By Rev. Mark Barber
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ public ministry begins with an appearance with His disciples at a wedding. It occurred in a very small village called Cana in Galilee. In modern terms, this village was located in West Podunk. It was a long way away from the majestic cities of the Roman Empire in time and place. It was a small town in a region of Palestine that even the more cultured Jews in Jerusalem looked down upon. These Jews called Galileans uneducated idiots in general. So Jesus’ public ministry began in a very obscure place.
As little and unimportant as Cana of Galilee was, a wedding was a big event for the village. Life in Palestine was hard. The workday was twelve hours long, and the daily wage was barely sufficient for the day laborer to feed his family. Every week, the Jew had to make the awful decision whether to work on the Sabbath day to feed his family or to be loyal to the Law given by Moses. Life was short as a result as bodies wore out under the strain.
So a wedding feast was an opportunity for joy. The feast lasted for a week, and it was the responsibility of the groom’s family to feed the guests and to provide the wine to make the hearts of the guests merry. The ability of the groom’s family to provide the wedding feast for their own village as well as for the bride’s village was seen as proof that the groom could provide for his new bride. So when the wine runs out during the feast it is more than a minor inconvenience. It was a crisis.
The text says that the mother of Jesus was there, and that Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding as well. The word “invite” is a little weak in translating the Greek as we consider invitations to weddings as a take it or leave it matter. It is actually closer to the word “summoned”. The fact that Jesus and his mother were there indicates that they were related to the wedding party. As Cana was not their village, it seems likely that they were related to the bride. When the groom had finished adding a room on to his father’s house and the wedding feast made ready, the groom and the best man would come to the village of the bride to claim his bride. Often he came at night by torchlight. The bride spent the time of the engagement preparing for the wedding and had to be ready to leave with her family at a moment’s notice as she did not know at what time her betrothed husband would come to claim her. Her family kept her up in an inner room to assure her purity.
So one day, the groom came to the bride’s village to claim her. And the village left off everything they were doing and came to the feast. They might not have known the way to the village they were going, but that was all right. The bridegroom had come to show them the way. So the bride and her family came to the feast. And with her came Mary and Jesus. The disciples came as a disciple was seen as part of the Rabbi’s family.
When the wine ran out, Mary was made aware of the situation. There were no wine stores one could go to to purchase more. If Mary was with the bride’s family, it would not have been her place to remedy the situation. The groom’s family was responsible to deal with this crisis. The bride’s family was to be provided for, not to provide. So when Mary came to Jesus, it was an act of grace on her part. The groom’s family was in no way deserving of being delivered from embarrassment. But Mary, who knew the circumstances of her Son’s birth came to Jesus. She knew that Jesus alone could solve the dilemma.
Jesus response to Mary’s statement that they had no wine “Woman, what is that to me?” seems rather rude at first. First of all, we would have expected Jesus to have called Mary “mother” rather than the formal and somewhat distant term “woman” or what we would use today, “ma’am” or “madam”. And the rest of the statement makes it sound as though Jesus is unconcerned about the groom’s plight and the shame it would bring upon his father’s house. Perhaps Jesus was reminding Mary that it was not His responsibility to remedy the situation as he was one of the guests who came with the bride’s family.
John, however, is fond of double meanings. As true as the immediate response may be in the current situation, the evangelist is implying more as well. John never mentions Mary by name in the gospel and refers to him as the “mother of Jesus”. And the only other time that Jesus addresses His mother is at the cross, and here he uses the same term “woman” to address her when he entrusts Mary to the care of John. Here he tells His mother that His “hour has not yet come”. Again, Jesus is saying more than He is not ready at this time to start performing miracles. The very fact that He goes on to turn the water into wine proves that. The term “hour “ is very significant in John and is used in context with the cross.
