Cana, a little town nestling in the hills above the Sea of Galilee, has become remarkably well known down through the ages. It’s often mentioned at the start of the wedding liturgies of many churches. Some couples visit the little church there on significant anniversaries to renew their marriage vows. Weddings in Jesus’ day were week-long festivals. Banquets would be prepared for many guests and the week would be spent celebrating the gift of marriage. Unlike our weddings, the main figure was the bridegroom and proceedings would start when he and his friends made their way to the bride’s home. The happy couple would wear crowns and be treated as royalty.
Yet we are told nothing of the marriage itself, or the happy couple – just about the disaster of the wine running out. The event is not important. John says that “Jesus was there” (2:2) –emphasisng that Jesus was an historical figure and a divine figure – look the Word made flesh, the God who lives alongside us, goes to weddings and gets involved in everyday human life. But the wedding simply serves as a backdrop for Jesus’ first miracle – or as the evangelist prefers to call it, “a miraculous sign.” (2:11) – the story is inviting us to see and understand what took place there. It’s the first of the seven great signs in this gospel.
Initially the focus is on Mary having faith in her son to do something special. Let me make it clear this has nothing to do with alcohol. Drunkenness was a disgrace. It’s more to do with the fact that the guests must not be disappointed. The bridegroom and his family must not be embarrassed by the fact that “They have no more wine.” (2:3) – and are tarnishing the Jewish expectations of hospitality. Imagine the scandal! So when there appears to be no way ahead Mary turns to Jesus for help. She supposes that by explaining the situation He will do something about it. That’s despite the fact that His response is not that encouraging: “Dear woman, that’s not our problem.” The term “woman” sounds abrupt. However, it’s the way it comes across in our language. Jesus isn’t being rude. Interestingly he will say it to his mother again while on the cross – where’s He offered cheap bitter wine to drink. That’s what He’s referring to when He says, “My time (my hour) has not yet come.” (2:4). When it does arrive, it refers to His death and glorification. Again this is what John wants us to grasp – that the core message of his gospel is to inform us what the life of Jesus means and what we should expect from Him: “Look here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Mary, however, is not put off by her son’s response. She had conceived Him supernaturally. She knew Jesus was God incarnate. She might of thought with all these people now was the time to supremely manifest Himself as the Messiah. Confidently she says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s because she knows He has authority and she trusted Him to do the right thing. So they fill these jars, used for washing people’s hands and feet, up to the brim. And the sheer quantity of water turned into wine is remarkable. Six jars this size equals 120 gallons – which would fill about 750 bottles! But Jesus doesn’t do this to encourage binge drinking! It is inconceivable to think He’d promote drunkenness. So what’s the meaning behind it all?
First of all this isn’t just a miracle in which, out of the goodness of His heart, Jesus rescues the embarrassed bridegroom’sfamily. He tells the servants to take what is apparently water to the master of ceremonies. They take it without protest suggesting that the miracle happens because of Mary’s persistence and their obedience. The text speaks into our context by implying that simply expecting Jesus to take over when our resources dry up is not enoug persistence in faith is needed together with the willingness to do whatever He says. God desires a reciprocal relationship to grant us His grace. Like any good marriage it has to be a two-way street and conditional. How can expect the blessings of God if we fail to live according to His principles? Secondly, the MC tastes the wine and proclaims to the bridegroom: “A host always serves the best wine first…But you have kept the best until now!” (2:10). Think of the symbolism here: Jesus is the future bridegroom who one day will come for His bride – the Church – it’s looking ahead to the day when we are wedding guests at the marriage feast of the Lamb of God.
It is a proclamation that God has the best wine cellar of all and turning water into wine is itself a picture of all that Jesus came to do: “I have come so that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn.10:10). Water, the basic necessity of life, is changed into wine, the symbol not just of life, but also of death into life, sorrow into joy, pain into peace, sin into righteousness. I can guarantee you that life in Jesus is better than life on our own. No one can argue against the proof of a changed life. So why wait until everything else runs out before coming to God? Why save the best until last?
Every year the Italian town of Marino’s celebrates a wine festival. The public fountain in the main squareis converted into a makeshift dispenser with wine replacing the water. Something strange happened last year when residents turned on their taps at home and white wine flowed out! But this wasn’t a modern day miracle, merely a mix up. Somehow in the process of connecting wine to the fountain, a local worker accidentally connected a line flowing with wine to a water main, allowing cheerful citizens to fill their wine glasses in their homes instead.
Let’s move from mishap to genuine miracle remembering that Jesus brought unexpected joy to the bridegroom and guests at the wedding. Also let’s turn this physical reality of blessing into a spiritual one: When in your life have you experienced water turning into wine? There are occasions in life when we are like tired, worn out, empty jars facing problems that are beyond our capacity. John tells us that there were six stone jars. Again there’s symbolism in this. In Hebrew, the number six stands for incompleteness and imperfection. In those periods where we seem so far from God, when the everyday cares and worries seem to get on top of us and so easily distract us – that’s exactly how we feel. That spiritual emptiness needs to be filled with something rich and fragrant – not wine, but eternal life. Turning sinners into believers by having the eyes of their hearts enlightened that by believing in Christ “you will have life by the power of His name.” (20:31). It was this miracle that led Jesus’ disciples to put their faith in Him.
And just as at that wedding Jesus is still working miracles in the hearts and lives of people today. If there’s one aspect of your life that feels empty or you’re stuck in a rut you might want to invite Him into this part of your life for He can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. The closer we are to Him, the more our old sinful nature disappears. Have a little courage to believe in Him for He can meet you directly at your point of need. This is something that we see happening right through the Gospels. He will do this with any of us, provide the solutions to our needs, if we faithfully follow and believe in Him, filling us with “an inexpressible and glorious joy…receiving the goal of our faith and the salvation of our souls.” (1 Pet.1:8-9).
May God bless this important passage to our hearts this morning.
Saviour Jesus, when resources run out and things seem hopeless, grant me the faith to trust in you. Attend the events of my life as you attended the wedding in Cana and replenish me with joy and gladness. Thank you that you have kept the best until now; grant me insight to see your signs and courage to believe in you.