The reflection on the Gospel of John 2: 1-11 Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 16, 2022

The Gospel of John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 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 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.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Let us Pray: Lord God, source of every blessing, you showed forth your glory and led many to faith by the works of your Son, who brought gladness and salvation to his people. Transform us by the Spirit of his love, that we may find our life together in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

The changing of water to wine is Jesus’ first public act, the inaugural “sign” of God’s presence in the world through him.

This story begins with the words “On the third day,” that is to say just three days after His baptism in the river Jordan, and His identification as the Lamb of God by John, Jesus performs His first recorded miracle. Jesus performed His first miracle, not at a funeral but at a wedding; not in the temple but in a private home. There is some symbolism in this Gospel. The “third day” language is suggestive as if it is of Jesus’ resurrection after three days, clues us into the symbolic nature of this particular miracle story. So does the wedding setting, as wedding and banquet imagery is used to symbolize this era. Jesus is portrayed in the Gospel of Matthew as the Groom. Also taking place at a wedding, is a symbol of God’s ongoing love and commitment for His people.

Present at the wedding are Jesus, his disciples, and Jesus’ mother, she is introduced first because of her prominent role in the story. As the wedding progresses the need arises, there is a lack of wine, which Mary reports to Jesus. Without explicitly requesting that he do anything, her telling Jesus they have no wine implies that she wants him to do something and that she believes he can solve this problem. How many times have our mothers explicitly asked us to do things? Jesus’ response to her sounds rude and harsh to us, but he is not being hostile to her. (And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?). Jesus often uses the greeting “Woman” to address women without intending any rudeness or hostility. The phrase “what concern is that to you and to me?” is a common Semitic expression that implies a sense of disengagement, not active hostility. The combined rhetorical effect of the greeting and this expression is to downplay the familial relationship between Jesus and Mary and create a sense of distance between them. The reason for this distancing becomes apparent in Jesus’ saying that his hour has not yet come. Jesus acts before he’s fully willing but not before he’s ready. Within the theology of John’s Gospel, no human being, not even his mother, can determine Jesus’ “hour,” God alone determines when and how Jesus’ “hour” becomes a reality in the world.

That Mary does not respond directly to him is a tacit agreement on her part that he is to take the initiative to act. Yet by telling the servants “Do whatever he tells you,” She demonstrates a trust in Jesus’ ability to address the need that has arisen. The disciples believe in Jesus after the miracle, Mary believes in the efficacy of Jesus’ word. She trusts that whatever he says will work.

Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone jars with water and bring a sample to the chief steward. The jars are made of stone because stone was said to keep water (used for the ritual washing of hands and vessels free from impurity). More important is the quantity they hold, a point the narration emphasizes with the details each held “twenty or thirty gallons” and that the servants “filled them up to the brim.” For the interpretation of this miracle, what matters most is that a whole lot of water becomes a whole lot of wine.

By the time the chief steward tastes it the water had become wine. Precisely when the miracle occurs is a mystery. Its occurrence is narrated as an aside “When the steward tasted the water that had become wine”. The chief steward is said not to know where the wine came from, while the lowlier servants do. Knowing Jesus as the source of abundance makes one an insider within the community of believers. The steward assumes it came from the bridegroom of the wedding being celebrated, but for John the real bridegroom present at the wedding is Jesus. The custom that the steward mentions of serving the good wine first, is known only from this text:  the steward called the bridegroom 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.” The new wine is superior to the old wine that had been served earlier in the celebration–a reminder and declaration that God’s timing is unfathomable, unpredictable, and sovereign.

The real bridegroom who served this superior wine, Jesus, has “now” appeared, ushering into the world God’s abundant goodness and grace in a definitive way. The miracle centers on wine because abundant wine is symbolic of God’s presence in the world.

The final verse tells us the miracle at Cana is the first of Jesus’ “signs.” It “revealed his glory,” and as a result “his disciples believed in him.” By referring to Jesus’ miracles as “signs,” John’s Gospel shifts attention away from the miracle itself toward the greater reality to which it points. This miracle confirms that the divine reality behind the miracle is more important than the miracle itself. The amount of wine that Jesus produces may seem like a humorous exaggeration to us, but this exaggerated amount is precisely why John introduces Jesus’ public acts with this story. God’s presence now fills the world “up to the brim.” As Jesus’ first public act, the changing of water to wine symbolizes the “fullness we have all received” through Jesus’ presence in the world.

Let us Pray: Lord, you take the ordinary things of life and make them extraordinary. May my life today be a sign of your glory. May we be attentive to signs we receive that may indicate that Jesus is with us.  When this happens, walk with Him and enjoy his presence. Amen.

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