeply on the broader picture of what the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God actually means. John records Jesus as saying that there were many significant aspects of his message that he couldn’t tell his disciples while he was still with them, but that under the influence of the Holy Spirit they would come to understand theseat a later time. so when we read John we need to do so with sensitivity to the resonances of what the Spirit is saying.
The Wedding at Cana passage opens with the words: “On the third day there was a wedding at Canaand the mother of Jesus was there”, it follows three passages in chapter one which start “The next day”. People who read the whole thing as a sequence of diary entries and ask, “The third day from when?” counting back through these events, are missing the significance of these words. Sometranslations replace them with “Two days later”. Now it’s not that the phrase, “On the third day”, isn’t part of a succession of days in John’s narrative, but that John’s intention is much more subtle than that of a diarist piecing together entries in a careful sequence.
John’s making an allusion to the resurrection of Jesus which also occurs on the third day. John’s subtly connecting the resurrection and this wedding. He’s suggesting that the victory of God that’s wrapped-up in the resurrection of his Son, is a cause of celebration; much like a wedding party.
Incidently it’s an allusion that he repeats in his apocalyptic vision in the book of Revelation, that the victory of God is much like a wedding. He uses wedding functions as a metaphor for salvation. There are of course other biblical metaphors for salvation but today let’s think about the wedding metaphor in the story of the wedding at Cana.
Wine is a crucial part of this story. The wedding host has run out of wine, but at this event, he doesn’t send someone down to the off-licence with a suitcase to pick up some more. No Mary asks Jesus if He can do something about it, to which he replies “my time is not yet come”, then he acts. You’ll notice in this story that the amount of water Jesus turns into wine is quite large. The text suggests that Jesus made about 120 gallons of it! That’s a lot of wine and a pretty boozy party.
John may also be hinting at Old Testament prophecy that says that when the Messiah comes and inaugurates God’s kingdom once again on earth that there’ll be an overabundance of wine?
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”Isaiah 25:6-9
So John’s telling his readers, “This is the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for, rejoice and be merry”.
Mary’s not only central to Advent and Christmas, she’s central to God’s whole plan for humanity. It’s through her faithful ‘Yes’ that Jesus is born. It’s when she visits her cousin Elizabeth that Mary breaks into song with her great prayer, ‘The Magnificat.’
In the gospels there aren’t many details about Mary. We do know that she followed Jesus as he preached and healed. She saw him being betrayed, denied, arrested and condemned. She was there at the cross with the other women when he died. She buried her son and then “On the third day” went to the tomb with the other women. Then at Pentecost, she was there when the friends and followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary is truly the example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Marys’ greatness is that she points the way and leads us to Jesus through her own example. She’s not asking us to do anything she hasn’t already done herself. She doesn’t seek or ask for any attention for herself. At this family wedding in Cana Mary’s an invited guest, but her concern about the wine is about the reputation of the young couple, not about herself.
When we think of Jesus’ miracles, we usually think of him helping those in desperate need – feeding the hungry, healing the blind and the lame, delivering the possessed, or even raising the dead. These account for most of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels; they’re acts which relieve suffering, provide healing and restore life and wholeness.
We may find it a bit surprising that the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry in John’s Gospel is one that seems almost frivolous. There’s no desperate, life-threatening need in this story, no crisis of hunger or illness. Rather, the crisis in this story is that the wine’s run out at a wedding banquet. It’s a problem which threatens to cut the celebration short and cause considerable embarrassment to the hosts, but certainly it poses no immediate danger to anyone’s life or health.
Turning water into wine seems almost trivial. So why did He do it, why did John decide to include it in his gospel, and what does it reveal to us about who God is?
You might argue that the purpose of not only this miracle but of all of Jesus’s miracles is to reveal His glory. But they’re never inward, self-aggrandising displays; they always serve to benefit others. He always brings others with Him into glory. This first miracle sets a tone for the rest of Jesus’s earthly life and ministry; one of kindness, one of empathy, one of care.
Turning water into wine is a small yet profound miracle; it’s exactly what’s needed when it’s needed. Jesus is really good at that: being what we need when we need it; not trivialising our issues and our worries and being there to help us celebrate our joys and achievements too. For Jesus perhaps work and parties are the same thing.
Through the witnessing of arguably the smallest miracle in the gospels, we’re reminded that God’s with us and for us; we’re reminded that the smallest work of God is still greater than anything we could do by ourselves. And that’s a reminder that we’ve never needed more than we do just now.