“Pack of Cana wedding wine” by Seetheholyland.net 2010 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
John 2.1-11 (NIV)
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
I have been watching “The Great British Baking Show” and its spinoff, “The Big Family Cooking Showdown.” In each of these shows, one contestant, or family, is voted out by the judges, until they are down to the last, and supposedly best amateur baker, or cooking family. There is a lot I like about these shows – the contestants are some of the kindest people who have ever wound up on TV … I think I am learning about baking and cooking as I watch the shows.
John calls them signs.
He points out seven of these signs in his gospel … Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana is the first of them.
We would probably call them miracles, but to John they are signs. Amazing and mysterious, these signs point beyond themselves toward greater understanding of God’s purposes in Jesus and deeper relationship with Jesus.
Imagine a family on vacation to Yellowstone National Park. The family has spent a long time getting ready for this trip. They save their money. They plan their trip. The big day arrives and they start their journey. After a long drive, they finally reach the big, forest service brown, sign with yellow letters that reads “Yellowstone National Park.” The family rushes out of their minivan, poses around the sign, and asks someone to take their picture. They smile, say cheese and pile right back into the minivan and turn around to start the long journey home.
They didn’t even scratch the surface of Yellowstone. The sign pointed toward all of the amazing and beautiful things beyond it. Old Faithful, waterfalls, buffalo, elk, bears, log lodges, and hiking trails. They missed the whole point of that wooden, weather worn, sign.
For John, the significance of a sign is what it points us toward. John isn’t as concerned with how the sign happened … he doesn’t offer technical explanations for how the water turned to wine … He is most interested in what the sign can tell us about Jesus … and how the sign can inspire us to greater trust and deeper relationship with Jesus.
The first of Jesus’ signs takes place at a wedding.
John doesn’t offer details about the bride or groom, he just says the wedding was in Cana and Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited.
Cana is a mysterious town. John’s Gospel actually tells us the most about Cana. Two of Jesus’ signs occur in Cana; the first in today’s passage and the second in chapter four when Jesus heals a royal official’s son. Cana seems to be remembered most for what Jesus did there.
Jesus’ mother noticed the wine had been used up, and mentioned it to Jesus.
Jesus made it sound like running out of wine wasn’t really his problem. He says it wasn’t yet his hour. (This idea of Jesus’ hour will show up again as we work through John).
In Ancient Mediterranean cultures, honor and shame were powerful motivating forces. They were understood as commodities – honor and shame could be built up, and they would stick with a person. When people would host meals or celebrations often the event and seating arrangements would be planned to build up the host’s honor. Running out of wine would have been a huge embarrassment for hosts of a wedding celebration. Failing at hospitality would cause shame … it might even be seen as bad luck for the bride and groom … it would be a disappointing way for the couple to start their life together.
Jesus’ mother approached the servants working at the wedding celebration and told them, “to do whatever he tells you.” Mary believed Jesus could do something to change the situation.
John offers details about the stone jars. There were six of these stone jars. Each held 20 to 30 gallons of water. These jars were used for religious purposes, for rites of purification. The servants filled these jars to the brim with water. Then Jesus told the servant to “Draw some out and bring it to the master of the banquet.”
That is a lot of wine … something like 180 gallons!
And it’s good wine.
Jesus’ first sign in Cana is marked by extravagance and abundance.
This sign also marks Jesus’ breaking into ordinary, everyday life. Often we have these ideas that some parts of our lives are worthy of Jesus’ attention and some parts are not. This story stretches our view of what Jesus cares about. Jesus even cares about wedding celebrations and saving hosts from embarrassing social gaffs.
Quietly and simply, in the background, Jesus serves the hosts of a wedding celebration and their guests. Jesus turns this wedding celebration into something extraordinary to reveal his glory to his disciples. The master of the banquet, we could probably call him the “head waiter,” does not know the story behind this wine. He credits the surprisingly good wine to the bridegroom’s overwhelming hospitality and generosity.
The bridegroom does not know where this wine came from, he might not even know he needed someone to save him from running out of wine at his wedding.
The guests who drank this wine didn’t know where the wine came from either. To them the party went on as usual. Jesus did not draw extra attention to himself when he “made the water into wine.” It wasn’t flashy. There wasn’t fanfare. The servants just did what Jesus told them to.
At the beginning of his Gospel, John tells us, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) … “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). In Jesus’ action at the wedding in Cana, in this miracle of providence, we see grace upon grace … we see grace in abundance.
In the big picture, the amazing appearance of wine at this wedding in Cana is a sign that reveals Jesus’ glory, it shows Jesus’ power, the abundance of his grace, and because of it Christ’s disciples believe in him.
I think the idea that Jesus acted to protect these hosts from shame and embarrassment is important too. If the host’s ran out of wine, it would have stuck with them for a long time. It would have been hard to redeem or to live down.
We don’t know why this happened.
Was it poor planning?
Did extra guests show up?
John just tells us the wine was gone.
Mary, first noticed the problem and pointed it out to Jesus … something moved Jesus to do something to help. Jesus didn’t say anything to the crowd or to the hosts about how they could have been in a really bad spot, but thanks to his power … thanks to his grace and goodness, they were spared the humiliating consequences of running out of wine. Jesus quietly did something to help. How crazy is it that the majority of the people at the wedding might not have even known Jesus changed the water into wine? Not only did Jesus save the party, he protected the host’s honor … he preserved their dignity. That really catches my attention. Jesus respects and preserves human dignity.
There is so much all around us that dehumanizes and degrades people. So much that embarrasses and shames people. There is so much that strips away human dignity. In the beginning of the Bible, when Genesis talks about how the earth and how humanity came to be, we hear that, “God created humanity (you and me, all the people in the world) in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them” (Genesis 1:27 CEB). Humanity is created in the image of God – that’s the bible talking! We have value because God intentionally and purposefully created us with it. Even when we rebel against God … even when we make terrible plans … even when we are pretty clueless and don’t notice the stuff happening around us, God loves us, God pursues us …
Jesus acts to show us God’s abundant grace, and he preserves … and even more, restores our human dignity. That is powerful – you, me, people on the other side of the world, people we have a lot in common with, people we disagree with, People we love, people we have a really hard time with, people we have compassion for and want to help … humanity … all of us have been created in God’s image, we are dearly loved by God, and are worthwhile to God. Even when Jesus is acting to help us, he looks out for and honors our dignity … he values our humanity.
There is so much good news in this passage!
In Jesus Christ, we see and we experience the abundance of God’s love … In Jesus Christ we receive grace upon grace!