Read John 2:1-11
This is such a familiar story and yet, when you look at it within the context of Jesus’ life, I find there’s at least a couple of questions that need addressing. The first is that although John doesn’t mention the temptations of Jesus, this wedding must have taken place not long after he had that internal struggle with the Devil that Matthew tells us about, about whether he ought to avail himself of his ‘superpowers’ and, for example, tell stones to turn into bread, or leap from a mountain and have angels fly him down safely to the bottom. He dismissed all those temptations as being unworthy of his position as Son of God.
Now, the first sign that John tells us about is Jesus turning water into wine! What’s all that about?!
Secondly, with such a lot of work to do and in such a short space of time, what is so important that John places a village party at the beginning of his gospel message, literally just after Jesus has been revealed as God’s Chosen One and recruited his first disciples.
And, just in case you’ve never asked yourselves the same questions, but might now, we’ll look at the story and see what John found so compelling about this occasion.
Weddings in Palestine were a bigger occasion than some of the ones that you’ve probably been a part of. Here, we are not far away from Nazareth, where Jesus’ family would be well-known. Weddings were one of the biggest celebrations held through the year, lasting up to a week. They would run like clockwork. Gift giving was almost a legal necessity as failure to follow the custom would bring public shame on the couple. Absolutely everything about this wedding must go well!
Why was Mary involved? We don’t really know. One ancient source suggests it was John’s own wedding, which would explain the detail. Another one has Mary as a sister to the bridegroom’s mother. All we know is that Mary was at the centre of the planning for this special day, and the wine was running out. Now, as Methodists you might well think, so what? It’s only wine, bring out the glasses of water instead, and far be it for me to suggest any different!
But this would have brought shame on the family, even though the custom in countries such as Palestine was to dilute the wine with water. Remember, no water treatment and alcohol even in small amounts has anti-bacterial qualities. This is not about a drunken party, but is about celebration.
Mary asks her son to help, and Jesus, thoughts elsewhere probably, answers ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ That sounds a bit rude, but much is lost in translation. I don’t think Mary was asking for a miracle, just the help of Jesus and his friends in getting hold of some wine. Which is why she tells the servants to ‘Do whatever he tells you!’ and dashes back to her duties. The initiative is left with Jesus. The wedding guests know nothing of this.
So, what’s Jesus to do? It seems like he wanted to keep out of the limelight, after all it was someone else’s big day. Something seen as a magic trick by some, a miracle by others, would turn attention on to him rather than the bride and groom, and that wasn’t right. But even our writer, John, doesn’t call what happened next ‘a miracle’. It is ‘a sign’, and that’s something different because it points not just to power, but also to purpose. A sign on the road can show the way to a destination, and Jesus seizes this unexpected moment to do just that, without diverting the guests’ attention to him.
So, Jesus looks at 6 battered stone jars nearby, used for ritual washing, and certainly not posh wine bottles! He asks the servants to fill them with water and then draw some off to take to the master of the banquet, who tastes it, is more than satisfied at the excellence of the wine, and the wedding feast carries on as if nothing has happened. Only the servants and the disciples know what happened, and no doubt discussion would take place later, because we’re told that after seeing what Jesus had done, the disciples believed.
So, it was a miracle, a display of power, but not for attention grabbing, because on the day it was about meeting a need, ensuring that this feast could be the celebration it deserved to be. It was also about answering his mother’s request for help. She would not have known at the time what he’d done, but that didn’t matter. Remember Mary’s response to the angel telling her she would give birth to Jesus? It was to willingly let God use her in this way, expressed in her prayer we call the Magnificat, and then just accept what followed in faith. Now she simply hands this minor crisis to Jesus, in confidence that her request will be acted upon.
There are lots of ways of interpreting this event that John sees as so important. We could say that God’s glory is revealed in Jesus’ graciousness, not only in providing what was needed, but in an extravagant and generous abundance, fine wine rather than the expected ‘basic’ offering. Jesus is his Father’s Son because he has the Creator’s power, but also in this rather unplanned miracle at a village wedding feast a signpost has been planted in the ground, pointing toward another wedding feast that the gospels talk of, that ultimate wedding feast of God’s Church in the kingdom of heaven.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come…’’ So, king threw the banquet open to everyone. (Matthew 22 tells the whole story)
The disciples saw and believed, tentatively at the start. But they accepted the invitation to follow, expanding their knowledge of Jesus, followed the signposts until they knew for certain in their hearts that he was the Messiah, Son of God.
This, says John, was the first of those signs, a glimpse of the glory that was to come… Read John’s Gospel again, follow those signs… and see where they take you…