Water into Wine

Some have come to question God’s response to human suffering and have concluded all sorts of things about God’s character or even that there is no God at all. But this quiet miracle challenges that conclusion by suggesting that sometimes God works without taking out an ad in the paper. There was no thunder clap to herald this event. Remember, the only eye witnesses to this miracle were the lowest of servants whose task it was to fill the empty casks with water.  In the New Testament Jesus often does his work in a way that is misunderstood and misrepresented. 

 

Jesus was, at this point, fresh from the most disturbing personal conflict of his life.  His work lay ahead, a work full of intense strife, hazard and pain; yet pre-occupied with these things it is the joy of the marriage celebration of a country couple that gets his attention.  This most uncommon gesture of grace brings true joy to the most common place event in a simple couple’s new life together.

Water into Wine

 

John 2:1-11 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

The wine gave out.  Some actually suggest that it was nothing less than the consumption of wine by Jesus’ disciples who were unexpected guests that created the situation.  That Mary knew that they had run out of wine, a major family disgrace in the making, is something she could only have known as one with an intimate connection with the family of the bridegroom.  She evidently wished to relieve the potential embarrassment.  She turns to her eldest son and simply says: “They have no wine.”  That’s all.  There was no discussion, no blame fixing – just a plain statement. “They have no wine.” 

 

Jesus’ first responded with a question: “What concern is that to us?” And then he argued “My hour has not yet come.”  His mother doesn’t dignify Jesus reluctance by answering.  This interchange between mother and son raises a whole host of questions.  Had he himself observed the shortage of wine and was only waiting for a suitable opportunity to step in? What did his mother understand about this extraordinary son of hers?  Had he performed miracles previously and in private?  Had he not, in his recent experience with John the Baptist and the recognition by Philip, Andrew, Simon and Nathaniel, begun his self revelation as Messiah? 

 

Can you imagine Jesus saying “Mother, do you think I came to entertain family gatherings with party tricks,  provide alcoholic libations for these inebriates or to bolster the family reputation in the face of inadequate preparation?  Mary pushes her son to perform, to perform his first manifestation, in this public setting.  The time for extraordinary manifestations of his power had come. 

 

We are not used to seeing Mary in the role of a Jewish mother! Feminist anthropologist Margaret Mead, who in the 1950s persuaded the American Jewish Committee to fund research at Columbia University on  European-born Jews who had immigrated to the United States, is credited for our present day image of the Jewish mother. They reported that these mothers gave their children unshakable love but anchored it in “boundless suffering.” They retold this folktale: “A young man begs his mother for her heart, which his betrothed has demanded as a gift; having torn it out of his mother’s proffered breast, he races away with it; and as he stumbles, the heart falls to the ground, and he hears it question protectively, ‘Did you hurt yourself, my son?’”

 

If you want an accurate description of a true Jewish mother and thus Jesus’ mother you have to read the story of Sarah, the first matriarch in history. What made this first Jewish matriarch tick? How did she maintain her integrity through all the ups and downs of her and Abraham’s life – and there were many: from the brink of death in Ur through seeking the place to which God called Abraham, from the battles to the abduction by Pharaoh and Abemelech, from the challenges at home with Ishmael to the anguish of childlessness most of her life – Sarah never wavered from her innocence, her piety and her commitment.  A mother is – and therefore builds – life’s foundation. A foundation holds up the entire structure, but is undetectable to the eye. When trouble brewed at home threatening her son Isaac, it was Sarah, not Abraham, who insisted on a course of action with which he was reluctant to comply until God intervened and tells Abraham “Whatever Sarah your wife says you shall listen” (Genesis 21:12).  Interesting that we don’t seem to include that in most marriage ceremonies.  Sarah understood, with the intuitive knowledge that comes from the innermost depths of the soul that only a mother can understand, what is right for the future. At the time a true mother’s counsel may not always be appreciated.

 

Did Mary know that this first miracle would commit Jesus to a life of publicity which will end in his ignominious death?  In this instance she ignores his reluctance and protestations and turns to the caterers and tells them “Do whatever he tells you.”  And we are left to think that she rejoined celebration in complete confidence that Jesus would make everything right, good Jewish son that he was. 

 

But the wine had given out. The focus shifts to six stone jars that in total held about 120 gallons or more of water for the cleansing of hands and vessels. In the preparation for the wedding celebration they had served their purpose and had been emptied. The first direction Jesus gives to the servants is to fill them, which they did, to the brim.  No room left in these jars for any additives.  The second direction Jesus gives would give most of us pause were we in the shoes of the servants.  There was one person, a chief steward, an official whose task it was to regulate the course of the feast and the conduct of the guests.  It was to him to taste that the servants took the first of the water turned to wine drawn from the stone jars.

 

The chief steward impartially judged this wine as superior to that which had earlier been served.  What Jesus introduces, in comparison, stands above what was already in the world.  Empty vessels filled with the most ordinary of substances when blessed by Christ become most extraordinary.  Wine enough not for the party but for the whole community!  Grace manifests itself not in ceremonies of purification and unpractical displays but stands with the rough natural virtues, the courage, generosity and accessibility for which the practical affairs of life call. 

 

John writes: Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  It is one of the characteristics of John’s gospel that miracles are viewed as signs or object lessons.  The feeding of the five thousand presents Jesus as the bread of God, the strengthening of the impotent man presents Jesus as the giver of spiritual life.   When John says that by this miracle Jesus revealed his glory we want to ask what particular aspect of his glory was manifested here from a disciple’s point of view?  What was there that elicited the faith and reverence of Jesus’ closest followers?  Do the jars which served for the outward washings of Judaism now filled by Jesus with heart strengthening wine? Did the water represent all that is mere symbol in contrast to the spiritual and real?  Is this about the helplessness of the old economy that is to be replaced by the coming kingdom, “the wine has given out”?

 

Or is it much simpler than all that? 

 

It may not have been the most convenient time for Jesus, but because of the need of the guests and the request of his mother, he does what must be done.  That’s why he came. God is not aloof.  God is responsive to people’s needs. Even inconvenienced by the request, Jesus’ heart is larger than those stone jars. Some have come to question God’s response to human suffering and have concluded all sorts of things about God’s character or even that there is no God at all. But this quiet miracle challenges that conclusion by suggesting that sometimes God works without taking out an ad in the paper. There was no thunder clap to herald this event. Remember, the only eye witnesses to this miracle were the lowest of servants whose task it was to fill the empty casks with water.  In the New Testament Jesus often does his work in a way that is misunderstood and misrepresented. 

 

Jesus was, at this point, fresh from the most disturbing personal conflict of his life.  His work lay ahead, a work full of intense strife, hazard and pain; yet pre-occupied with these things it is the joy of the marriage celebration of a country couple that gets his attention.  This most uncommon gesture of grace brings true joy to the most common place event in a simple couple’s new life together.

 

In Christ, the very nature of glory is redefined. It is glory with a silent purpose and aim, to create and maintain faith in Christ Jesus who responds to human need in ways that seem hidden and mysterious, but whose deeds are open to the eyes of faith.

    

 

 

 

 

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