“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” John 2:1-11
I want to begin by saying a word about miracles and the reason I want to do that is because of the claim that water was turned into wine at the Wedding of Cana. Many of you have heard this anecdote before, but it helps make a point. Rudolph Bultmann, whose considerable influence in biblical studies spanned at least 70 or 80 years, argued that this narrative is not reporting a historic event, but that it was based on the legends of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Bultmann is also the theologian who famously wrote, “It is impossible to use electric lights and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.” Bultmann was wrong on both issues: the narrative of the Wedding of Cana is an apostolic memoir; a record, a sketch of a literal event in the life of our Lord and his early disciples. And happily, the brightest and best biblical scholars long ago got over Bultmann’s worldview-shattering confidence in electric light bulbs. I am only happy that the old boy died before he had to face the Internet, Skype and texting. But of course I digress. Anyway, enough of me having fun at a dead man’s expense, let me define what I mean by a miracle: a miracle is an extraordinary event, a startling event that is at least in principle observable and it is an event that cannot be explained in terms of human abilities or known forces working in the universe. Therefore a miracle is an event “that is the result of a special act of God, doing what no human power can do.” A miracle is a startling event that a fair and reasonable person could perceive and observe to be an actual event that is beyond human ability to effect –- such events are the result of a special action of God doing what no mere human being can do. For example six stone water pots were filled with water and then the water became wine. I will say more about miracles next week, but for now let’s move on hopefully to some meaningful exposition of the wedding in Cana.
Let us consider the miracle itself and see what significance it had for those around Jesus and what significance, if any, it may have for us. It is one of my aims as a priest, a pastor and a preacher to encourage, to help advance your personal trust and confidence in the Catholic Faith, and that means to deepen your trust in the narratives we have in the New Testament. I want you to discover the wholeness, the connectedness, as well as the sometimes embarrassing, subversive, and strange nature of the New Testament narratives. In short, I want us to remember that we live in a culture that cannot share the horizon of Jesus Christ. Therefore we have to get over the culturally approved picture of Jesus as a vagabond teacher of wisdom, living one day at a time cheerfully accepting everyone just as they are, and bringing the best out of every person. As we will see, that liberal, romantic picture of Jesus does not square with historical reality.
Three days after his baptism by John, Jesus and his fledging disciples went to a wedding in Cana. Cana is about three miles from Nazareth. In the late 4th century St. Jerome wrote Marcella, a wealthy lady from Rome, that when he was in Nazareth, he could actually see Cana afar off.
John the Baptist and Jesus agreed that Israel was in ruins. The Pharisees, the Scribes, as well as all the other religious leaders of Israel and their fathers and their fathers’ fathers had brought judgment upon Israel. Jesus was a Jew and John had baptized him for the remission of sin, but not his own sin because he had no sin. He had been baptized confessing the sins of Israel. He had been baptized confessing his absolute solidarity of love with Israel – the Israel of the Promise. The Israel of the Scribes & Pharisees had betrayed her Husband. Jesus weep over the Israel of the Law, who, he said, had killed the Prophets God had sent; he wept over the city that detested widows and orphans, the Israel that broke her already bruised children, the Israel who had in a sense handed scorpions to her own children. Jesus had been baptized confessing Israel’s sins and initiating his public ministry. His destiny was to recreate, to recapitulate the Israel of God. In the Old Testament, Israel is said to be the Bride of Yahweh. The new narrative of Israel, the New Testament, has Jesus, the Word of the Father, wedded in mystical union to his Church —the Bride of Christ. This mystical union was begun in the womb of the Virgin when the Father united a real human nature to his only Son, in the unity of one Person. Therefore it seems no accident that on the 3rd day of his public ministry, the Bridegroom should attend a wedding.
