It is sometimes, if not typically, the case with a biblical text that one can draw multiple points from it that we can learn from and which shape our understanding of our faith. This is especially the case with our Gospel reading for today, of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. There are a number of points or sub-points we can draw from this passage without getting to what I think is perhaps the main point. So let’s see how that goes now with this story of “The Wedding at Cana.”
Here we have Jesus, going to a wedding at Cana in Galilee, not that far from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, or from Capernaum, where he essentially made his home and his base for his ministry. And not only is Jesus there, but so are Mary, his mother, as well as his disciples. And a few main, obvious themes or motifs going on here include: That he is at a wedding, his reticence to get involved, and his eventual miraculous “sign” of turning water into wine.
One conclusion we could draw from this is that Jesus is affirming the institution of marriage. That he is blessing this marriage by his presence, and by supporting the festivities by supplying more wine. And thus, by extension, Jesus continues to be present at Christian weddings and blesses Christian marriages to this day. That is true, and one potentially valid takeaway from this reading, but there’s more.
I mean, it’s John’s Gospel, there’s always more to it than that.
There’s also the interaction with Jesus’ mother. She finds out that the big wedding celebration, which, by the way, would last for days–she finds out that they have run out of wine. That’s a disaster in the making. It would be an embarrassment to the couple and their families to run out of wine at a celebration of this magnitude. So Mary goes to her son, Jesus, and asks him if he can do anything about this. Apparently, she realizes that her son has the authority and the power, from God, to be able to do something in these circumstances. So she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” It shows Mary to be a model of faith, a role model for the church. Would that we all had the faith of Mary to say about Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Next, the miracle itself. Jesus tells the servants to pour water into some jugs, actually a great deal of water, and–poof!–wine! So Jesus turns water into wine, and, there you go, no more wine shortage. What we see is that Jesus clearly has power from heaven to do this mighty miracle. No one else could do this. Jesus is at least, minimum, a prophet sent by God.
But there’s one almost insignificant detail to this story that is missing from all of what we’ve already discussed. Which makes sense for John’s Gospel, that there is a deeper meaning at play which is found in the small details of the story. And here is it: John writes, “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
And the fact that this made 150 gallons of wine is only incidental to the point here:
He says that these are six stone water jars used “for the Jewish rites of purification.” Now, he didn’t need to mention that, but he does. The jars to be filled with wine are water jars for Jewish rites of purification.
The Jews would have various self-ablutions, various washings, to render themselves ritually clean and to get rid of certain types of uncleanness. And with these, they often would go even beyond what God had commanded for Israel. We read elsewhere in the gospels, that the Jews, the Pharisees, would have particular washings–hand-washing, for instance–to make themselves clean. Thus the presence of these six stone jars for ritual purification.
It will be helpful to remind ourselves of two other places in Scripture where wine is a significant part of the story.
The first is a parable about putting new wine into old wineskins. In response to a question about why John the Baptist’s disciples fast while Jesus’ disciples eat and drink, Jesus replies that while he is present here, in this life, it is like a wedding banquet. And furthermore, he told a parable that that no one puts new wine into old wineskins, because the old wineskins have become brittle with age and will break if unfermented wine were put into them.
So in this context, wine is a metaphor for the paradigms of the traditions of the Pharisees compared to the life-giving teachings that Jesus was sharing with those who would listen to him. Wine symbolizes the good news that Jesus preached and the life that he came to give.
And second, wine is one of the central elements of the final meal that he shared with his disciples, when he took the cup, blessed it, and shared it with his disciples saying, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”
So here we have wine as a symbol and sacrament of the blood of Christ, and the life that was given in order to bring peace between God and humanity, healing the rift that existed between us and God.
Thus we see, that when Jesus turned water into wine inside these jars that were used for purification, we see more fully what’s going on in the background here. That the death and resurrection of Christ is for our purification from evil and from sin. That so early on in Jesus’ ministry, that his first miracle and sign in John’s Gospel, is telling us not only that Jesus has been given power by God to do such things, but that it prefigures and points us forward to a greater reality, that Jesus has come to bring our purification, our sanctification, our being made whole again, through the power of God and through the life of Jesus Christ.
And with this cleansing, this forgiveness, this purification that only Jesus can provide, what is the result? The answer: Life. And joy. And celebration. Think of it. Where do life and joy and celebration all come together most beautifully in human experience? At a wedding. Here are two lives joined into one.It’s about the most joyous kind of celebration we have in our experience. It’s a great party. There is wine to gladden the heart. And in Jesus’ time, the joy and the feasting and the celebrating went on for days. It’s no wonder that Jesus so often in his teaching compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast, a wedding banquet.
May this be the same reaction, this celebration, be the same reaction that we have to the life and joy found in the purification of our hearts brought to us by Jesus the Christ.