So what Jesus is probably telling His mother is similar to what Jesus tells Joseph in Mary after they find Him in the Temple after a three day search recorded in Luke: that they should have known that they should have found Him there doing His Father’s business. There he was declaring His independence from Joseph. Even though he submitted there and returned home with his parents, He had made it clear who His Father was, and whose will Jesus had come to do. Here, I think Jesus is telling His mother the same thing. Jesus had to remind her that He had to take His marching orders from the Father and not from His mother. Soon after this, Jesus would leave home for good with His disciples to fulfill His divine mission which would result in His sacrificial death on a cross and resurrection on the third day.
Mary who knew much about her son, does not seem to take this as a rebuke. She knows that Jesus will graciously intervene in the groom’s behalf, just like Jesus would later intervene for all who would believe on Him on the cross. Grace is undeserved favor to the guilty. It is to make one something that they are not and in no way deserve. The groom’s family deserved shame but found grace, the free gift of Jesus Christ the Son of God. In the same way, we who believe on Jesus deserved eternal shame but have been graced with eternal life. So she commands the servants: “Do whatever He tells you”. What wonderful advice for us to follow if we be Christ’s servants.
Jesus commanded them to fill six stone water pots which were used for the cleansing rites of the Jews. Together, this would have been in excess of one hundred gallons of water. Then he told the chief steward to draw some from the pots and bring it to the master of ceremonies to taste. This man was shocked at the quality of the wine and calls the groom to give him a mild rebuke. In effect, he was saying: “Why have you held this back from the guests? You are supposed to put the best wine first while people are fully able to appreciate the quality of it. When the wine has started to dull the senses, then you can put forth the Boone’s farm, and no one will notice or care.” This is the way the world does things. You can cut corners once you can get away with it. There is no reason to spend lavishly when you can get away with spending less.
Again, it seems to me that John is saying more than worldly rules of sham etiquette. The Jews could accuse God of holding Jesus back until last. They had tasted of the wine of the Law and had registered no complaint. After all, the Law too was the gift of God. Up until that time, it was the best wine available anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the wine of the Law had dulled their minds to the point that they were unaware that God had provided something which was vastly greater in both quality and quantity. As we have already read in John, “the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came in Jesus Christ.” John also mentions that the grace of the Law was replaced by the grace of the Gospel. The quality of the new wine was exquisite. The quantity of the wine was also more than the entire village could consume in the feast, many times over. The Gospel is bigger than one little backwoods village, or even the nation of Israel. He has provided the wine of his own blood and the bread of His own flesh for all the world from the beginning of this age to its end so that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
In this miracle, grace has transformed the groom and his family into something they were not. Instead of being shamed, they were seen as the most lavish providers, going far in excess of what was expected. In this same way, God has provided His grace on us who believe. We who deserved nothing but shame and rebuke are now lavishly provided for that we might share this joy with others. We shall remember this next week when we take communion what Jesus has done for us.
Jesus’ public ministry begins with a wedding. It was a wedding for a couple from a small remote village a long, long time ago. It is like a tiny grain of mustard seed. John also records another wedding at the end of the Book of Revelation, the wedding feast of the Lamb and His bride. Here, people not just from Galilee or even Israel are invited to come, but people from all nations shall be summoned. Here, we will not just be a special guest, but the bride herself. By God’s grace, the work of preparation will have been done in us at that time. All our blemishes will be cleansed, for God’s grace makes us exactly what we are not yet right now.
Jesus say in the Gospel of John that He goes to prepare that place for us, a room for the Lamb and His bride in his Father’s house. We could never make the journey there on our own. We don’t even know which way to even start to get there. If we point up, in which direction do those in Australia point if they point up. But we do not have to know the way, for Jesus is coming to escort us there. He knows the way to the City of God because he came from there to earth to be betrothed to His bride and returned to Heaven to make ready the feast for us. It is a feast in which there is room for all who will come, and wine that will never run out.
In the meanwhile, we have been called out from the world, even though we are still in the world. We are called to be prepared for that day. We do not know the day or hour our bridegroom shall return for us, but Jesus calls us to be always watchful. For this day we eagerly long for, even as the bride longs for the day she is joined to her beloved. Will you be there on that day?