John 2: 1-11
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.
(John 2:1-11 NIV)
This apparently simple story – the Bacchic alchemy of turning water into wine – is actually rather odd. Jesus, his mother and the disciples are invited to a wedding, but we do not know how they were related to the bride and groom, indeed the bride and groom do not appear in the story at all. The wine runs out and Jesus’s mother (she is not named as Mary in this story, or in fact in the whole of John’s Gospel) asks her son to do something about this faux pas. Jesus replies that it is not the time or the place– but then apparently acquiesces to his mother’s request and so his ministry begins, not with a landmark speech or a public healing but in helping his family deal with a social embarrassment.
Beyond these oddities, this “first” miracle occurs only in John, leading people to think that its inclusion must have a special meaning in this meaning-laden Gospel.
To try to uncover this special meaning we can view the story from the perspectives of the different protagonists:
“Mary” is the catalyst for the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. It is not God or John the Baptist, but his mother. It is in response to her appeal for help that his work begins. Jesus’s ministry is a response to basic human needs.
The Master of the Banquet – this man is normally in charge, he is the master of ceremonies, the maître d’hôtel, but he has no idea what is going on – he thinks the wedding party have deliberately saved the best wine till last. This is a familiar Gospel theme – those in power and authority are the last to see the big picture.
Instead it is the Servants who are the first to know that something remarkable is happening.
“The Master did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.”
This is a classic reversal of the normal order of knowledge and power which we see throughout Jesus’s ministry.
So we can see that the events at Cana fit within some established Gospel themes but what does this tell us about Jesus himself?
His reluctance to begin his ministry is human and touching in its modesty. Jesus is presented as someone to whom his messianic mission comes as an obligation even a burden rather than following expectation, let alone ambition.
We get some further insights from today’s other scripture readings – Genesis 14 gives us the famous “vignette” about Melchizedek, a priest of God most high, who brings out bread and wine to Abraham, and so is seen as a precursor of Jesus as both the first priest in the Bible but also someone identified with bread and wine, the elements of the Eucharist.
The wedding at Cana – where Jesus provides the wine – is also seen as a precursor of the passion narrative (both the Eucharist and the crucifixion); here Jesus miraculously provides wine where later he will provide his own blood. Interestingly John excludes most of the miracles which are found in the synoptic Gospels – but he does include the feeding of the 5,000 – where Jesus provides the other element, the bread.
The other symbolism seen in the wedding at Cana stems from the mystery of the missing bridal party. In their absence Christ comes to be seen as the bridegroom himself and we, his people, are his bride. So, at the beginning of his ministry, Christ is embarking on a new and intimate relationship with his people – like a marriage. This echoes ideas of the relationship with God as being like a marriage in Isaiah and Hosea.
This is also the metaphor which we see in our reading from Revelation 19:
“For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
And then later in the same passage the two ideas are brought together –
“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”
Perhaps not surprisingly, these are the very words used to introduce the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions to this day –
“Behold the lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the word. Blessed are those that are called to his supper.”
So there is a lot going on here – but what does it mean to us?
It reminds us that God will provide all that we need – better than we might imagine possible.
It reminds us that things are not always as we expect – that we have to listen to the weaker members of society to see things from their perspective as they may know more than we think, more than us.
It reminds us to be on the lookout for people giving us special messages, a divine nudge in the direction where we should be travelling. That sometimes others’ need for us will dictate our ministry, and that it may, therefore, begin earlier or differently than we have imagined.
It invites us to join with Jesus in the Priesthood of Melchizedek – sharing bread and wine and giving thanks to God.
And finally it offers us the opportunity to begin a new and intimate relationship with Jesus, a lasting and supporting one, like the very best of marriages.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank you for the message of your servant John. For the wisdom and insight it brings. We thank you for the intercession of Mary who brought Jesus to us. We thank you for the ministry of your son Jesus who fills our lives to the brim with his love and compassion. We thank you for this community and this congregation, for the opportunity to come together and celebrate by breaking bread in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we begin this day a deeper and closer relationship with him. We ask these things in the name of your son, our saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen
Chris Hancock 22nd January, 2012