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.
I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m coming to like this story better each time I spend some time thinking about it. It’s one of those stories just about everybody in western civilization has heard of, even if they don’t know the details. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know that one time Jesus turned water into wine.
However, I’m pretty sure most people – and that includes people who show up in church regularly – don’t have a good grip on what this story is supposed to be about. What it’s supposed to mean to us as followers of Jesus in the 21st century. Some Christians who object to drinking alcohol seem to find the story sort of an embarrassment. You may have met people who insist (all evidence to the contrary) that it was really grape juice, and not wine, that Jesus made.
I remember a Bible study I led at a previous church, when I asked what the story means, and a very devout and faithful lady in the group said that it was just meant to show that Jesus could perform miracles. I tend to think she was mistaken. On every occasion in the gospels where people asked Jesus to do a miracle just to prove he could, Jesus refused. So it seems unlikely to me that the Holy Spirit has inspired the compilers of the Gospel of John to include this story just for that purpose alone. Surely we must be meant to get more from the story than that.
So what is that “more” we’re meant to get out of this story?
Let’s start with this: If you’ve participated in these Reflections for very long, you probably remember me saying that leading Bible scholars say Jesus’ miracles are meant to represent ‘previews’ of what the kingdom of God will be like. The sick will be healed in the kingdom, and Jesus heals the sick. The blind will see in the kingdom, and Jesus gives sight to the blind. The dead will be resurrected in the kingdom, and Jesus restores life to several people. Those who are hungry in this world will be fed in the kingdom. And so on.
But at first blush, this story doesn’t seem like such a clean fit with that scheme. Why would making water into wine be a preview of the kingdom of God? But think of it this way: Those who struggle with scarcity in this world will find abundance in the kingdom of God. Those who are forced to settle for the poor and the cheap in this world will experience richness and quality in the kingdom. And what’s more, in the Bible wine is often a symbol of joy. So maybe this parable is meant to assure us that in the kingdom of God, those whose joy runs low in this world find it abundantly replenished.
But it seems to me this story makes some other important points. It seems to me this story is an invitation for those of us who follow Jesus to foster an expectation of joy – even in this world. It’s easy for us to get in the habit of thinking of the life of faith as a pretty serious and sober endeavor – maybe especially for us Presbyterian types. But I can’t help suspecting that Jesus was a much more joyful person than we usually imagine. In fact, he promised his joy to his followers as one of his continuing gifts to them. And this story seems to invite us to find joy in the good things of this life – like the celebration of a wedding.
Don’t forget that Jesus says in Luke 15 that there’s a celebration in heaven each time a sinner turns back to the Father. Statistics suggest that worldwide, something like 2,000 people a day become followers of Jesus. So celebration would seem to be a major activity going on in heaven. Maybe if we’re serious about helping God to bring about his kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven” we should make it a habit to foster joy in ourselves. After all, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
And finally, notice that Jesus first says here that it wasn’t yet time for him to be doing things like this miracle. But he changes his mind, and does it anyway. That’s a detail of this story that’s often missed, but it seems significant. It suggests to me that God’s plan for the world has more flexibility in it than we sometimes think. It seems like God was willing to stretch the plan here in the interest of adding to the joy of a young couple on their wedding day. So maybe the joy of his people is more important to God than the exact details of his plan. It’s not how we normally think about it. Maybe it’s even heresy. But I can’t help wondering when I read this story.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the promise that those who struggle to meet their needs in this world can expect abundance in your kingdom, and that those for whom joy is in short supply will experience that abundantly in your kingdom too. As we join you in the work of bringing about your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, let us be instruments of abundant joy and blessing in the lives of those around us. Amen.
(The other readings for today are Psalms 6 and 121; Deuteronomy 8:1-20; and Hebrews 2:11-18.)