Jesus’ Mother was already there and she quickly announced to him, “They have no wine.” What follows sounds harsh to our ears, but it is not so harsh as it sounds. Something about her announcement took Jesus aback but he quickly clears the air: “Woman, what have I to do with thee.” That translation has an edge that probably does not belong to the event itself. This is better — at least this is the sense of what is going on with him: “Ma’am, I am now about my Father’s business. I act no longer under your authority or timetable. I act under my Father’s authority and his timetable.” Irenaeus says, “The action of the Son of God is dependent only on the will of the Father.” Filial piety has reached a turning point for Jesus and once he takes this action of working a miracle nothing will ever be the same between Jesus and his Mother.
The narrator states that there were six stone water pots being used for the Jewish ritual purification before and after a meal. According to the Mishnah, eating bread with ritually unwashed hands or ending a meal without the ritual washing was equivalent to committing an immoral act. Intentionally refusing the ablutions could bring sudden destruction to you and your household.
Now there was still enough water remaining in the stone pots for the ritual purification that faithful Jews expected. This shows us that they were being used that day. But Jesus told the servants to fill the pots with more water and they filled each one to the brim! That would give them about 144 gallons of water total. Note that Jesus did nothing else. He did not touch one pot. He did not say a pray. He simply told them to dip some out and take it to the toastmaster, and low and behold the water had turned to wine! In fact, not just wine, but the very best wine.
So what does this mean? Well, first of all it means that Jesus is completing and perfecting Israel’s mission. There are six water pots and the number six indicates the incomplete, the imperfect. The six water pots were filled with water, absolutely not for drinking, but for the ritual washing of one’s hands before and after eating. These squatting water pots stand in judgment over mankind. These water pots declare that all is not right with this creature of man. These water pots declare our impurity. These water pots potentially spoil any dream, any celebration, and any elevation of mankind. These water pots are in a sense, our accuser, our Satan. But then comes the great reversal, the recapitulation of Israel! These stony pots of water become the hosts of fine wine from heaven. And you get it in abundance, more than you could possibly use up. You will never thirst again. Six water pots stands for the incomplete, but in a manner of speaking, Jesus completes the set — in a manner of speaking he is the 7th stone water pot, or even better the Fountain of Life springing up, pouring himself out, pouring forth his interior life, his divine and human life for the life of the world.
The servants and Jesus’ disciples saw the miracle. For the last three days they had followed him on the testimony of John the Baptist. But here for the first time they witnessed a bona fide miracle right before their eyes. That is the significance of the miracle for all of his disciples. They saw him do something that only God can do.
But there was another meaning for both the good Jews attending the wedding, as well as his fledging disciples. The significance for those present was that Jesus had made it impossible for them to keep the purification ritual at the beginning and end of the meal because there was no water left in the stone pots. Jesus had turned the water — water set aside for ritual cleansing — into wine. You do not wash your hands with wine. And you can only use pots sculpted from stone for the lavabo; clay pots were not allowed. Well, that was not very nice of Jesus – not giving them a choice! He is sometime so un-American! What about our right to self-determination? Dare he force us to take a position? I have said this before: Mary said, “They have no wine” and then Jesus showed up and they have no water. By turning the water into wine Jesus forced much of the wedding party to violate the purification rites whether they wanted to or not. And it became a mark of his disciples, from then on, to violate the Jewish rites of purification. I told you that his narrative is subversive. Look at Matthew 15 or Mark 7:
“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciple transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread.”
Then look at Luke 11:37:
“And as he spake a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner.”
Jesus responded to his host:
“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and the platter, but your inward part, your interior life, is full of extortion and wickedness. Foolish men! He that created the outward also created the interior. Give that which is interior over to righteous and behold all things are clean unto you.”
What’s the big deal? Here’s the big deal. And it is the same big deal for us that it was for the wedding party and his disciples: This is all about Jesus and his glory. This is his first miracle — the sign that Jesus is from the Father, true God from true God. Furthermore his miracle gives, but his miracle also takes away. The old has passed away and all things have become new. You either see his glory or you don’t. You either believe on him, or you don’t. You either follow him exclusively as your Lord and Savior or you don’t. Like everyone else in the New Testament narratives either you love and worship him or you do your best to eliminate him. That is your choice.
“The governor of the feast called the bridegroom and saith unto him… thou hast saved the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”