Jesus’ first sign is turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Jesus, Mary and Jesus’ newly called disciples are all in attendance. Horror of horrors, the hosts of the wedding reception run out of wine. Mary realizes the problem, and perhaps she can relate as a hostess who would want to be spared such embarrassment in front of the gathered community. She says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Note that Mary does not ask Jesus to fix the problem. She simply tells her son, “They have no wine.” Jesus then responds cryptically: “What’s it to you or me? My hour has not yet come.” Huh? How does Jesus’ response relate to Mary’s statement? Then Mary instructs the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Why? Jesus just said “So what?” about the lack of wine. Now Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. How does this sequence of events go together? The editor in me wants to send this manuscript back to John and ask him to smooth out the transitions and help the reader make the connections. But then Jesus does instruct the servants. Suddenly, the problem that he said was not his problem, he now makes his problem. The servants follow Jesus’ directions and the crisis is averted. Wine flows in abundance. Really good wine flows in abundance and only Mary, Jesus and the servants know its source. The party keeps going, Jesus’ glory revealed to the brand-new disciples who believe in Jesus as a result.
I have so many questions about this story. Who was getting married? Why was Jesus invited? Did the disciples know the bride and groom, too? Did Mary know Jesus would do something about the lack of wine or was she simply making an observation? Why did Jesus change his mind about acting? Did the servants tell anyone what happened? Did the disciples see the sign or just hear about it later and believe? Why did Jesus do this miracle as his first sign? It seems trivial compared to healing people, feeding people and raising someone from the dead. Was running out of wine really an emergency that needed divine intervention? (Some days I think so.) Given that the disciples believed in Jesus as a result of this sign, how does reading about it now impact our belief in Jesus?
The first sign gives us insight into Jesus’ character and ministry. Jesus attends a wedding. The Son of Man, having called his first disciples, on the cusp of his public ministry, attends a wedding. Does he not have more urgent matters to address? He has come to save the world, but he takes time to attend a wedding with his mom and his first followers. I am so thankful for this scene in John because it reminds me that our life’s milestones matter to Jesus. Weddings and births, graduations and birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and reunions, gatherings of family and friends — these are holy occasions. God is present, marking the transition, remembering the set-backs, rejoicing in the hard-won progress and enhancing the celebration even when we do not note his presence or contribution. This first sign reminds us that Jesus marks our milestones with us.
The first sign reminds us that Jesus acts — not just in big, expansive, redemption of the world ways, but in the daily exchanges of life. What caused him to change his mind at the wedding? Perhaps he was moved by his mother’s concern or maybe he looked around and decided that he could do something so he would do something. Maybe he thought it helpful for these new followers to know that their intuition about him was well founded. It could be that he thought the servants needed to witness a miracle as they went about their demanding work. Regardless of why, Jesus did act that day in Cana. He intervened in ways that brought joy. Jesus still acts in life-giving, joy-evoking ways. Jesus saves the world and Jesus cares for each of us. We, too, witness miracles that bolster our faith at just the right moment. The Lord of all intervenes, intercedes and acts on our behalf. We can believe this because of his actions at the wedding at Cana.
The first sign shows us that Jesus is not miserly or calculating. He does not seek out the person responsible for the wine. He does not need to know who didn’t order enough or who made a mistake. He does not ponder if the hosts are worthy of this fine wine. He does not turn just enough water into just drinkable wine. His generosity is over the top. He turns all the filled-to-the-brim jugs of water into good wine. I wonder what it would be like to think this way in our church meetings? Or in our conversations about our giving? Or in our relationships with others? What if we didn’t do the bare minimum, but sought to go over the top – to the point it may even look gratuitous – with our compassion and love and sharing? Jesus is grace upon grace. We see that in this first sign in Cana.
The first sign reveals that Jesus does not seek glory for glory’s sake. All he does points to who he is so that others can see and believe in God. It does not matter that the whole gathering of people did not know the source or the story behind this fine wine. The servants know. Mary knows. The disciples believe. Others will believe in time and some will refuse to see. No matter what, Jesus will continue to do the work that his Father sent him to do and the glory that comes in its wake reveals who has the eyes to see and who does not.
I have so many questions about this story, but contained within the story are some critical answers about who Jesus is and what his ministry entails. This first sign helps me believe that Jesus cares deeply about both the moments and the milestones in our lives, the details and the days we will never forget. Jesus is not only present, Jesus acts, giving us signs of his grace upon grace. Sometimes we may not recognize the source of the unexpected fine wine or the compassionate exchange or the new opportunity or the longed-for reconciliation, but we can believe that Jesus intervenes on our behalf. Jesus acts in life-giving, joy-evoking ways. Jesus acts with over-the-top generosity toward us. We may well hoard our forgiveness or store up wealth for ourselves or calculate who is worthy of our help, but Jesus does none of that. He pours himself out, he fills our cups to the brim and over, he feeds the entire crowd with baskets left over, he forgives the very ones who murder him. This first sign is foreshadowing of all the ministry that will soon follow: ministry of healing, feeding, storm-calming, life-giving, grace upon grace. Disciples then and now see such glory, and believe in him.
- What do you make of the exchange between Mary and Jesus? Do you think Mary expects Jesus will intervene? Why or why not?
- Why do you think only some people in the story are privy to the miracle?
- Is seeing believing or believing seeing?
- Have you ever experienced a sign from God? When has God acted in your life?
- What can we learn about discipleship from this story? How does our character and ministry emulate that of Jesus in this story?
- What difference would it make to picture Jesus attending your family or church celebrations?
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