If anyone was interested, there’s a whole lot of literature out there that has to do with this passage, and I’ve read a pile of it. And I’ll bet that most of you have heard lots of sermons preached from it. This is probably one of the most familiar miracle stories in the whole New Testament. People who would never even consider believing that Jesus is the Messiah, will tell you with full certainty that Jesus made a whole bunch of wine one day at a wedding reception.
Most of us would probably agree, that on the surface, at least, that this is a slightly embarrassing passage. Generally, fundamentalist Baptists don’t like this story because alcohol is involved. Some would much prefer that Jesus turned the wine into water, and some have even created this amazing scenario, in which Jesus arrives on the scene, sees all of the drinking going on, is grieved by it, and suddenly decides to turn all of the wine into water. The guests are so drunk that they don’t even notice, and they go on drinking the water as if it was the finest of wines. That is preposterous beyond imagination. No comment is needed.
Others, trying to do justice to the abstinence movement, women’s temperance unions and the great prohibition experiment, will tell us that Jesus only made grape juice, and that he would never make an alcoholic beverage. He would never do anything to cause anyone to stumble, literally or figuratively. That’s a problem, because it ignores the very clear reading of the Greek text, and it really make’s the steward’s comment about good wine and human nature quite irrelevant.
Some, in interpreting this passage, have implied that Jesus was still testing the waters, so to speak. There is no question that this was Jesus’ first miracle; and because he was so new at everything, some think that he hadn’t quite gotten this miracle thing under control. Perhaps he didn’t know that miracles were supposed to meet a spiritual or physical need, and not just to liven things up a bit at a wedding reception that was getting kind of dull. That might explain why he made so much wine. Conservative estimates put it at 120 gallons, and some others peg it closer to 230 gallons. Either way, it is a whole lotta wine, even for a monstrously sized wedding. Maybe Jesus was just showing off, doing some tricks, trying to impress a whole lotta people. And impressed they must have been! (sorry Yoda) But still, this making of the water into wine seems only to accomplish not much more than the averting of a minor social inconvenience. No one would argue that running out of wine is a spiritual crisis. None of the guests at the wedding would have suffered any eternal consequences if they had gone home with a little less wine in their bellies.
So, there’s got to be more to this passage than what we’ve managed to come up with so far. And fortunately there is, and lo and behold, John himself tells us what it is. It’s verse eleven. “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” There it is. Black and white. Plain as day. Jesus did it. He revealed his glory. His disciples believed in him.
We might want to do a little more exploring though. We might want to ask, why did Jesus do it? And in order to do that, we’ve got to spend some time thinking about the relationship that Jesus and his mother share, because that, too, has been misunderstood over the years, and probably for good reason. The conversation that takes place between Jesus and his mother isn’t pretty in English or in Greek, and critics over the years have been only too happy to point that out. If we think about it, the word “disrespect” comes to mind.
But before we try to make something of the conversation, let’s spend a minute with the setting. We are at a wedding. The mother of Jesus is there. She is the first person who gets mentioned. That tells me that Mary, who never gets named here by the way, has a close relationship with one or both of the families hosting the wedding. Mary is the primary invitee. Try to imagine that the wedding invitation probably read, “And if you want to ask your son and his friends to come along, too, they’ll certainly be welcome. No one will be turned away.”
And so when Mary comes to Jesus, and she says to him, “They have no wine,” she’s bringing with her a sense of personal responsibility to her friends. Not having enough wine at a wedding is a problem. Its a social blunder. It is a tad embarrassing. But…I don’t think for a moment that Mary is coming to Jesus in the hopes that he’ll cover for that social blunder, even though, on the surface at least, he ultimately ends up doing that. What Mary has on her mind instead, is far more profound. But, as I alluded to earlier, for us at least, the conversation doesn’t begin well. To us it seems at though Jesus is treating his mother rudely. In our politically correct world, we have learned not to address women by using the greeting, “Woman.” We would much have preferred that Jesus addressed his mother as mom, or mommy. But he didn’t do that. Throughout the New Testament Jesus speaks to women by calling them “Woman”, and in the most intimate and tender moment that Jesus ever shared with his mother, he addressed her as “Woman”. As he was dying on the cross, and as he was making final preparations for his mother’s care, Jesus called his mother “Woman”. This is how John puts it in his Gospel: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” So we’ve got to get over the “Woman” thing. It is as every bit intimate as we think it is rude.
What’s more difficult to get over, though, is Jesus’ response. Jesus says, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” Who cares that they’re out of wine? That’s neither my business nor yours, woman! Ouch! Rude. Not nice. But if you’ll bear with me, there’s profound intimacy here that totally overshadows any rudeness that may trouble us. It turns out that there is more going on between Jesus and his mother than just mere words. In fact, the words that are spoken are only code words, and have very little to do with what is actually going on.
Jesus mother Mary is the only human being on earth who knows as much about Jesus as Jesus knows about himself. She has been in on this from the very beginning. She knew that Jesus would become the Savior before she even consented to his conception. And on the day that she met Simeon and Anna, when Jesus was only eight days old, she learned that none of this would end well. This is a truth that she has carried with her for thirty years. But it is also a truth that she has shared intimately with her son. They have discussed his calling and his eventual ministry, and they have talked about how it will end. They both know that tragedy and loss lie ahead.
But Mary also knows that Jesus cannot be the Savior unless he begins his ministry. And so, in what is perhaps the most difficult thing she has ever said to her son, she says, “They have no wine.” Son, as much as it pains me, as much sorrow and fear as it brings to me, it is time to begin your ministry. It is time to begin that march to your death, Which will be my horror. It is time to be obedient to your calling. It is time to bring the cup of salvation to this world. When Mary said, “They have no wine”, she wasn’t worried about the lack of grape-derived drink, she was telling Jesus that no one had any salvation. Only Jesus can bring salvation.
And Jesus replies, No, it can’t be. “My hour has not yet come.” Are you sure about what you are saying? Because if you are sure about what you’re saying, then we both know where this is headed. If I start now, there’s no stopping it. It’s not going to end well. Is this what we both want?
Mary was sure. Absolutely sure. She knew how her son would respond. And so she turned to the servants and said, very simply, “Do whatever he tells you.” And the water became wine. And the ministry of Jesus, and his march to his eventual death, began in a decisive and defining moment. It could not have happened this way if Mary and Jesus had not shared this profound and deep level of intimacy.
John tells us at the end of this passage that Jesus did this in order to reveal his glory. In the prologue to his Gospel, John says this: “And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
The glory of Jesus is awesome and unimaginable and indescribable. But let me try to poke at it a bit before I finish up.
The six stone water jars in this story were used in Jewish rites of purification. They were filled with water that was assumed to be holy; water that could be used to make a person spiritually pure, or spiritually clean. Those jars were symbolic of the best that religion had to offer. But Jesus took them and transformed them into something better that day, Jesus took religion and upgraded it to faith.
That is a huge accomplishment. That is the real miracle in this passage. When religion becomes faith, the glory of Jesus is evident for all to see. Curiously, not everyone was privy to the changing of the water into wine. It seems as though only the disciples of Jesus understood what really happened. And so far, Jesus has gathered up only four of them.
But, like the disciples, all of us can have our religion upgraded or transformed into faith. John closes chapter 20 of his Gospel with that very invitation. He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” What water do we have that Jesus can turn into wine? What religion do we have that Jesus can turn into faith?