The Wedding at Cana. John 2:1-11
Rev Felicity O’Brien
This reading is very familiar. Most of us have heard it many times, and yet it seems to reveal new riches each time we go to it.
At face value, it’s a simple story of a family and community event – a wedding.
But in its context, it’s the very first miracle recorded. Jesus was affirmed and honoured for public ministry in last week’s reading, then tempted in the wilderness. Now he’s back home, taking part in a regular, normal event. Note that Mary was already at the wedding when Jesus and his disciples arrived – it is likely that she was closely related to the couple and was there in an ‘official’ capacity, as family. This may be why she noticed that the wine was running low, and commented on it to Jesus. It would have been a real social disaster for the wine to run out – maybe the couple would have been known for years as the ones whose wedding didn’t have enough wine!
Maybe Mary wanted Jesus and the disciples who came with him to go and buy some more wine.
I always wince a bit when we hear the exchange between Jesus and his mother – woman, what concern is that to you and me? I certainly wouldn’t have got away with speaking to my mother like that!
Jesus seems to be rebuking his mother, and speaking disrespectfully. But it’s the next bit that makes sense of the exchange. “My hour has not yet come”.
Mary seems to be expecting something of Jesus; at least, He thinks she is. Perhaps during his childhood there had been miracles, signs of Jesus’ divine power. Mary certainly knew he could do something about the problem.
Jesus does do something, even though it sounded like he wasn’t going to. Mary tells the servants to do whatever he asks, confident that Jesus would act. Perhaps she had been waiting, watching over him all his life, knowing that there was a bigger role for him than simple carpenter, wondering when it would start. She has seen the signs of his baptism, people are starting to follow him, could it be now?
The next part of the story is very significant.
Jesus asks for the stone jars to be filled with water. These jars were meant for the purpose of ritual purification, a cleansing from sins that was part of regular Jewish observance of the law. He had been cleansed himself weeks earlier, in the water of the Jordan.
What happens next is the whole point of the reading. The ritual water is made Gospel wine, just as it says in our prayer book service. The rituals of Jewish religious observance are transformed by Jesus into rich wine, gladdening the heart, abundant and joyful.
Jesus came to fulfill the law, and in this story we see a change from observance to something brighter, more real. Jesus came to transform the world.
This message of transformation wasn’t about taking something bad and making it good. Water is already good. It’s about making something that’s already good even better! Jesus added love and grace into the Law.
This wasn’t a small amount of wine either – the jars held may gallons of water, and it has been estimated that they would have produced 700-800 bottles worth of wine! Can you imagine how many crates that would be?
Jesus doesn’t do anything by halves! This reminds me of the parable of the talents, where the amount of money mentioned is so big that it’s ridiculous. This amount of wine speaks of abundance, of blessing for the newly married couple. Maybe they had good wine for a long time after their wedding.
This story is not about drinking or alcohol, or promoting unrestrained behaviour. It’s about celebrating that the bridegroom is with us – Jesus came to the earth, and we should be joyful and glad!
Many Christians know Jesus of the living water. They feel guilty about the enjoyment of the New Wine of faith in him! It’s one of those ‘God-incidences’ that this story comes the same week that many, including three of my kids, are at the New Wine camp – our prayer for them, and for us, is that the living water will be transformed into that new wine of an abundant, joyful life in Christ.
When people look at you, will they see a life where water is transformed into something more, something richer? Or a wholesome but not very interesting faith, living water but without the giddy heights of joy that comes from celebrating Jesus’ continuing presence with us? And just like the stone jars of wine held so much that it seemed that it would never run out, so can our joy in Christ, if we share it.