In a lot of ways, it’s fitting that Jesus’ first miracle takes place at a wedding. Marriage is one of the key threads found throughout scripture: the Bible begins with a married couple in the garden of Eden (the early chapters of Genesis) and concludes with the wedding feast of the Lamb in the book of Revelation. Woven throughout scripture, the relationship between humanity & God is often compared to a marriage, with God being the groom and we the (often unfaithful) bride. Jesus’ presence at a wedding that early in the Gospel recognizes the tremendous value of marriage, which He elevates to the dignity of a Sacrament in the life of our Church.
That being said, what Jesus does at this particular wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) teaches us several notable things about Him, about the Kingdom of God, and about what God wants for you and I.
When we started this study, we talked about the ways in which the first part of John 1 mirrors the creation stories found in the book of Genesis. The wedding at Cana gives us one more, as it takes place on the seventh day in John’s Gospel. On the first day, we first hear of the ministry of John the Baptist (John 1:19-27). The next three big events all begin with “the next day,” making day #2 the day Jesus is recognized by John as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29-34), day #3 the calling of the first disciples (John 1:35-42), and day #4 the calling of Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43-51). After these four days, we read in John 2:1 that on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee (4 + 3 = 7). After the creation of the world, God gave humanity the seventh day – the Sabbath – as the first sign of His love and goodness. Similarly, on the seventh day of John’s Gospel, we encounter the first sign of Jesus’ love and goodness with the miracle he’ll perform for a newly married couple.
The story is probably a familiar one: Jesus and his disciples are at a wedding where the hosts run out of wine. Jesus’ mother, Mary brings this to Jesus attention and, after an awkward exchange, Jesus has some servants fill stone jars with water. When the steward draws out the water, he finds that it has been transformed into the best sort of wine.
When you look at it more deeply, you begin to see that this story represents much more than just an act of kindness on Jesus’ behalf.
First of all, the exchange between Mary and Jesus is certainly an awkward one. When Mary brings the need of this couple to Jesus’ attention, His reply seems almost disrespectful: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). There almost seems to be a tone of refusal in Jesus’ question, which is a good reminder that He is guided solely by His father’s will rather than the real or perceived needs we see in front of us. Mary’s bringing of this issue to Jesus, and her subsequent instructions to the servants to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) represent a fundamental principal of Christian life: we are to follow Jesus’ directions in all that we do. They also remind us of Mary’s maternal role in the life of the Church, that we believe she brings our needs to Jesus when we ask her to pray for us.
Second, the fact that Jesus had the servants fill the six stone jars used for washing rituals is significant. After the fall of humanity, Scripture tells a story of a people (us) who become overwhelmed by sin. Jewish tradition at the time was filled with various cleansing and sacrificial rituals which are unable to fully reconcile humanity to God. Jesus replaces the empty rituals of Jewish washing by a sacrifice which repairs that which was broken, and which gives us (via the Sacraments) the strength to no longer be overwhelmed by sin.
Finally, the fact that Jesus’ miracle provided not just wine but the best wine is important. Not only does this wine prefigure the Eucharist and the new wine of the Heavenly Wedding feast, it’s also a reminder that no matter what we are able to give to God, what He gives us in return is better than anything we can hope for. God’s love for us is like this wine: abundant, of tremendous quality, and given for us as a sign of His limitless devotion to us.
(This is the fourth part of a Bible study I’m hosting with students at St. Peter the Apostle CHS in Spruce Grove during the 2017-18 school year.)