Cana is not Judea. Galilee is not the place that a prophet would want to launch his revolution – or so it seems. Standing on the steps of the temple in Jerusalem seems a better fit than at a wedding for an unknown couple. And yet, with his followers chosen, Jesus first public act is turning water to wine at a wedding on the outskirts of Galilee. There is no wonder he will be accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).
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 asideand 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. (John 2:1-11)
The first clue we get that something more is going on here is by John calling the miracle a sign. In the gospel of John there are seven signs that take us through the story. In John 1:14 the author tells us that he has “seen his glory.” The signs serve to reveal the glory of God’s Son. A sign points beyond itself. The purpose of a sign is to refer to something/someone else. Towards the end of the book we are told what the purpose of Jesus’ miracles are and why he calls them signs. He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). For the gospel of John, the miracles of Jesus (the signs) serve as markers along the road of faith pointing us toward the one who reveals to us the nature of God.
At the age of thirty, Jesus shows up with his small band of followers at a wedding. He may be here at the request of his mother. Maybe this is a friend of the family. Nevertheless, he is there along with the rest of the village. A wedding is a community affair that last seven days. We are not sure when Jesus arrived. The wedding celebration has been going on for a few days. The wine is running out. This was not a situation where you could send Uncle Andrew to the store to pick up more bottles of wine. There is a crisis on hand.
Wine is important. It is the normal beverage at meals. It is especially important at festivals. Running out of wine is more than an inconvenience, it is a social disgrace. In turning the water to wine, Jesus rescues the honor of the host of the wedding. Jesus cares enough to get involved.
Of course, it takes some encouragement from Mama Mary. As emergencies go, this one doesn’t seem to rank among healing the sick or raising the dead. But Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt that it was important enough that her son ought to do something about it. She says, “They have no wine” (2:3). He replies, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me. My hour has not come” (2:4). In his response Jesus demonstrates that he is free from all human control. No one, not even his mother, has claim over him. No one else can tell him what he can and cannot do. And yet, Mary continues to say to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:5). She expresses complete confidence in her son and his ability to resolve the situation. She believes in her son. But she will not interfere with his freedom to act in a way that fulfills his purpose. She tells Jesus the problem. She doesn’t tell him how to fix it.
We like telling Jesus our problems. We also like to tell him the best way to fix them. As we read through the gospel of John, we will discover that Jesus has the proven track record on how to deal with people and their issues. We just need to give him the freedom to act. He promises that he “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). If that be the case, then I am sure he knows how to best handle the struggles we face. His solutions to our problems will always be better than any resolution we can offer.
By the time the party got low on wine there would have been empty wine containers lying around on the ground. These are large ceramic jars. Why did Jesus not pick up one and do his miraculous work in them? Instead he notices the six stone water jars used for the Jewish rites of purification. Each of the stone jars held thirty gallons of water. The stone jars are to be used only for water. Anything else would contaminate the jars and they were no longer fit to be used for the purification rite of cleansing. By turning the water to wine from the Jewish stone jars, Jesus is demonstrating that he is doing something new. The steward is so pleased with the new wine that he pulls the bridegroom aside and says, “You have saved the best for last!” It is a way of saying that Jesus is better that what came before. He is the defining revelation of God. As a Jew, he comes through the Jewish system, but he is greater than what has come before him. Jesus is greater than what has come before.
The prophets of old told that in the coming of God’s new age, “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines” (Isaiah 25:6a). The prophet Amos tells of the coming Messiah as the day when “the mountains will drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (Amos 9:13). Wine is a sign of the joyous arrival of God’s messiah. It symbolizes that God’s salvation has arrived. In turning water to wine in the purification jars, Jesus is demonstrating the arrival of God’s salvation.
And what day does John tell us this all happens on? “On the third day there was a wedding” (John 2:1). Yes, the author wants us to read the resurrection into this story. And yes, he is saying that when the joy is gone and when it looks like the party is over, God can still show up. But there is more. In Exodus 19, the people wandering in the desert have reached Mount Sinai. Moses goes up to the mountain to speak to God. God says to Moses on behalf of the people, “If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples” (Exodus 19:5). Moses goes down and tells the people all that God says and they agree to commit themselves to God. As a result, God decides to visit the people. They are told to consecrate themselves and on the third day, “The Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Exodus 19:11) (italics mine). On the third day, God reveals God’s self to all the people. When the people begin to question if there is a purpose for their wandering, God reveals Himself.
When the joy seems to be leaving, Jesus shows up. When the party seems to be over, Jesus arrives. When the glass is empty, Jesus fills it to overflowing. We arrive at the wedding at Cana of Galilee not as guests, but as the host who knows what it is like to be embarrassed, disappointed, and ashamed. He makes something new. It is, after all, the third day, the day of resurrection. The day of new life.
Jesus is great to have around when the party seems to be over. He is the person you want around when the situation looks shameful. When the joy is diminishing, invite Jesus over. If your cup seems empty don’t try to tell Jesus how to fill it. He knows better than we do on what we need. We may think all we need is for things to get back to normal. But Jesus comes and offers a new way.