John 2:1-11 (NRSV)
The Wedding At Cana
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When 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 10 and 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.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
This passage has always baffled me. When you compare this miracle to the many others that Jesus performs it can seem frivolous or unimportant. Why does John include Jesus turning water into wine when he is capable of healing people, calming storms, and raising people from the dead? None of the other Gospel writers saw fit to include it so why did John?
And yet, whenever I teach my students about Jesus’ miracles, this miracle is always the one that stands out in their mind. They are fascinated by the dynamics and humanity of this moment of Jesus’ life. They consistently mention it before any of the other miracles we discuss. Jesus restocking the wine at a wedding might seem unimportant but Jesus did nothing without purpose and intention.
One of the reasons this miracle is important is that it is his first. Despite declaring that his hour has not come, he follows his mother’s wishes. Apparently not even Jesus could say no to his mother! What’s even more astonishing is that, after making her request, she completely ignores his response and presumes he will do as she asks!
This first miracle takes place at a wedding, something that is commonplace and familiar in our culture and yet would have been dramatically different in Jesus’ world.. Their weddings would have lasted a whole week and this moment happens on the third day. By running out of wine, the hosts would have had no refreshment for the rest of the celebration, something that would have brought great shame in a culture where hospitality was so important.
In typical Jesus fashion though, he doesn’t just make wine, he teaches. As I reflect on the passage, there are two things that stick out. One is about how the events unfold. The other is about the words that are exchanged.
When Jesus transforms water into wine, he takes something completely ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary. I love the idea that at a party he’s not watching people’s behaviour and judging what they do. He uses his miraculous power to keep the party going. He takes joy in the ordinary event that is community and through that something extraordinary happens. I think this is something that so often happens in our lives but we miss because we’re not aware of it. Those attending the party weren’t aware of the transformation that was happening behind the scenes. It was the servants who were witnesses to the miraculous which should remind us that, when we chose to serve, we can see things happen that we never believed were possible. The ordinary can be extraordinary, if we shift our focus from what others are doing to the beauty and goodness of what is happening within them and within us.
Then we read how the steward reacts to the new wine: “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.”
Usually at weddings, the good wine was served first so that drunken guests won’t notice the deteriorating quality of the wine. Jesus is saying the opposite will happen through him. This first miracle promises us that, no matter our circumstances, the best is yet to come.
The world is on a trajectory for good, even when the evidence around us shows the opposite. There is hope in this message in a world that can often seem so bleak. There is always hope, and the best wine is yet to come.
Christina is a music and religious education teacher who was recently made chaplain in East Glendalough School in county Wicklow. She is currently working on an MA in Chaplaincy Studies at Dublin City University in between episodes of The Good Place and the Great British Bake Off.