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A wedding in Cana (January 24, 2016)

Scripture passage and lesson focus: John 2:1-12 

This well-known story from the Gospel of John is most frequently heard at weddings. That is certainly understandable and appropriate. However, this account has much deeper implications than its setting at a wedding would suggest. It is important to recognize the symbolic and theological meaning the evangelist has subtly — but clearly — embedded in what seems like a simple tale.

John 2:1-2 — Jesus attends a wedding
John places the wedding at Cana “on the third day.” This could be after the days mentioned in John 2:35 and 43, or it could assume a two-day journey from the Jordan valley to the village of Cana located approximately nine miles north of Nazareth.

John notes that the mother of Jesus was there without naming her. Jesus and his newly called disciples were also invited, perhaps because it was the wedding of a family friend or a relative. Jewish weddings could last for up to a week and it was customary for the guests to provide gifts such as food or wine.

John 2:3-5 — Wedding wine runs out
The mother of Jesus came to him with a problem: The wine supply was depleted. It is not clear what she expected Jesus to do about it. She probably was not asking for a miracle since Jesus had not yet performed any miracles. She may have been reminding him that as a guest he should have brought some wine. The reply of Jesus, “woman,” was not disrespectful, but the normal way for a married woman to be addressed at the time. Jesus literally says “What is it to me and to you?” Jesus is saying in effect, “That is not our problem.”

Then Jesus adds a theologically important statement: “My hour has not yet come.” This can only be understood in the broader context of John’s Gospel, where Jesus’ hour is mentioned 26 times. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ hour is the decisive time of his death, resurrection and ascension (see John 12:23-24; 13:1; 17:1-2). It is the kairos moment when God is glorified in the final days of Jesus’ redemptive ministry.

The mother of Jesus must have sensed that Jesus would do something to solve the problem. She instructed the servants to do what ever Jesus told them to do.

John 2:6-10 — Water into wine
Jesus noticed six large stone jars. The contents of stone vessels were considered pure according to the Levitical laws because in contrast with clay jars, stone does not absorb impurity (cf. Leviticus 11:33). These jars were very large, each holding between 20 and 30 gallons. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water. Then he told them to take some of the contents (now changed into wine) to the person in charge of the wine supply.

To the wine steward’s surprise, what he tasted was very good wine. He told the bridegroom that there must have been a mistake. Normally the best wine is offered at the beginning of the feast, he said, before the guests have become too drunk to notice the quality of the wine. But in this case, the best wine had been served last.

The comment of the wine steward demonstrated that Jesus had miraculously turned the water into wine — and lots of it! Such an amazing deed was not unknown in the Hellenistic culture of Jesus’ time. The power to change water into wine was attributed to the Greek god Dionysus. Some scholars have suggested that John’s story of the wedding at Cana was influenced by the cult of Dionysus.

John 2:11-12 — Jesus’ miracle is a sign
John’s story of the wedding at Cana differs significantly from stories about Dionysus. He does not provide details about the techniques and the magical “wow” factor of the miraculous deed. Commentator Raymond Brown says that John’s account is “untypical of the atmosphere of the Hellenistic wonders. John does not tell us how or when the water became wine but reveals the miracle almost as an aside.” Instead, John says the miracle should be seen as a sign that points to something beyond itself. Jesus’ miracle is an epiphany of God’s glory. As a result the disciples believed in Jesus.

For discussion
What is the meaning of “glory” in verse 11? (cf. John 1:14) What is the relationship between miracles and faith? Are miracles a sufficient basis for faith? (cf. John 2:23; 4:48-53) In a society where the use of alcohol has ruined so many lives, would it be better to believe that Jesus turned water into grape juice?