On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11 – NRSV)
Chapters 2:1 – 12:50 of John’s Gospel are often referred to as ‘the book of signs’. Cana is the ‘first sign’ that tells us of Jesus’ identity. It points to his ‘glory’ which will be fully manifest on the Cross. The remaining chapters of John’s Gospel – after 12:50 – are often referred to as ‘the book of glory’.
The Johannine scholar, C H Dodd, says of the first three chapters of ‘the book of signs’ which begin with the miracle at Cana: ‘(These first three) chapters present the replacement of the old purifications by the wine of the kingdom of God, the old temple by the new in the risen Lord, an exposition of new birth for new creation, a contrast between the water of Jacob’s well and the living water from Christ, and the worship of Jerusalem and Gerizim with worship “in Spirit and in truth” (C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1953, 297.) St Paul echoes this belief which must have been central to the first Christians: ‘the old has gone, the new has come!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The exact site of Cana in not certain. “Of the various sites proposed by archaeologists, the most likely is Khirbet Qana, an uninhabited ruin about nine miles north of Nazareth, and lying in the Plain of Asochis (Jos., Vita 86, 207).” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 168.)
Mary the mother of Jesus is the first person introduced in this account. What she says and does is crucial to the story. When Mary draws Jesus’ attention to the plight of the host – ‘They have no wine’ – Jesus replies: ‘what have you to do with me?’ Francis Moloney says of this reply: “The interpretation of (Jesus’ words) is notoriously difficult” (Francis J Moloney, The Gospel of John, Liturgical Press, 1998, 71.) At the very least we must be extremely careful of interpreting Jesus’ response in a way that might suit a particular theological position or line of thought.
‘My hour has not yet come’ – clearly we are at the beginning of John’s account of the Jesus story. ‘The hour’ will come gradually as the story unfolds. Again, Francis Moloney writes: “For the major part of Jesus’ ministry it is ‘not yet’ (cf. 2:4; 7:4, 30; 8:20). However, though its first association is with a marriage feast it is eventually associated with violence (cf. 7:30; 8:20). Toward the close of the public ministry, as the threat of Jesus’ violent end approaches through a ‘lifting up’ on a cross, the ‘hour’ of violence ‘has come’, and is associated with Jesus’ glorification (cf. 12:23, 27). This theme continues into the final section of the Gospel (cf. 13:31) and is further explained as the hour through which Jesus must pass in order to return to the Father (cf. 13:1, 32; 17:5) and the hour that creates a new family of Jesus (19:27).” (Moloney, op cit, 71-72.)
‘(Jesus) revealed his glory’. It is hard not to see this as an echo of the revelation on Sinai where the glory of Yahweh is manifested ‘on the third day’ – see Exodus 19:16. “A crucial element in the NT traditions is the link with the OT. In the Fourth Gospel, Torah and Jesus Christ are profoundly related. (Francis Moloney, op cit, 73.)
When Mary says to Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you”, we do not have to assume that Mary has privileged insight into the very identity of Jesus as the Messiah. Nor do we have to assume she foresaw the miracle he was about to perform. A very straightforward human explanation seems entirely possible. Without ranging too far beyond the actual text, we can legitimately imagine a truly human scene at this marriage feast.
The fact that Joseph is not mentioned might suggest he has already died. Mary is a Jewish mother who knows her son. They have cooperated in many ways over the years. It is reasonable to assume Jesus is now the man of the house. Mary looks to him when she has a problem to solve.
We do not know who the bride and groom are in this story. It does not seem likely, however, that they are unknown to Mary and Jesus. If not relations, then probably friends.
The capacity of the family to entertain the guests – including providing them with sufficient wine – is very important in this culture. There would have been deep embarrassment and shame ‘when the wine gave out’. Now we are not told that any member of the family came to Mary and told her of the situation. She sees for herself what has happened and immediately gets her son to do something. Jesus’ response is more than a problem-solving exercise – though it does of course solve a problem. Jesus, as it were, enters definitively on the road to Jerusalem by manifesting God at work here. This miracle is a ‘sign’ of who he is and why he came.
Most scripture scholars accept as fact that Jesus did perform miracles. John sees these miracles as ‘signs’. That is, God is being revealed!
Not only is God being revealed in Jesus. Jesus himself is being revealed as the Messiah. What is more, the ways of God are also being revealed. God is concerned for individual people, their cultural situation and their vulnerability to embarrassment and shame. This is a very particular fulfillment of the promise: ‘I am with you!’ God is enfleshed, here, now, fully part of the human reality. God is prodigal and full of surprise. It is worth noting that the six stone jars held ‘twenty or thirty gallons’ each. Think of it: the host – probably the whole village – would have had a lot of good wine left over for many days to come!
Let us go with a question: Do you see any significance in Jesus taking the water intended for the rituals of purification and using it to provide wine for the celebration? Do not rush to an answer. Mull over it. Let the question work on your heart before your head speaks.