Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Wedding at Cana

'Wine Barrels' photo (c) 2006, brian gautreau - license:

A couple of nights ago, I read John 2 which includes the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding.  I’ve been pondering why that story is included in the Bible, besides the fact that it’s just one of the episodes of Jesus’ life.  From what I can tell, the book of John would be pretty complete even without it.  Why does God want us to know about it?  I’m not a Bible scholar, but here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

1. Mary, the mother of Jesus, already knew that Jesus was special and could have done something about the wine situation.  Did she understand at that point that Jesus was the Messiah?  Did she know that He would have to die?  I don’t know and it’s not at all clear in the story.  But, she definitely knew that Jesus was different from her other sons.

2. Jesus also knew He was different.  I’ve often wondered when Jesus knew of His true identity.  Did He skip the “terrible twos” because He knew that He was perfect, even at age 2?  I have no idea.  Yet, Jesus didn’t ask his mother if she was crazy with wanting him to deal with the lack of wine.  Rather, He told her that His time had not yet come.

3. Jesus honored his mother.  He told her that His time was not yet come, but then did what his mother had asked.  Later in the gospels, Jesus tells people that they must be willing to give up even their family if necessary to follow Him.  I don’t think that Jesus did what his mother asked because He was still under her authority as a child – He was, after all, a 30 year old man.  However, by doing what she asked, He showed that He was willing to change His plans to honor his mother.

4. They were drinking wine.  I know this seems pretty obvious since the miracle is usually referred to as “changing water into wine.”  Anyone who grew up in a Southern Baptist church can tell you, though, that this is kind of a sticky passage.  If alcohol is the evil that the early 20th century temperance activists would have had us believe, then why does Jesus change the water into wine?  No, it doesn’t say grape juice, although I have heard this explanation.  In fact, in a time when there was no refrigeration, alcoholic beverages were often the safest things to drink.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the alcohol level was relatively low and not the 12% of most modern wines.  However, there was clearly some alcohol here because the master of the house was impressed because he thought that the bridegroom had saved the best wine till later when people were already drunk.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anyone drunk off grape juice, even the sparkly kind!

5. What hit me today was that Mary told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”  Well, no big deal.  This guy is going to tell us to run down to the corner store and get a few more kegs, right?  Uh, no.  Jesus had them fill up jars that were normally filled with water for guests to wash their feet.  I don’t know if people dunked their feet in the jars to get them clean or if they dipped the water out onto their feet.  In any case, I don’t think that these were “food-grade” containers.  You probably would not have chosen to drink water out of such a jar.  So, the servants must have been pretty skeptical of the whole thing.  But, they obeyed.  And the wine was better than what had previously been served.  The lesson here?  Jesus may ask us to do all kinds of things that are counterintuitive, but He’s God, and I’m not.  I may not always understand the outcome and may not always get wine out of the footwashing jar, but I can be like the servants in the story and do what he says.  (There’s no note about whether or not the servants complained or fussed, but it’s generally not good to fuss to the Creator of the universe.  Just sayin’.)  If I have a question on what to do, I can fall back on “Do whatever He tells you.”  When I’m unsure, the four gospels have lots of sermons and stories by Jesus, and they all boil down to the same thing: love.

6. So, why is this story even included in the Bible?  It’s really cool that some wedding guests in first-century Cana got some spectacular wine, but why was it worth using precious parchment and ink?  The answer can be found in verse 11: “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”  This episode was important because it was the first time that he was revealed as more than just a local carpenter.  It was also the event that convinced his disciples of his identity as Messiah – or at least got them started in that direction.  When I read back to the gospels, I see these miracles and think that they are pretty small potatoes compared to the resurrection.  Indeed, they are – to me, 2000 years later.  But, at the time, the host of the wedding thought this miracle was a really big deal.  I don’t understand why Jesus healed so many in Palestine in the first century, but left many more unhealed at that time, not to mention the millions of people who suffered before His coming and after His ascension.  But, for the three years of Jesus’ ministry, those who could get close to Him had a chance at healing – and it was a big deal for them.  This story of the wedding at Cana is the first piece of evidence that Jesus was more than just the carpenter from the next village.  It’s included in the Bible so we can see how He started in ministry.

7. This story also affirms the everyday joys of life.  Jesus participated in the normal celebrations of the community.  My life as a Christian includes these typical ups and down of living normal life with other people.  Jesus didn’t avoid these normal parts of life because He was busy with his ministry; this WAS His ministry.  He was involved in the lives of those around Him.

What do you think about this story?  What does it tell us about Jesus?

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