Wedding at Cana
Wedding at Cana
June 15, 2008
The German composer Johannes Brahms was invited to the home of a great wine connoisseur for dinner. After dinner, the connoisseur had some of his choicest bottles brought up from the cellar. He dusted off one cherished and well-aged bottle and carefully dispensed a few ounces into the composer's glass. "I want you to know," the host said as he poured, "that this is the finest bottle I own." Brahms lifted the glass to the light, examined its clarity, inhaled the bouquet, then took a sip.
The connoisseur waited for Brahms' comment — but Brahms set the glass down without a word.
"That wine is the Brahms of my cellar," the host added, intending to compliment both the wine and his distinguished guest. "How do you like it?"
"You'd better bring out your Beethoven," Brahms replied.
As we open chapter 2 of John's gospel, we find the well-known event when Jesus took ordinary well-water and miraculously transformed it into wine — and not just any old wine, but a wine worthy to be called the Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach of anyone's cellar! As famous as this story is, there are new depths of meaning in this story that we can apply to our lives today.
Please turn in your Bible to John, chapter 2 and we’ll read from verse 1 through to 12: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said* to Him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said* to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." His mother said* to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said* to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim. And He said* to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called* the bridegroom, and said* to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.
Thus begins the story of the first miracle of Jesus. The scene has shifted from Judea, where John the Baptist was baptizing in the river Jordan, to the town of Cana, seventy miles north, in the region of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples have walked this entire distance with Jesus’ mother Mary, to attend a wedding feast..
John begins his account of this miracle with the words, "On the third day . . . ." It is rather significant that John mentions the "third day." John is referring, of course, to the third day after Jesus left Judea. It was a two-day walk to Galilee, and they would have arrived on the morning of the third day. John made particular mention of the third day because it had symbolic meaning. Remember that John the apostle wrote his gospel much later than the other gospels were written — some thirty or forty years after these events took place. By then he had opportunity to review the events that he and the other gospel writers had been teaching and preaching about for all those years and to select from his memories those things that were the most significant or those things not mentioned in the other gospel writings. John’s content is 92% unique. There is a great economy of language in John's writing, and we can be sure that if he includes a fact or detail in his gospel, he does so for a reason.
John's reference to the third day is not literal. It alludes to the three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Even in the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament there is a reference to the third day as the day Israel would be spiritually healed and returned to her Lord. Here, then, is the first hint of the significance of the first miracle — the miracle when Jesus changed water into wine. It was to be a miracle of transformation, a miracle of new life.
The occasion of this miracle was a wedding — a Middle Eastern wedding. Weddings in the Middle East are very different from our Western affairs. In Western weddings, the bride is the prominent figure. When she enters, clad in all her glory, the whole congregation stands and the organ thunders, "Here comes the bride" and every eye is focused on her.
But in Middle Eastern weddings, the theme is, Here Comes the Groom! The groom is the featured attraction, and the bride merely shows up for the wedding. Not only is the groom the featured person, but he also pays for the whole affair! (As the father of three daughters, I have been trying to introduce that custom into our culture, but it has not taken hold yet!) Some Middle Eastern weddings go on for two or three days, or even a week, and the relatives on both sides of the family join together for a big, long, loud — and expensive! — celebration. That is the kind of wedding John is talking about here.
As Mary figures rather prominently in this story, it may well be that this was the wedding of one of Jesus' younger brothers or sisters. It may have even caused a bit of a complication when Jesus showed up at the wedding with five disciples who weren't on the guest list! He had just called these men to himself, and they had then walked two days from Judea. Obviously, Jesus had no way to phone or fax word that He was bringing a few friends to the party. So they just showed up.
As is usually true in the culture of the Middle East, no one seems to mind a few extra guests. Hospitality is a cardinal virtue in that society, and people are always willing to put a little more water in the wine and see that any unexpected guests are well cared for. So the disciples arrived with Jesus as unexpected — but welcome — guests.
That explains, of course, why the wine ran out. A two- or three-day celebration calls for a fair amount of wine, and five or six extra people can put a strain on the supply. Mary seized the occasion to say — very significantly! — to her son Jesus, "They have no wine." She does not ask Him to do anything about it. She simply informs Him that the wine has run out.
Some Bible scholars suggest that what she meant is that Jesus and His disciples ought to leave. In other words, Mary may have been hinting that the disciples were unwanted additions to the marriage feast, that they had strained the hospitality of their hosts and ought to leave.
