As our next scene opens, Jesus and His disciples have been invited to a wedding. Wedding-celebrations lasted up to a week, depending on the resources of the family, and they were a time of feasting and drinking.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days. (John 2:1-12)
Running out of wine was serious-business, because either the guests had drank more than anticipated or those responsible for the feast hadn’t planned properly. Either way, there wasn’t a liquor-store in the neighborhood where they could buy more wine. They had a problem…
Mary knew what to do – ask Jesus to take care of their problem, but…
While we might recoil in horror that Jesus called His mother “woman“, in that culture, it wasn’t disrespectful, demeaning or dishonoring to His mother. Women didn’t have the status they have today. They were raised to be wives and mothers – period.
The next part of His response might also surprise us by its bluntness. “What does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus and His disciples were guests at this party, so the logistics of the party was not His concern. Jesus was also fully-aware of His mission on earth, and being the “divine-caterer” wasn’t part of the package. Yes, He did feed large crowds on a least two occasions, but that was out of compassion, not obligation. Jesus did NOT perform miracles “on-demand“, and His mother didn’t have any more say in His mission than anyone else. Even though Jesus told His mother that taking care of their host’s wine-problem wasn’t in His “job-description“, I don’t believe that it was a hard-edge rebuke either, as do some Bible-scholars.
Was Mary forcing the issue when she said, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”, or was she expressing full-confidence that Jesus would provide what was needed? I believe that she thought that Jesus would do something, and that what He would do would be good.
The need for the stone water-pots takes us back into the Old Testament, specifically the Ceremonial Law. The Ceremonial Law, which is detailed in Leviticus 12-15, touched virtually ever facet of their daily-lives. Something as simple AND normal as a woman’s monthly-period, or a couple having sex, made them ceremonially-unclean, which required that they go through a purification-ritual before they could enter any place of worship. They also didn’t have indoor-plumbing or any of the other conveniences that we take for granted. Some people kept water on hand to take care of their purification needs, as did this family. Others had to go to the public bathhouse or other body of water to bathe and wash their clothes.
We need to pause a moment and understand the difference between something which made a person ceremonially-unclean and something which was sinful. They were not the same, even though some things which made a person ceremonially-unclean required offering a sacrifice in addition to the purification-ritual. Even though the Law of Moses required certain sacrifices when a couple had a baby, that didn’t make conceiving and having a baby “sinful“. Some ancient church leaders used the ceremonial law to “prove” that sex was “sinful” but “tolerable” if a couple was try to conceive.
This “anti-body” dogma grew out of a blending of Gnosticism (spirit=good, body=evil) and Asceticism (all pleasure is evil), two ancient Greek philosophies. Some early church leaders denied that Jesus had a real, human body, something the Apostle John went to great lengths to refute in all of his writings. Even though we don’t see much hard-core Gnosticism today, it is still present in a lesser but more insidious form, such as denying that our physical-bodies are part of God’s image in us. I have run into this latter form of Gnosticism among some members of my own church.
It may have taken many trips to the well to fill up those waterpots, but at Jesus’s command, they did. If they averaged twenty-five gallons each, that was one-hundred and fifty gallons of water, which was soon to become wine. That must have been some very good wine, because the headwaiter wondered why they had saved the best wine for last. We don’t know how far along in the feast that this event took place.
While Jesus always performed His miracles for the benefit of others, His primary purposes in performing miracles were to show His glory and to lend credibility to His message, to further-convince His disciples that He was who He said He was, the Messiah.
It appears that Mary was already a widow by this time with several kids still living at home because there is no mention of Joseph in this scene, and Mary will reappear several more times throughout Jesus’s ministry. His sisters may have already been married-off by then, because girls got married much younger than boys in that culture. Whatever the case was, the family was together during the wedding and for a short time afterwards.
Jesus had already made Capernaum His “headquarters“, maybe at the home of Peter and Andrew, so that was His next stop. By this time, His entourage already included at least four disciples plus His family, and there was no “Motel-6” or “Days-Inn” to stay in. Other Gospels record Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law at his home in Capernaum.
One very important thing to note is that this miracle symbolized a new kingdom-order. The old ceremonial and sacrificial system was being done away with, symbolized by the water for purification, and Jesus was establishing a new kingdom-order, symbolized by wine, a symbol of the coming Holy Spirit. Jesus came both to fulfill the old law and to nullify it, which He did by His sinless life and atoning-sacrifice on the cross. We are beneficiaries of both His finished work and promised Holy Spirit.
We should also see that Jesus was God over all of creation, which meant that He could create something from nothing or turn something into something else, water into wine. He will demonstrate His lordship over creation in many other ways as we progress through John’s gospel and His ministry.