Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
Jesus Changes Water to Wine
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 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. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 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.”
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.
We followers of Jesus are raised with a certain approach to the Bible. We’re taught from the time we’re old enough to hear Bible stories that when we read (or hear) a story, there’s one lesson that story is meant to teach us. And we’re sort of taught to expect that with a little thought, we ought to be able to see what that story is trying to teach us. And most of the time, we expect, that lesson is a matter of something we’re supposed to do. (Or not do.)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells us we’re supposed to regard everyone as our neighbor, even those who might think badly of us. And we’re supposed to help them. The Parable of the Sheep and Goats tells us we’re supposed to take care of the needy as though we were taking care of Jesus himself. And so on.
That, by the way, is why lots of Christians shy away from studying the Old Testament – lots of the stories there don’t easily yield a single lesson for the life of faith.
But even some passages in the gospels – some stories about the life and ministry of Jesus – don’t seem to give us a single lesson. They don’t tell us ‘what we’re supposed to do.’ Take this famous story — the story of Jesus turning water into wine. It’s not so clear what it is that we’re supposed to learn from it. I’m pretty sure it’s not a call to go forth and change water into wine, for instance.
And there’s even the strange aspect of this story that Jesus seems to reject his mother’s request that he help out – what are we supposed to make of that? But of course, Mary seems to have no doubt that Jesus will eventually take care of the situation, no matter what he says.
It’s not immediately obvious what “lesson” the Holy Spirit wants us to take away from this story.
But when you scratch the surface a little, it seems to me there are at least two important things we’re meant to notice here.
First of all, as you probably remember us saying before, Bible scholars point out that when the New Testament talks about the miracles Jesus performs, it usually refers to them as “signs.” And that term has a specific meaning. Signs are things that point to a reality outside themselves. And the scholars say that the miracles of Jesus point to the reality of the kingdom of God. Each miracle is meant as a kind of preview of that heavenly kingdom. Sickness and even death are defeated. The hungry are fed. The blind are given their sight. And so on.
So how does this story fit with that understanding of the miracles? Well, the scholars say, both the quality and the quantity of the wine Jesus makes are important clues to what the Holy Spirit has in mind. In the Bible, wine is a symbol of joy and blessing. So in this story, Jesus (who we understand to be God in human form) provides wine, and he provides a surprising amount of it — maybe several hundred gallons. And what’s more, he provides surprisingly good wine — the master of the banquet couldn’t understand what this good wine had been kept back until everyone had a buzz on.
So the point of this story, the scholars say, seems to be that God stands ready to provide surprisingly rich blessing through Jesus. That the kingdom of God will include blessing beyond our imagining — and probably that this rich blessing isn’t something that comes about only after our time in this world. When Jesus spoke about “eternal life,” he seems to have understood that life to begin at the moment when people start following him, not just after they die.
This is perfectly consistent with my experience of the faith, and with other people’s experiences that have been related to me. It can be scary and intimidating to follow Jesus and serve God in new ways. But there are incredibly rich blessings that come from stepping out in faith and allowing God to lead you in those new adventures. And it seems to me that those surprisingly rich blessings are what this story is intended to point to.
But there’s one other detail of this story that seems significant to me. That’s the fact that although Jesus understood that it wasn’t really time for him to start doing this kind of miracle, his concern for the joyful occasion caused him to set aside the details of the divine plan for the moment and do something nice for this young couple. There’s some kind of lesson for us in the fact that he demonstrated that kind of flexibility for the sake of people – and that he treated the joy of their wedding day, not as something trivial, but as something worthy of his attention.
We can be a little rigid about the things of church life – procedures, customs, use of church buildings, etc. We justify that rigidity by saying things are supposed to be done “decently and in order.” But the example of Jesus in this story seems to call on us to put people – and their welfare and even joy – ahead of custom and procedure in our life together as the body of Christ.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the loving concern you showed for this couple on their wedding day, for your flexibility and willingness to act to increase their joy. And we thank you for the preview of the joy and blessing of your heavenly kingdom that this story points forward to. Empower us to be agents of your joy and blessing in our lives of faith, too. Amen.
A Joyous Christmas to our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters on this day!
(The other readings for today are Psalms 97 and 114; Isaiah 52:3-6; and Revelation 2:1-7.)