Others say that Mary did not expect any miracle at this time because Jesus had never done any miracles before. And that, of course, is quite true. There are apocryphal gospels (that is, fanciful accounts of Jesus' life which were not accepted into the canon of Scripture, and with good reason) and some of these apocryphal gospels speak of Jesus doing miracles as a boy. In one story, for example, the boy Jesus and His friends were making toy pigeons out of clay. But when Jesus finished His pigeons and waved His hands, they flew off into the sky. There is no question that this and other such apocryphal stories are pure fantasy, for John clearly says, in verse 11, that this is the first miracle Jesus performed.
However, as other Bible scholars imply, this account demonstrates that Mary expected Jesus to do something to help. Personally, I believe she did in fact expect Him to do something startling and supernatural. Certainly, by this time, Mary's expectations of Jesus had been greatly awakened. She had probably been told of what happened in Judea — how Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, how the heavens opened and a dove lighted on Jesus' head, and how a voice uttered those remarkable words, "This is my beloved Son." (Jn 1:32 & Matt 3:17) She remembered the promises that were given to her by an angel, when she was told that her son would be the Messiah.(Luke 1:26-38)
If you had been a guest at the wedding in Cana, do you think you would have known what was going on? Would you have had the eyes and the heart to see? Or would it have been just another wedding?
Not that weddings were drab affairs. A wedding was a significant event, just as it is today, especially if you are the parents of the bride and you are paying all or most of the tab. Take my word for it: there are no inexpensive weddings. Many have tried. It cannot be done. But don't feel sorry for yourself about the high cost of modern weddings. The wedding in Cana must have been far worse on somebody's checking account. This wedding in Cana probably lasted seven days. Seven days of eating and drinking. Think of what that must have meant to a peasant farmer whose daily fare consisted of some bread, olive oil, cheese and water because that's all he could afford.
It must have taken that poor guy years and years of sacrifice and savings to put on a wedding, because a wedding was a time when there was meat and food for a week. A wedding was a time of feasting. The dull, drab diet of bread and cheese was replaced this week with a banquet of meat -- and wine.
But every wedding has a crisis. It's got to, or it wouldn't be a wedding. One father writes, “In my daughter's wedding -- scheduled in a non-air-conditioned seminary chapel in upstate New York because summer is delightful in Rochester -- the temperature hit 104 degrees on our big weekend. Guests from England were fainting. Cakes and candles were melting. And the minister -- me -- started crying when it came time to read the vows to my daughter, the bride, bringing the whole thing to a stop for what seemed forever.”
So, as the stage is set for Jesus' first miracle, His mother Mary expects Him to act. Perhaps she doesn't know exactly what she expects Him to do, but she expects something. Why else would Jesus have answered in verse 4 as He did, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? my hour has not yet come.” Apparently Jesus knew Mary had expectations of Him! Along with all the other Jews of that day, she probably expects Him, as the Messiah, to claim the throne of David, to drive out the Roman oppressors, and to fulfill the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. (Those prophecies predicted miracles of healing, of peace, of the lion lying down with the lamb, of the desert blossoming like the rose.) Now that Jesus has taken the initiative and called His own disciples, she must naturally expect Him to assume His Messianic role and fulfill His destiny.
The fact that Jesus clearly understands her can be seen from that answer: "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" That is not a rude or disrespectful answer. In that phrase which in English is translated, "Dear woman," Jesus uses a common title of respect. It is the same term He uses from the cross when He says to Mary, "Dear woman, here is your son."
When He says, "Why do you involve me?" that is simply a Hebrew way of saying, "You don't understand." So what He is saying is not that He will not act, but that when He does act, it will not be in a way that she expects. He is telling her, in effect, "What I do will not accomplish what you are hoping for. It will not persuade the nation that I am the Messiah." Miracles were indeed part of God's plan. Miracles would be performed, but they would not convince the nation. Miracles are still part of God’s plan, and unfortunately they still fail to convince a nation. Everyday God reaches down to touch lives, answer prayers. Do you see them? Watch and pray the Scriptures say (Luke 21:36; Mark 14:38; Matt 26:41) Watch and stand fast! (Luke 21:36) Be vigilant and prayerful with thanksgiving (Col3:2).
Mary seems to be satisfied with Jesus’ response, for she says to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." I have a number of Catholic friends who pray to Mary, asking her to intercede with Jesus on their behalf. I often tell these friends that there is only one time in Scripture that Mary ever interceded with Jesus — and in the end, her message to the people around her was, "Do whatever He — Jesus — tells you to do." That is good advice.
