Water into Wine

Posted on 24th January 2021 under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays


On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1–11)

This is a well known passage. It comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it is his first public act. In fact, as John comments, it was “the first of his signs”, and so it is a significant event. John refers to the miracles as ‘signs’ because they are designed to point somewhere, they are intended to tell us something about Jesus. And so we might see the turning of the water into wine as a pivotal event, one which sets up Jesus’ ministry.

Which begs the question: what does it mean? What does the sign signify?

The ingredients are straightforward enough - wedding; lack of wine; water jars; wine - but is this a miracle about catering? Is it about an abundance of wine (around 180 gallons of the stuff)? What are we to make of it all?

And then there is the conversation between Jesus and his mother. Mary goes to her son to tell him about the lack of wine, and she clearly thinks that he can deal with it, but look at his response: “woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come”. Isn’t that a bit sharp, a bit cutting? No “dearest mother”, but “woman”. No “ah, what a problem”, but “what does this have to do with me”. No “leave this with me” but “my hour has not yet come”. In fact, we might say this sounds rather rude!

What does this all mean?

Then, right at the end, John comments that through this “sign” Jesus “manifested his glory”, which is an odd phrase. What glory, and how was it shown by turning water into wine?

In getting to an answer, we would do well to go back to the point that John makes about the miracle: it is a sign. In other words, we should ask ourselves: what is this pointing towards? Now, Jesus’ use of the word “woman” is not as rude (or patronising) as it sounds. In the ancient world, the word was much more neutral. When Jesus is praising the faith of a Canaanite woman, he says: “O woman, great is your faith!” (Matthew 15:28). Yes, it is an unusual way in which to address your own mother, but we shouldn’t think of it as rude.

It would have stuck in the mind, though, so let it lodge in your’s for a while.

The other thing which would have lodged itself in the mind of the hearer is the phrase “my hour has not yet come”. It begs the question: what hour? You wonder when the hour will come, and what that hour will be like. In fact this is a theme in John’s Gospel, as you can see from these verses: “So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30). “These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 8:20).

Halfway through the Gospel we start to get a sense that this hour is coming closer: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’” (John 12:23). “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27).

We then find out that the “hour” is in fact the crucifixion: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (​John 13:1).

Finally, we discover that the crucifixion is in fact not only the hour but also the place where Jesus is glorified: “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (​John 17:1)

We begin to see the strands coming together at the cross, and when we turn to that event we find that as he hangs, dying he once more calls his mother “woman”: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’” (John 19:26).

I wonder. I wonder if at that moment Mary’s mind went rushing back to Cana, when Jesus also called her “woman”? I wonder if she thought of those six stone jars which contained water for the ritual purification ceremony? Maybe the penny dropped, as she saw the wine-red blood beginning to cover his body. Purification from sin is not done with jars of water, but the blood of her dear son.

Perhaps, looking back later, she remembered the enormous quantity of wine, and thought of the great extent of the salvation won on that cross. The millions who have been purified by the wine-red blood of her son.

Is it possible that she thought of the Old Testament sacrificial system, and compared it with the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus? Did she reflect on the words of the master of the feast: “you have kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10)?

What a sign, pointing all the way from Cana to Golgotha! An abundance of purifying, blood-red wine replacing the old purification rituals.

Will you not drink?

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23rd January 2021

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25th January 2021

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