Matthew, Mark and Luke begin with the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ unusual, or miraculous birth, but not John. John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John is into symbols and signs. The other Gospels all talk about the events of Jesus’ life, and John does too, but John has all these symbols for Jesus. Jesus is the Word. The Light of the World. The Way, the Truth and the Life. And Jesus shows us what God is like. ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ ‘I am the Bread of Life.’ ‘I am the grapevine and you are the branches…’ John talks a lot through symbols, and John is the only one who includes the wedding at Cana.
Luke starts out Jesus’ ministry with his ‘inauguration speech,’ when he goes to the synagogue and reads “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to announce freedom to captives, to help those who can’t see to see, and to let the oppressed go free.” Each Gospel writer chose a different aspect of Jesus’ ministry to showcase what they see as most important. For Luke, it was including people on the margins, helping the poor, announcing good news to people who didn’t have much good news.
For Mark, Jesus’ first act of ministry was exorcising a demon. Jesus had no time for evil, and in this case, it was specifically hurting someone. He didn’t allow it to continue, and when he found it, he got rid of it.
So, what does it mean, when John, (who’s into symbols), tells us that the first miraculous thing Jesus did, the first sign of what he and God were about, was to change water into wine at a wedding party? We might think, ‘That’s nice, Jesus kept the party going, and helped the wedding family to save face in a society that emphasized hospitality,’ but it was much more than that.
In that time and culture, wine was more than something fun to have at parties. It was a symbol of having enough at harvest time, of God’s taking care of them, and of joy and gladness. All through the Hebrew Scriptures, (the Old Testament), wine is a symbol of abundance, of hospitality, and of taking delight in life. It was a sign of God’s favor, having enough, and even more than you need. It was a blessing. So, running out of wine was not just humiliating for the family offering hospitality, it also showed that they ran out of blessings. They weren’t in favor with God.
Mary alerted Jesus to the problem, and Jesus rose to the occasion. I don’t know what to make of the “Woman, my hour hasn’t come yet” statement. Theologians argue back and forth about that. ‘He wasn’t being disrespectful to his mother; calling someone ‘Woman’ was a common way of speaking at the time.” “His hour wasn’t here yet. Maybe he thought he wasn’t supposed to do any miracles yet.”
One of the lessons for us in this passage could easily be that when we need something, not to be afraid to ask. This was important, symbolically, and there was the humiliation of the family to consider. But it wasn’t a life or death matter. I’ve heard people say things like, ‘I don’t want to bother God about this. It’s too small. There are people dying and children starving to death, and way more important things than this.” Yes, there always will be something more important than the problems that we are worried about. But Mary asked anyway. And Jesus never said, “Don’t bug me, I’ve got more important things on my mind.” He said something like, “I’m not sure this is the right time for this…” but he thought about it, and he did it.
Jesus talked several times about not being afraid to tell God about what we need. The Lord’s prayer is a good example. “Give us this day our daily needs…” Jesus went on to say, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches, finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk. 11: 9, 10). Story of the persistent widow. “And will not God grant justice to those who cry to him night and day?” (Lk. 18: 1-8)
Mary noticed and asked him to do something, and he did it. And what he did, was to make an amazing amount of extremely good wine. Scholars say each of those water pots would have held 20 or 30 gallons of water. Those who have done the calculations say that this was the equivalent of a thousand bottles of wine. I didn’t believe it, so I multiplied 6 jars by 30 gallons = 180 gallons, then googled, ‘How many bottles are in 180 gallons of wine?’ and in fact, 1,000 is pretty close. Google says 900. That’s an amazing amount of incredible wine!
The point is, that in John, the first act of Jesus’ ministry, when it looks like God’s blessing was in short supply – and the joy and delight and gladness was in short supply, was to provide an extreme abundance! This is what God thinks of us! This is how happy God wants us to be! This is what God intends for us.
It reminds me of our first reading from Isaiah, “You are a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord. God will call you, ‘My delight.’ God delights in you. As newlyweds who marry, that’s how God rejoices over us.” (Is. 62)
Jesus always brings people back into the relationship that God intends for us. He brings us into ‘right relationship,’ with others and with God. When people were sick, Jesus brought them back into the relationship that God intended: that of health. When evil separated people: in terms of oppression, classism, or prejudice, he rights it. He turns over the tables of the money changers in the temple. He got rid of any structures that let some people ‘in’ and left other people ‘out.’ He brought people back into ‘right relationship’ with others and with God, and that is what we call ‘the Kingdom of God.’
So, here in Cana, he did what he always did. He brought people back into right relationship. He showed us what God intends for us. Abundant blessing. Gladness. Living with delight. According to John, it was so important, it was Jesus’ first miracle. This, he was saying, is what God wants for us. Fullness of life, and fullness of joy. Amen.