I wonder if you were to choose 7 miracles that Jesus performed to create a permanent record to prove that he is God, which 7 you would choose. Would you choose the three times that he brought someone back to life – the widow of Nain’s son, Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter and then select another 4 healing miracles – the paralyzed man dropped the roof, the deaf and mute man, blind Bartimaeus, the ten lepers, Simon Peter’s mother in law or the countless people healed of demonic possession, too many healings to even start making a dent into them here. But if you focus on healings then what about the feeding of the 5000 or the 4000, or, the walking on water, or making a catch of hundreds of fish, or stilling a storm.
Would the changing of water into wine make your cut? If you wanted to demonstrate God’s glory would changing water into wine at a wedding be one of your seven?
In his gospel John chooses to write about just 7 miracles, or as he calls them, signs. Near the end of his gospel he writes “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” and his absolute final words are “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Of all those countless miracles John chooses just 7 and he chooses the turning of the water into wine.
This must be a really special miracle. And yet, the other gospel writers completely overlook it. Matthew starts Jesus ministry with his baptism and tempting in the desert, followed by calling his disciples and then teaching in the synagogues and curing every disease and sickness amongst the people so that great crowds followed him.
Mark, which is often thought to be the preaching of Simon Peter, starts Jesus ministry with his baptism, tempting in the wilderness, the calling of the disciples and then the healing of Simon’s mother in law, then the healing of many unnamed others.
Luke too has Jesus baptism, the tempting in the desert, him preaching and then healing Simon’s mother in law before healing many unnamed others.
John however has Jesus baptism followed by the calling of the disciples. Then on the third day there is a wedding in Cana to which Jesus, Mary and the disciples have been invited. On the third day. Maybe this is the first reason that John considers this to be a special sign about Jesus Messiahship. His use of the phrase ‘on the third day’ gives hints towards Jesus death. John probably isn’t talking about 3 days after calling his disciples, the third day was Tuesday. The Sabbath Day, Saturday is day 7, Sunday is the first day. On the third day God collected the waters together creating dry land and he saw that it was good, he also created vegetation of every kind and he saw that it was good. This is the only day in creation where God twice saw that his handiwork was good, and so traditionally the third day was the day that Jewish people got married. We know that the weddings took place over a long period of time, Jesus told a parable about the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom to return, as they would go on a procession to their wife’s house and then make a long winding journey back to their own that night ensuring that as many people as possible were able to pass on their congratulations. This was the chance for a party in a life that was generally full of hard work. There was no honeymoon so the party might go on for a week. Lots of planning was needed.
We seem to need enough planning for a wedding that takes place just for a day. I am officiating at my first wedding in less than a month and I’m already trying to remember all the things that I need to do, have I checked the wedding banns have been read correctly in all the necessary churches, have I checked the couples’ passports to ensure they really allowed to get married in the UK, have they paid for a video licence, what readings will they want, will I remember which side the groom has to sit whilst waiting for his bride, where will the bridesmaids sit. How much more for the wedding couple negotiating who to do the flowers, the photography, the video, which wedding dress and bridesmaids outfits, what’s the best hotel for a reception, who to invite to the reception, and once invited who should sit where, who has fallen out with who and still isn’t speaking…
The logistics may have been different in Jesus day, but there would still have been logistics… And they seem to have fallen at the first hurdle. Hospitality says that you are able to cater for your guests. And here they are mid party and the wine has run out. Ouch! There’s not going to be a local 24 hour Tesco express where someone can nip in a car and pick up a few more bottles of bubbly.
We don’t really know why Mary gets involved. There has been suggestion that she was related to the wedding parties’ parents, but that isn’t mentioned in the account. Maybe they couldn’t fill her glass up, we don’t know. But somehow she knows. And Mary has some sort of epiphany moment. Her son’s birth was foretold by angels, he was visited by kings and shepherds, she has been told in the Temple that he is going to be a light to the gentiles and bring glory to Israel. He has spoken wisely with elders in the Temple when he was just 12 years old. But since then we have heard nothing about his early life. We can assume that Joseph has died as he doesn’t show up in any later stories. We can presume that Jesus has been working in the family business taking care of his mother, maybe they spend time talking about his future ministry, or maybe she just knows that he is special and is waiting for him to show it. But now Mary decides that the time is right. Jesus will be able to sort out the problem of the lack of wine.
It can seem that Jesus is rather abrupt in his reply to her, Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come. Now I’m not sure I’d be unduly impressed if people went around addressing me as woman.
However, Jesus appears to use it as a form of endearment. As well as addressing Mary as woman, he also used it when talking to the woman caught in adultery when he tells her that he does nto condemn her. Mary is only mentioned twice in John’s gospel. Neither time by name, only by her relationship to Jesus, and each time he calls her woman. Here at the start at the gospel and also at the end, at the cross, where Jesus says to the disciple whom he loved “Woman here is your Son”. The beginning and ends of Jesus ministry in John’s gospel are encased by his relationship with his mother.
They are also encased by his death. His death at the cross at the end, but here in the beginning he makes reference that his hour has not yet come. This is how Jesus refers to his death throughout John’s gospel. We are starting to see why John believes that this particular miracle is so symbolic of whom Jesus is, and what he is going to do, that he includes it in his gospel.
And Jesus reply doesn’t deter Mary, she knows that he is going to do something, although not what, so she tells the servants to obey whatever he might tell them. And as we know Jesus turns the water inside the large stone purification jars into wine. Another sign perhaps of things to come, as he uses wine to represent the shedding of his own blood, and being laid inside a tomb hewn out of the stone.
Unlike the other gospels which tell of all Jesus early miracles being healings that helped him gain in notoriety and followers, John tells us that this miracle was different. Only the servants, Mary and the disciples know what he has done, although many benefit from his actions. Or as John describes it “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”. His mother already believed in him, but now his disciples do too.
Faith is the purpose of this sign, as are all the miracles in John’s gospel Faith is the reason he wrote his book.
This quiet miracle is the manifestation of Christ’s glory. But no one actually saw it. Nor was there a thunder clap to herald the event. God’s glory is not what humans expect it to be. His glory is not for mere display, but has the purpose to fulfill his service to his creation. He buries Himself in a quiet tomb to do his work on Easter where no one can see or hear. As Martin Luther said, “God hides his pearls in a pile of dung so the devil can’t find them.”
In Christ, the very nature of glory is being redefined. It is glory with a silent purpose and aim, to create and maintain faith in Christ Jesus who responds to human need in ways that seem hidden and mysterious, but whose deeds are open to the eyes of faith.