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.”
“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time 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.”
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
—John 2:1-11, NIV
This passage is associated with Epiphany in both eastern and western Christianity and is traditionally read and expounded upon at that time.
A long time ago, I had to preach at a wedding. Now you may be surprised that I, a lay person at the time, was able to do that, but you won’t be any more surprised than I was back then! Anyway, before the service, the pastor got out his Bible and his service books and went over the service with me. In his denomination, like most other churches, there are two or three Bible readings assigned for each Sunday which are supposed to set the tone for the service and the topic for the sermon. The pastor explained to me that in his church, the normal gospel reading for weddings is the present passage about the wedding at Cana, but he conceded that it really wasn’t a very good choice, because the wedding was not the topic of the passage, but just an incidental background detail. In fact, it didn’t actually happen at a wedding, it happened at the wedding reception. The topic is changing water into wine, and the wedding stuff is just the venue. So he told me that if I wanted to use a different passage, I could select one and he would read that instead.
I told him that I was a guest in his church and that I would not insist on any changes, and that the “wedding at Cana” passage would be just fine. Then I observed that the reason the passage was assigned for weddings, even though it really only sideswipes the topic, is because it takes place after the only wedding in the New Testament that isn’t in a parable or a metaphor. There are no wedding ceremonies in the Bible.
The pastor was somewhat taken aback, because, even though that’s obvious, he had never noticed that before!
So now you know a good trivia question about the Bible.
Getting back to the scripture at hand, think about the following things that are in this passage:
Jesus went to a party.
Now I am not a party animal, and it would suit my sensitivities just fine if Jesus were a sourpuss and a party-pooper who shunned frivolous social gatherings, like some deeply spiritual but stern church people do. However, Jesus did go to a party, and there is no record here that He disapproved of the frivolity or the revelry, or that He sat with a frown in a corner like I do. Obviously, the people were having a roaring good time, presumably it was all clean fun; Jesus didn’t mind a bit and didn’t criticize it.
So I conclude from this that a dour life of denying oneself frivolous pleasures is indeed a good thing, but there’s no harm in parties either. I don’t like parties because I really don’t know what to do with myself. Someone always tells me to “loosen up” and “just be myself” and I always reply that I am naturally stodgy and wooden! I also don’t like parties because I have difficulties picking out only one conversation from the din. I spend all my time saying “Pardon me?” and “Huh?” and trying to keep my mind from drifting into other conversations. So I end up sitting by myself, lonely and bored.
So it would be real easy for me to take my own inadequacies and transform them into virtues. I could decide that the reason I don’t like parties is because I am such a holy Christian and as such I eschew superficial pleasures and find my joy in more serious one-on-one spiritual conversations, Bible study, and worship. Oh, if I worked on it real hard, I could work myself into a real sanctimonious lather!
But then I read about how Jesus went to a party and everybody had a good time, and I am rebuked in my sinful pride.
Jesus allowed Himself to be convinced to work a miracle that He wasn’t inclined to do.
You notice that Jesus worked the miracle even though He objected to it at first. His objection was not to the wine or to the party, but to the timing. He did not say, “But mother, they shouldn’t be drinking wine!” and He did not say, “But mother, they shouldn’t be partying like this!” What He said was, “It isn’t time for miracles yet.”
So this makes me wonder if we cannot upon occasion change God’s mind. I wonder (but I won’t make a dogmatic statement because I am not sure) if we cannot through prayer actually convince God to work His will a slightly different way. Well, in any event, I think this teaches us that we should persist in prayer, even against all odds. You never know. Maybe it is God’s will for Aunt Matilda to die on Thursday, but because of your prayers, He decides to delay it to Saturday so Cousin Fred can come and say good-bye.
By turning the water into wine, He prolonged the party.
Now if I do get hornswoggled into going to a party, I do attempt to join in the fun, but eventually I find that I can’t follow any of the conversations and I am left standing alone in the room. So I sit down by the side and envy everyone else. The host comes by, offering me refreshments and I turn them down. So they immediately become very solicitous, concluding from my wallflower seat and my refusal of alcohol that I might whip out a two-ton Bible and start assaulting the guests! I always have to explain that my reason for not drinking alcohol is because it gives me a horrible belly-ache and a splitting headache, and I that I’m always ill at ease at parties. And yes, I am religious, but no, I don’t sit in judgment over the party, I’m really wishing wistfully that I could have fun too, but I can’t. They don’t believe me and that compounds my social handicap, so you can see why I avoid parties.
So here is where Jesus really rubs it in. I mean, from the standpoint of a person like me who finds parties intimidating at best and threatening at worst, it’s bad enough He went to a party, but did He have to supply refreshments so the revelry could be increased and prolonged? Clearly I am left to reconsider myself and my attitudes. Jesus, once again, won’t allow me to make my shortcomings into virtues or to wallow in sanctimonious pride.
When Jesus did agree to make the wine, He didn’t mess around. He made the very best the bartender had ever tasted!
So treasure the gifts that God gives you. It might not be immediately apparent, as it was at Cana, but when God gives you something, it is the very highest quality—and I assure you that He didn’t get it off the bargain rack, it comes custom-made, special order, with all the options, and at a high cost. You should be more grateful, perhaps.
Problems and Objections
Why wine, of all things?
In the United States, the religious movements that evangelized the Midwest have a tradition of abstinence from alcohol. This is because alcoholism was a major social problem there in the nineteenth century. The crusaders against the ‘demon rum’ were not overreacting; they understood the problem and their actions were completely appropriate to their situation. Many of us come from backgrounds that still condemn alcohol consumption even in moderation. The wine is a problem for some people, but it wasn’t a problem for the people at the wedding reception in Cana. The social problems of the nineteenth century still lay far in the unimaginable future. Jesus, being fully incarnate as a first-century man, acted within His first-century context.
About that wine…
Some people are queasy about the alcohol and reason that it was new wine, which is nonalcoholic. That’s partly right. New wine is nonalcoholic, but it’s only available once a year right after the harvest, because it spoils easily. The ancient church had Communion every Sunday all year long, and the only way to do that with grape juice would be to wait 1,900 years for Mr. Welch to invent a method of canning it. They were too impatient to wait, so they used wine in Communion. Other people try to excuse the alcohol by theorizing that people back then drank wine because the water was bad, but that doesn’t even make sense. You can’t make good wine out of bad water. You can’t make good anything out of bad water.
In those days, and in that part of the world, it was considered barbaric to drink wine straight. People mixed the wine with water before they drank it. In a Lutheran, Episcopal, Orthodox, or Catholic mass, they continue this practice by mixing water and wine in the chalice—it’s not just the way things were done back then, it reminds us of the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side when the Roman soldier pierced it with his sword.
Wasn’t it disrespectful for Jesus to call His mother “woman”?
There is really no way to translate this to convey the same effect that it has in the Greek. In our culture, addressing a man as “man” is chummy (as in, “Hey man, what’s happening?” ) but addressing a woman as “woman” is definitely not. I can’t explain this oddity, but I know it is not the case in Greek. Actually, Jesus calling His mother “woman” had no more and no less affection in it than if His mother had called Him “man.”