But that is nothing next to what happened in the wedding at Cana! You see, at such a wedding as this, hospitality is everything. If you invite people to a wedding, hospitality demands that everyone have enough. Enough to eat. Enough to drink. When Mary, whom I suspect is related to the bride or groom, comes to Jesus and says: "They have no wine." We face more than a minor inconvenience to an otherwise festive occasion. Do you know what that means to this family? Disgrace -- that's what it means. To invite guests and not have enough means that this family is forever disgraced among its neighbors in a small town.
Notice the simplicity of this account. Everything was done with a quiet, simple dignity. Jesus said, "Fill the jars with water." And the servants filled them to the brim with a total of 120 to 180 gallons of clear, pure water. Then Jesus said, "Now draw some out, and take it to the master of the banquet."
There was no prayer, no word of command, no hysterical shouting, no laying on of hands, no binding of Satan, no hocus-pocus or mumbo-jumbo. Just a simple command and a simple action. Jesus did not even touch the water. He did not even taste it afterward to see if a miracle had occurred. He simply said, "Take it to the master of the banquet." The water simply became wine.
How did this happen? I believe it happened within the limits of natural process. Let me explain with an illustration.
During the Depression of the 1930s, when everybody in the country was trying to make their meager earnings go as far as possible, many people were easy prey for con-men. A common fraud that was perpetrated on the gullible was the Gasoline Pill. The con-man would demonstrate how the pill worked by letting the "mark" (the person to be defrauded) drink from a jug of water. Then the con-man would drop a Gasoline Pill into the jug and would launch into his patter about how this amazing little pill was going to put all the oil companies (which were charging the extortionate rate of 20 cents a gallon for gasoline!) out of business forever.
The con-man would then fill the "mark's" car with gasoline from the "water jug" — and the car would run! What the "mark" didn't know was that, during the con-man's patter, the water jug was switched for one containing real gasoline. Many people who bought the phony Gasoline Pills ruined their engines when they filled their gas tanks with water!
The point is this: What the Depression-era con-man claimed to do was far more miraculous than changing water into wine. Chemically, water and gasoline have absolutely nothing in common. Gasoline is a volatile, flammable, man-made liquid — a complex chemical distilled from crude petroleum, rich in carbon atoms. By contrast, water is a natural, abundant, simple compound made of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen. Regardless of what magical pill you put into it, a gallon of water does not contain the raw materials to make gasoline. There is no magical pill that can turn hydrogen atoms or oxygen atoms into carbon atoms.
But the miracle that Jesus performed when He turned water into wine is a miracle that goes on every day in nature. Visit any vineyard in any part of the world, and you will see this miracle going on. The grapes grow month by month as they take water up from the soil. As the grapes ripen and swell with water, they add natural sugar to the water. When the grapes are gathered and crushed, the sweet flavored water — called "juice" — is released so that it can be fermented by the actions of natural yeasts. The result is a beverage — clear and fragrant — that is anywhere from 86 to 92 per cent water.
This is characteristic of the miracles of Jesus. They are compressed natural process.
In his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis has pointed out that every miracle of Jesus is simply a short-circuiting of a natural process. At Cana, the natural miracle that normally involves water, vines, grapes, sun, and fermentation over a period of months was compressed into a special miracle involving nothing more than stone jugs full of well-water. Lewis says, "Each miracle writes for us in small letters something that God has already written, or will write, in letters almost too large to be noticed, across the whole canvas of Nature."3
That is what Jesus does at Cana: As the Lord and Creator of all nature, He overleaps the elements of time, growth, gathering, crushing, and fermentation. He takes water — a commonplace inorganic substance — and without a word or gesture, in utter simplicity, the water becomes wine, a sparkling organic liquid, a product of living processes, belonging to the realm of life. Thus He demonstrated His authority — as God! — over the processes of nature. Jesus’ miracles transform nature.
Now, there are some who claim that Jesus didn't change water into real wine, that all He did was change it into very good grape juice! I consider that claim so ridiculous as to be hardly worth answering. They do not serve Welch's grape juice at Jewish weddings! They never have and they never will! Besides, would it be any less miraculous to transform water into juice?
Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find warnings against the overuse of wine and against drunkenness — a clear indication that the wine of that day was indeed an intoxicating alcoholic beverage. Wine was a commonplace drink, one that believers partook of along with everyone else in that culture. Our Lord certainly did transform water into real, genuine wine. And Jesus is still in the business of transformation, isn’t He? He Transformed you, didn’t He, from a child of this world into a child of heaven?
