Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Miracle at Cana

Jesus and six of his disciples attended a wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11 ). When the feast ran out of wine his mother suggested he fix the problem. Jesus balked saying, "My hour has not yet come." Mary wasn't deterred, she instructed the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” The wedding gained at least 120 gallons of wine—more than 50 cases worth. Some thoughts:


Mary didn’t ask Jesus for anything, she just stated the facts: “They have no wine.” Perhaps she just expected him to go out and buy some—after all he and his six extra guests helped create the shortfall. More likely Mary knew her son's capabilities and after 30 years thought he should get started.

When she spoke with her relative Elizabeth, just after Jesus was conceived, Mary quoted a phrase out of Psalm 107: “He has filled the hungry with good things.” Perhaps that day in Cana she was thinking of the phrase right before that one: “For He has satisfied the thirsty soul.” (NASB)

The water

Jesus asked the servants to fill six jars with water—this seems odd. Filling the jars took a lot of water; this was a major task for servants already tired from servicing a wine guzzling party. Instead of giving the servants extra work why didn’t Jesus fill the jars with wine and be done with it?

This preparatory task accomplished at least two things: the servants became knowledgeable witnesses, and they became part of the miracle. The servants knew more than the master of the wedding and they knew Jesus had not played some parlor trick—they hauled the water. There are exceptions, but most of Jesus’ miracles involved cooperation: donating a few fishes and loaves, reaching out to be healed, a touch, or even removing the grave clothes from Lazarus. Even when raising the dead Jesus involved others.

The wine

You wouldn’t expect Jesus to create bad wine, but did he create the best wine that ever existed? No, that would be showing off and would shift the focus away from the newlyweds. The master of the wedding said the wine was good—he didn’t say it was great.

Did Jesus “borrow” this wine from someone's inventory, or did he transform the water into wine? Transformation seems more likely. Why bother filling the jars with water if you are just going to transport in wine from somewhere else?

Those without insider knowledge drank the wine assuming it was made from grapes—grown, harvested, pressed, the juice fermented, and aged. If this wine just snapped into existence, then it was created with the appearance of age—no grapes required. Some might argue that this was a deception, but I don’t think so. There were no labels on the jars stating vineyard and vintage.

The wine told no lies. It was good, it was needed, and it was without history.

And Mary was right—Jesus’ hour had come.


VirusHead said...

I love your idea about the importance of human participation - as witnesses (or maybe vectors? or completing a circuit? It reminds me of the woman who, in faith, only had to touch his cloak). is it real? Is it symbolic? Both?

The account in John is followed by his episode at the temple, and then narrates that people in Jerusalem began to believe "in his name" when they saw the signs he was doing. This was - not incidentally - during the feast of Passover.

But there is usually a biblical bracketing of miracles in some way or another, and the next bit (24-25) says "But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well."

The wine might not have been the best ever, but it was clearly a better wine than what had been served at the beginning:

John 2:9-10 "And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now."

To me, that resonates in multiple registers, since it foreshadows Jesus himself as the best wine. And It also provides an interpretation of celebratory union, rather than blood sacrifice.

Jeff said...

Interesting thoughts.
One of the details that's always puzzled me:
As you say, Jesus balked initially. Mary summoned the servants anyway.
Why did Jesus eventually give in?

VanceH said...

Heidi, The wine / blood linkage is interesting. When I was doing some research on this post I discovered or rediscovered that that wine is sometimes referred to as the "blood of the grape." I wondered if the excess of wine that Jesus created was foreshadowing of his sacrifice. The water might have symbolized spirit too, not just a way to engage the servants.

Jeff, as I was thinking about Mary's comment it struck me that Jesus might have been uncertain about the timing of phases in his ministry. He was gathering disciples, but hadn't gone into the miracle phase--which certainly changed the dynamics of things. I used to think of Jesus being very self-assured about all of this, but this episode at least opens the door to Jesus valuing advice from others.

Jeff said...

My initial reaction was similiar to your initial reaction-- I've always assumed Jesus was quite self assured.
But upon reflection of your comments I begin to wonder if the whole wine thing is a bit like petitionary prayer.
On some level it's a bit foolish to ask God for stuff. He knows better than we do what we need. At first blush, you'd think we'd be better off not messing with God's system.
However, for some mind-boggling reason, God has called us out to be co-creators with him. This speaks to me the idea that he must be incredibly flexible-- able to work with (or around or in spite of) a tremendous number of the things we crazily petition him for.

So I wonder if the wine thing was a bit of this: Jesus inviting Mary to be a co-creator with Him, willing to alter the original game plan because He's so wise and powerful that it'll all work out for his glory regardless of when the first miracle occurs.
(I suppose this is all just a long-winded way of agreeing with your original proposition: perhaps Jesus was open to more than one possibility of how to go about his earthly ministry.)

VanceH said...

My meditation on the wedding in Cana was primarily driven by a desire to explore the thought that this miracle, which created something with the appearance of age, is analogous to what God did with creation. Steve from undeception provides an interesting response to this question and alludes to a longer discussion in Gordon Glover blog Appearance of age
I think their key argument is that the wine in Cana did not carry within it any attributes or inner structure that would imply that it was anything other than what is was--good wine. The creation however, if it was created in a week, carries massive amounts of information that implies it is billions of years old. Why the dissonance?

AaronJ16 said...

In my humble opinion, all of this discussion of the wine itself misses the point. The Lord is giving us a picture of His eventual death; the wine freely given is the pouring out of His life to save our lives.

The biggest clue to this, in addition to v.11 where John states that it was a sign (of which all point to some element of His sacrificial life and death), is when Jesus replies to his mother "my time has not yet come". It hadn't come, but through the miracle He gave us a clear picture of what it ultimately would look like.

-"They have no wine." If you'll agree that the wine is representative of His shed blood, which is our atonement, you might also agree that running out of it says something about our limited supply of righteousness. He had to become the supply. I think this accords with the wine vats being vessels of purification which represent the law. Hence its being filled with water first, which is only sufficient for cleansing the outward. That was the wine which was served first (the law), for God saved the good wine (Christ) until the last.

I'm no scholar, so I don't get all of the Jewish rituals and that all ties in, but I can see how it would.

Those are some of my thoughts.
I apologize if everybody here already "got it" and had moved on in the discussion beyond its allegorical content.

AaronJ16 said...

One other note; I don't think its a coincidence that the miracle takes place at a wedding feast. It conjures up notions of churches and brides and the wedding supper of the lamb, etc.


I hope somebody reads. I'm replying kinda late!

VanceH- said...

Hi Aaron,
I think your analysis is reasonable. I expect these stories to work at multiple levels, and have multiple points to make. If you think there is only one correct interpretation, then you have lots of company, but you might find it hard to get consensus with everyone as to what that one correct interpretation is.

My goal when meditating on these passages, which have been written about, preached, reviewed over the centuries, is to see the text with new eyes. To see what the spirit prompts, and to contrast the traditional interpretation with what is actually there (and what is missing) in the text. The text being the translated, non-original, culturally influenced, linguistically drifted version that it is...