Sunday, 25 January 2009

A binge drinking wedding at Cana

Cheddington Sunday 25 January 2009


John 2.1-11

1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, 10‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 


Last week – vocations and calling. Jesus called first disciples. One was Philip, who finds Nathaniel. Nathaniel asks whether anything good can come out of Nazareth? Philip does not argue the point or debate with Nathaniel. He just knows they have found the Messiah. Rather than enter a discussion, Philip just invites Nathaniel to ‘come and see’ for himself, and as soon as Jesus tells him he encountered Nathaniel, possibly in his prayer, or study, or perhaps meditation under a fig tree the previous day, Nathaniel is convinced.

We then move to Cana, a place in Galilee. This is where in John’s gospel chapter 2 we have the account of a wedding attended by Jesus and his disciples. At this wedding, Jesus at the behest of his mother Mary turns water into wine. This is not retold by John as a miracle, but as a ‘sign.’ Of course, it is a miracle, but every detail is symbolic and in order to understand these ‘signs’ we have to look at the details.

I have previously mentioned Jeffrey John’s little book The Meaning in the Miracles. It costs only £8 and helps our understanding of the miracle stories.

The story starts with John telling us the wedding took place ‘on the third day.’ Why is it important how many days had passed since the call of Nathaniel? ‘On the third day’ is symbolic, just as Jesus’ resurrection took place on the third day. The new covenant through Jesus is inaugurated, replacing the old covenant between God and his people Israel.

Weddings throughout the gospels are highly symbolic. They represent the Kingdom of God in almost every case. Just to give you 5 examples:

· The wise and foolish virgins

· The king who gives a wedding feast and no one turns up

· The man who comes to a wedding without proper clothes and is thrown out

· The master who returns from a wedding banquet to find his servants ready or not

· The guest to takes the lowest place and is called to a higher place

So we have to read the story as a wedding where Jesus was present, but at a deeper level as a sign of the Kingdom, and one that reveals something about Jesus himself.

The chief action in the story is the turning of water into good wine. The feast is in full swing, and the wine is running out. Jesus is reluctant to help – he tells his mother rather curtly “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?” Mary must have been upset at being addressed in that way, but persists. Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars of water used for ritual washing, and the water miraculously becomes good wine.

In the gospels, new wine stands for new life in the Kingdom of God. Remember the story in Mark’s gospels when the Pharisees criticise the disciples for not fasting? Jesus tells the Pharisees that wedding guests do not fast whilst the bridegroom is still with them. Here’s another example of a wedding, where Jesus is the groom and the feast is the Kingdom. Jesus replies that you would not put new wine in old wine skins. You would put new wine in new skins, or the old skins would burst and the wine would be lost. More symbolism. Is Jesus giving advice on storing wine? No. Jesus is really talking about his teaching: his message cannot be confined by the laws of the OT or it will break out.

Back to Cana, and the amount of water in the jars is 120 gallons. When the water becomes wine, this means there is the equivalent of 750 bottles of wine, on top of what had already been drunk. We are talking about some serious binge drinking here.

The amount might be embarrassing, but the point is this. God’s provision in his Kingdom is super abundant. Just like the feeding of the 5,000 when everyone had enough to eat, and there were still baskets of food left over. After the wedding is over, there will be some serious headaches in Cana. And hopefully a lot of wine to start married life.

So what is the point of this story for today? As a sign, it reveals Christ for what he is, and the story ends with the disciples believing in him because of what they have seen. The divine power is revealed in Jesus – a speeding up of the ordinary everyday miracle of nature, as water is turned in to wine when rain falls on the vines and the ripening sun shines, then at the harvest the grapes are gathered and pressed into wine. And this same wine appears in the Eucharist representing to us the blood of Christ.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, not only in the future at the end time, but now on earth. Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. So this superabundance of God’s love and grace can be ours today, not at some point in the future. Ours is the Kingdom in the here and now, and the promises resulting from such ‘signs’ as the turning of water into wine are waiting for us to claim them from our heavenly father today.

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