When did you first realize it? Where were you? How old? What happened that caused you to see, to know, to confess at some deep place inside -- that your own wine had run out? That your life wasn't working and would never work as a self-made project. When did you figure it out? When did you hit the wall with the truth about yourself: that your brains, your beauty, your money, your connections, your luck -- or whatever else it was that you were counting on -- was empty or impotent when you needed it the most.
Maybe you know those oft mentioned lines from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes: the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, or favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster" (9:11-12).
Or, as the Good News Bible puts it: "Bad luck happens to everyone. You never know when your time is coming," You never know when your wine is going to run out. When will it happen?
Do you get it? The Gospel writer is inviting us to become a detective. We are given a hint here, a clue there. "They have no wine." Are we supposed to hear those words as if they include us somehow? Is this story really about me -- and you?
The richest young man in America -- richest person, period -- recently said church was not part of his schedule. For Bill Gates it's a matter of efficiency. He said recently: "There is a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."
Well, who could argue that? If efficiency is the standard, then by all means, don't let yourself be held back. Get out there with Gates. Beat the competition. Make the deal. Climb that ladder. The New York Times recently ran an article noting that college students today are interested in grades, graduate school and success. The pay off is more money. Evidently they are not interested in learning. And they definitely -- according to the survey -- are not in college to become deeper, richer, more ethical, thinking, feeling persons. Too inefficient? Get out there and make a deal. Get out there and make your own wine. Do you remember now when it didn't work anymore for you? Or are you still making your own new wine? Give it up! Your journey thru life will have an eternal flow of new wine.
There is wine for the journey. Did you notice that the Gospel writer starts the story by saying, "On the third day?" This doesn’t add up! Chapter one adds up to four days, so how can chapter two begin that way. Chapter two begins on the seventh day, but this is not a seventh day story: This is a third day story -- a resurrection story. But it is even more than that. The story of the wedding at Cana, water changing into wine, is the whole Gospel of John in one scene. Details will follow but here it is in all its wonder and fullness and transformation power..
Now do you see it? There is enough transformation power to go around.. No, there is more than enough grace and love for all of us. An abundance. See? More than we would ever need. Grace flows in your life. And mine. Grace and love never run out. Many jars. Gallons and gallons. Hundreds of bottles. Plenty and more than plenty. More than we can carry. More than we can drink. More, certainly, than we ever deserve.
The miracle here is not that water was changed into wine. The real miracle is that regardless of what happens to us today or tomorrow; regardless of what losses we suffer; regardless of what hills we have to climb; regardless of what hurts we have to just endure -- the grace of God is inexhaustible. The miracle is that God takes ordinary people, ordinary things, ordinary events and changes them into new wine, and gives them to us as gifts of love and grace. Gifts that strengthen, encourage and heal. I cannot tell you what will happen in your life tomorrow. But whatever it is, God's grace and strength to face it will meet you on that day. And it is good wine, the best wine, inexhaustible, free-flowing, rich in flavor, abundant.
By the way, I saw you, each of you, in the painting! I did. You were painted into the scene. When Jesus said to the servant, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward" I saw you in the picture drawing out the wine and taking it to someone else, to share the gift of new wine..
That's what we do in church, isn't it? For one another in this place. And for one another in whatever place God puts us. You carry the wine from person to person to person. You see people take it: "This is the best wine ever. Where did it come from? How can I have it?"
That's the best part of the story, I've found. That's the part I like most. You and I are in the picture. We dip into the jar. Out comes the wine. We drink freely then ee take it to one another where surprise and wonder never cease. "Where did you get this wine?" The best thing about us is that we are the wine bearers, the ones who take this wine to someone else. And we get to tell them where it came from, and the benefits of drinking eternal wine..
I occasionally think of Robert Browning's words,
Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be,
The last of life
For which the first was made!
As I enjoy my family – laughter, sharing stories, making memories, I am experiencing God’s good goodness in my life. At such times the richness of God’s love comes over me and I whisper, “Father, you have kept the best wine for last.” This is the significance of this sign for me. Our Lord — the Lord of Nature, the Lord of Life — has taken the commonplace, ordinary moments of commonplace, ordinary people like you and me, and with His touch He gives our lives full flavor, fragrance, strength, and beauty. He transforms the mere water of our lives into wine — and an excellent vintage at that!
He will do this in the life of anyone who will faithfully walk with Him, follow Him, and believe in Him. If you think you have missed God's blessing for your life, just wait! Follow Him. Listen to Him. Obey Him. Live for Him. And remember: He saves the best for last!