The gospel for the third Sunday of Epiphany (John 2:1-11) tells of Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. It is a simple but nuanced story. It includes a ‘shadow moment’ but in the end it is delightful and completely consistent with the time of Epiphany.
On the third day… after his baptism and calling his first followers: Peter and Andrew, Philip and Nathaniel…. a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
Mary and Jesus probably knew the parents as well as the bride and groom. They also knew that running out of wine would embarrass the hosts. Mary noticed this, approached Jesus and quietly drew it to his attention, before other attendees became aware. She understood that he would care about the feelings of the hosts. Furthermore, she believed that Jesus would be able to do something to correct the situation.
Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” While the Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect, a more natural form would have been to call her “mother”, so his words put a social distance between Jesus and Mary. It casts a momentary shadow on the story.
Jesus’ reason for rejecting her request was that his hour has not yet come. This is the first of thirteen references in John’s gospel to the hour, (or the time) by which Jesus indicated particularly his death and resurrection. The hour would become the focus of his relationship with the Father, most notably at the last supper when he told his disciples, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (John 12:23) and in the garden of Gethsemane, when he said, Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, (John 17:1)
(This distancing comment recalls the twelve year old Jesus telling Mary and Joseph, when they found him in the temple Why were you searching form me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s affairs? (Luke 2:49)
His statement in Cana about his hour draws a sharp line between his mandate to do the work of his heavenly Father and his obedience to his earthly mother. His words suggest that Jesus’ relationship with his Father existed apart from the world with his human mother.
A possible explanation for the change in their relationship is that his recent baptism and especially the coming of the Holy Spirit and the voice proclaiming Jesus as my beloved Son had awakened in Jesus a new sense of his mission and destiny. As well as Mary knew him, his baptism three days earlier and the descent of the Spirit (John 1:32-34) had transformed him …and their relationship. All the gospels point to John’s baptism of Jesus as the transition point from which his public ministry began. Perhaps Mary had not ‘caught up’ with the significance of that event.
It is also possible that he did not want to take attention away from the recently married couple or draw attention to himself. This was neither the time nor place for his glory.
Seemingly ignoring Jesus’ statement that his hour had not yet come, his mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” It is surprising. Could Mary have been so focused on solving the problem of running out of wine and so certain that Jesus could fix it that she missed the significance of his statement? Or did she bridge the gap between his words and what she knew would be his response?
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.(roughly 80 to 100 litres per jar)
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.
This superabundance of wine… (a total of 480-600 litres of wine!) seems to fulfill the prophecy:
the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. (Isaiah 25:6)
Then the Master of the banquet called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
While Mary and Jesus’ first disciples and the servants knew what he had done, it seems that Jesus did not broadcast his act. His eye seems to have been on the response of his recently-called disciples, and they believed in him, because he had opened the door a crack and revealed his glory, or at least a small part of what was yet to come.
Throughout his public ministry, according to John’s gospel, Jesus worked a number of miracles, removing pain and misery, notably taking away fevers (John 4:46-54), curing the lame (John 5:1-15) and lepers (Matt 8:1-3), giving sight back to the blind, (John 9) and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). However, this first miracle of changing water into something luxurious and celebratory and was different. It was the first and only miracle in which he responded to his own mother’s request. Furthermore, it was for celebration. It was almost excessive in its quantity. Later, Jesus would say I come to bring life and to bring it abundantly. (John 10:10) He could have pointed to this first miracle as evidence!
The third century bishop Irenaeus wrote, “The Glory of God is the human being, fully alive.” While he was reflecting on the resurrection, he could have nodded to this miracle as supporting evidence.
Changing of water into wine showed Jesus’ divine powers over nature. He used it to confirm his disciples’ belief in him. For them it was an ‘epiphany moment’. Beyond that, the miracle shows that Jesus could enjoy a good time. He was not ‘only’ divine, but fully human, with an appreciation of good wine. This story illustrates Jesus’ breakthrough into the world of human consciousness and shows us his humanity as strongly as his divine power over nature.
In his song “Cana Wine” (recorded with the Common Cup Company) bishop Gordon Light, imagined that the wine that Jesus had made wasn’t just good tasting, it ‘filled the deepest parts within me’ and healed hurts. It is a wonderful image and suggests that the wine made the attendees feel far more than refreshed. It filled their lives with grace.