Thought for the week - 29 January 2023
This deed at Cana in Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glory and led his disciples to believe
In this first of Jesus' miracles, or signs as John prefers to call them, we see Jesus in a typical domestic situation - a wedding reception. He is there with his mother and his disciples, enjoying that relaxed and joyful atmosphere that is found at a wedding reception. Unfortunately this reception is not as relaxed as it might have been and disaster threatens. The wine ran out before the festivities were really under way, and what should have been a successful and happy event nearly turned out a flop.
It is at this point that Mary approaches Jesus. She does not ask him to do anything. She simply says, "They have no wine left." But presumably she knew that he would be able to do something. She has faith in him, even though he tells her his time has not yet come. "Do whatever he tells you," she instructs them. The water jars are filled with water and the water is turned miraculously into wine, even more miraculously the wine is better that which had already been served. "This deed at Cana in Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glory and led his disciples to believe."
When I think about this miracle, or sign, there are certain things about it which puzzle me; and certain things about it that strike me. What puzzles me is that this is a rather strange miracle for Jesus to perform. Isn't it rather odd that Jesus should concern himself with what is, after all, a relatively minor domestic crisis. Fair enough the wine has run out, and the wedding fun is about to be cut short. But it is not the end of the world. It is not a matter of life or death. We can understand Jesus giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and even raising the dead to life. Somehow, changing water into wine doesn't seem to be in the same league. On the face of it, it does seem remarkably odd that Jesus should have performed such a miracle.
But what particularly strikes me about the story are two things. The first is the fact that Mary placed her trust, he faith in her son. "Do whatever he tells you," she says. She knows and trusts that Jesus could and would do something about this relatively minor festive disruption.
The second thing I notice is that it tells us something of importance about the character of Jesus, and, therefore, about the nature of Christianity. We notice that Jesus was completely at home in a normal domestic setting, such as this wedding celebration at Cana in Galilee. In other parts of the gospel story we find him at a dinner party at the home of a Pharisee, or at the table of the converted tax-gatherer, Zacchaaeus. Jesus was not against the eating and drinking and merry-making of this life. He enjoyed it. Indeed, this was once aspect of his character which aroused the strong criticism of the scribes and Pharisees who called him a glutton and a wine bibber.
There has been in the history of Christianity a streak of stark Puritanism that is completely at odds with this aspect of the character of Jesus. It is a gloomy Puritanism which has frowned upon, and often condemned, anything that slightly resembles fun and enjoyment. These puritans, had they been at that wedding reception in Cana, would have been horrified and outraged at Jesus' action. Not only did he turn water into wine, but gallons and gallons of it, and the most superior wine at that. Jesus enjoyed the fun and the laughter and the merry-making that we all enjoy. Christian, followers of Jesus, must not despise or frown upon this side of life. There is nothing worse than a miserable Christian who would make everyone else miserable. We are not put on this earth to be miserable, and those who would make a misery of their religion are strange followers of their Lord. The Christian religion, for all it looks heavenward, is still very much rooted in the enjoyment of this life, a life shared in its fullness by our Lord himself. Certainly Christ knew more than most what it is to weep and to suffer. But he also knew how to laugh and to rejoice.
The other thing that I notice about this strange and puzzling miracle, is probably what St. John had in mind. The miracle is no ordinary miracle. It is, if you like, more like an acted out parable. In fact all the signs, the word that John uses rather than miracle, are all like acted out parables. For him, what we call a miracle, is not a miracle as such. The miraculous element is not what is important in itself. It is a sign, or pointer to some great truth. For the word "truth" is also important to St. John's gospel.
Bearing this in mind we need to look more carefully at this first sign which Jesus performed. It is revealing the truth about Jesus himself. The strange thing about this miracle, or acted out parable is that the normal expectations are overturned. "Everyone serves the best wine first and waits until the guests have drunk freely before serving the poorer sort; but you have kept the best wine till now."
In a sense this story is nothing to do with the turning of the water into wine, spectacular though that might be. The story is not about wine, but about Jesus. In fact St. John tells us this at the end of the story. "This deed at Cana in Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glory and led his disciples to believe."
This incident at Cana of Galilee is a revelation of, and a disclosure about Jesus. He is the new wine, the better wine.
This fact is, of course, emphasised later on in the story, when Jesus takes wine and blesses it and says that this is his blood which is shed for many. And of course, it is interesting that in John's account of the feeding of the five thousand, the emphasis is not on the miraculous, but on the sign given through the miracle. That feeding of the multitude in the wilderness is another revelation of and disclosure about Jesus himself, Jesus who is the bread of life.
Jesus is the new wine and the bread that comes down from heaven. It is no accident that the central rite of Christian worship is the sacrament of Holy Communion in which we share in the bread and wine, the sacramental signs of the body and blood of Christ.
It is only in St. John's gospel that we have this curious story of the Wedding Feast at Cana of Galilee. This same St. John recording his visions on the island of Patmos, which are set down in the Book of Revelation, returns to the imagery of the Wedding feast. But the Wedding feast he sees in his vision is no ordinary domestic one. In his vision he sees a vast multitude in heaven shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the Wedding of the Lamb has come and the bride has made herself ready.
The angel said to me, "Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb."
For St. John that simple wedding feast at Cana in Galilee points to the heavenly Wedding Supper of the Lamb, to which we are invited, and of which we have a foretaste each time we share in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. For that heavenly wedding is between Christ himself, and his bride, the church, of which we are members.