The Wedding at Cana

The Wedding at Cana    21st Jan 2018            Madingley

Genesis 14:17-20 Rev. 19:6-10      John 2:1-12


Jesus is in the very earliest stage of his public ministry. He has, according to John the Baptist’s testimony in this gospel, been baptized, and then returned to Galilee, choosing his central group of disciples. Having done that, what we would expect him to do? Surely it would be to take those hand-picked followers away with him on what we would call a retreat, to explain to them what his mission was to be, and help them to get to know him more deeply. But no. Jesus is invited to a wedding, so presumably it was of a member of the extended family, or someone he knew well, and he takes his disciples with him to this major celebration in Cana, 9 miles north of Nazareth.


The first thing we hear is that Mary comes hurrying over to Jesus to tell him that they have run out of wine. In that culture, this was a terrible disaster. As part of the preparation for the wedding, the bridegroom would have had the responsibility for soliciting donations of wine from all his family and friends. If he has not managed to provide enough, this is a serious loss of honour for the family, suggesting that people were uncooperative, and leading to speculation as to why that might have been. And of course, in response, the bridegroom in future might reveal a similar lack of generosity to those others, and so it would go on.


Why did Mary tell Jesus about this? There is the possibility that, if they really were connected by family to the bridegroom, that they might bear some responsibility for the shortfall. Or is it that she knew that her son might be able to do something about it then and there. There seems to be a note of expectancy in her words, but she does nothing more than state the need, and doesn’t give him orders about how to deal with it. Jesus’ answer sounds abrupt to us, and it’s difficult to know how it should be translated into English. It is something like: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? Stay out of my business.”


Possibly the explanation lies in his next words, although on first hearing it’s not obvious. He says that his “hour has not yet come.” In John’s gospel, the references to the “hour” are specifically about the work of Jesus in obedience to his Father, working to bring the whole created order back into a right relationship with God, with a plan which has been there from the beginning. This will occur at the climax of the gospel, as Jesus is crucified and then resurrected. Providing wine at a wedding feast in a small out of the way community in the north of an insignificant country would not seem to be part of that world-changing plan. The problem for Mary is that she is not privy to that plan; she is outside the world of Jesus and his Father’s relationship. However, as we hear later, she is present on that hill outside Jerusalem when those final hours of suffering take place.


As the mother of Jesus she clearly has a significant role, and she plays an important part at this wedding. In contrast to Nathanael, who we heard about last week, and who came to believe in him after Jesus revealed his miraculous knowledge of his life, Mary clearly believes that Jesus is capable of doing something amazing,  even though he has not, to our knowledge, done any such thing previously. It is as if she is stinging him into action, even though her actual words are mild. The interesting thing is that Jesus’ response doesn’t deter Mary completely, which under the circumstances is rather surprising. She goes to the servants and gives some very vague instructions; she’s not sure what Jesus is going to do, but whatever it is, she knows it will be the right action to take under the circumstances. She trusts him implicitly. And it is those words which do herald the first of the Signs in John’s gospel.


John has a carefully constructed narrative which builds up to its climax through  a series of seven, as he calls them, “Signs.” These provide further knowledge or meaning about who Jesus is, through some visible event. What they reveal is that the Kingdom of God has come through the compassionate presence and actions of Jesus. It’s not that they show that Jesus is capable of performing miracles, but that they testify to his close relationship and his unique access to God.


The first and last Signs happen at key events in human life: the first as we have been hearing, at a wedding, and the last one is at a death, the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Nothing out of the ordinary needs to be taking place for God to show his love and concern for us. Jesus shows that it is in the ordinariness of daily life, that our commonplace experiences can become signs of God’s presence. This should warn us of the danger of separating out the sacred and the secular, as we are often tempted to do. In fact, the central services of the church embrace this linking of everyday objects as a means of informing our worship of God. Those services which we call Sacraments use water, bread, wine, oil and other such commonly used material objects, to draw our attention to God, and link our daily lives to his constant presence.


As well as the overall sign of who Jesus is that this wedding provides, there are some symbols which John has included in the narrative for those who can recognize their meaning. In the preceding chapter, the first in the gospel, John has 3 times said, “On the next day…..” Now, as Jesus sets out for the wedding, John says, “On the third day …” A total of 6 days. Where else have we had the mention of 6 days? At the very beginning of the Bible, as we are told about the 6 days of creation, followed by the 7th on which “God rested” as he saw that all his desires for this detailed and wonderful universe had been fulfilled. Now Jesus arrives at the wedding on the 7th day, and we get an inkling of the beginning of the completion, the fulfilment of God’s plan for humanity coming into action.


Seven was a number which signified completeness in Jewish thinking, and we may notice that there were six huge jars provided for the ritual washing process which needed to take place before eating. This was stipulated in the Jewish Law, coming down through the ages from the time of Moses. But now we see that Jesus, in order to deal with the problem of the lack of wine, discards the use of the jars as ritual purification objects, and instead fills them with the new wine, the wine of the new order now that he is here. For in the Jewish Scriptures, an abundance of wine signifies the end of time when salvation will at last appear, and the Messianic banquet [as described in the book of Revelation reading], can take place. Jesus not only saves this bridegroom’s blushes, but for those who are able to perceive it, reveals himself as the bridegroom who will preside at the wedding feast to end all wedding feasts, at the end of time.


So this everyday occurrence has 2 significant aspects; it draws our attention to who Jesus truly is and when his mission will be fulfilled. But also through the interaction with his mother,  we are shown by Mary that the correct response to Jesus is to trust his word, even when we are confused and unsure of what is really going on. She turned to him in the hour of need. She did not go elsewhere for help when it appeared he might possibly have rebuffed her. Mary encourages us to recognize that when we are at the end of our tether, this is the time when God can work through us. We finally allow him to do what he was always willing to do, because we know we ourselves are incapable of doing anything more in a particular situation. As Paul said in so many words, it is in our weakness that God’s strength is shown. Rather than feeling frustrated when we have no more strength left, we should rejoice that this is where God can break through, and his overarching will can then be carried out without any hindrance from us.