Looking Back to Sunday’s Gospel

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so,
9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

John 2:1-11

In John’s gospel, the stories that other writers call ‘miracles’ John calls ‘signs.’ It is proper to think of them as signs that point in specific directions. Sunday’s gospel reading tells us about one of those signs.

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee. (John 2:11)

The story is fairly simple. Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited to a wedding feast. The guests drank up all the wine before the feast was over. When Jesus’ mother learned of the problem, she asked Jesus to help. After demurring, Jesus told the servants to fill up some big jars with water, which he then transformed into the best wine the host had ever tasted. Problem solved.

If this event is a signpost, to what does it point?

There are several hints. It is the third day since he met and called Nathanael to be a disciple. The element “the third day” is part of the sign. We all know that Jesus was resurrected on “the third day” after his crucifixion. This sign points toward that day. This element reminds us of the whole story of the trial, the crucifixion, the death and the resurrection, and those events were all quite bloody. That is part of the sign.

When Mary asks Jesus to help, he says, “My hour has not yet come.” In John’s gospel, Jesus’ hour is the crucifixion. Over and over through John’s telling, we are told that Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived, and then things change. In John 12:23, Jesus says, “The hour has come.” In today’s story, we learn that an hour will come, although it has not yet appeared, and that is part of the sign.

Jesus turns water into wine. It is one of the stories of his provision of nourishment for people. When Jesus later fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, he explained that it was a sign to make them hunger for eternal food. In this first sign, the wine points to the Last Supper where Jesus told the disciples that the wine was his own blood of the new covenant. The lavish amount created points forward to the fact that Jesus lavishly shed his blood on the cross because of his love for all people. Like his act of giving thousands of people enough bread that there were leftovers, this sign provides enough wine and more. This miracle is not simply a sign that teaches us about the Lord’s Supper. It is a sign that teaches us how richly God provides for our lives.

Think about it. Jesus never gives people barely enough; he always gives what they want and need and then some. His provision always exceeds necessity and supports a generous sharing spirit. When he provided wine to the host of the wedding feast, he didn’t provide just a single bottle or wineskin; he provided gallons and gallons. When he provided bread to the five thousand, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. When he healed Peter’s mother-in-law, she didn’t simply open her eyes and say “I feel better now.” She was so thoroughly healed that she got up and made dinner. When he healed a paralytic, the man didn’t merely wander off through the crowd; he leaped!

And when Jesus shed his blood of the covenant, he shed it lavishly, completely, to the last drop. He was arrested and beaten by the temple guards. Pilate scourged him. Soldiers nailed him to the cross. One soldier even shoved a spear into his side, and he bled still more. The sign shows us not just the fact of Christ’s sacrifice but it also shows us the degree to which Christ planned to go for us. He would give all that there was to give.

Some people try to make the Old Testament out to be about some different God than the New Testament, but in Christ, the Old Testament and its prophecies and signs come to life. There certainly were signs in the Old Testament.

Moses, for example, as a sign to the Egyptians that their river god had been defeated, dipped up water out of the Nile and then as he poured it out, the water became blood. The bloody sign of Moses was the sign of death, the death of the gods of Egypt. The first sign of Christ is the miracle of wine, the best wine the host had ever tasted, and though this sign pointed to the shedding of blood, that bloodshed brought life, not death. The contrast with the sign of Moses is clear.  The death of Egypt’s gods was accompanied by the death of many Egyptians. In contrast, the bloody death of Jesus would bring life to all people.

This story calls to mind the Jacob’s final blessing as he was about to die. As he blessed each son he made a prophecy about the future generations in that line of his family. When he blessed Judah, he said, “The scepter … shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh comes ….” Speaking of Shiloh Jacob says, “He washes his garments in wine and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” It is a graphic image of the realities of the crucifixion, and the phrase “the blood of grapes” reinforces Jesus’ statement to his disciples that the wine had become “the new covenant in my blood.”

When John came to the end of his book, he said, “These [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John said that there was a lot more to tell than he could cram into his book, but he was confident that he had told us enough to be able to recognize Christ. John’s method of telling the story packs a lot of information into a text of manageable size.

There is one more element to the story that seems worth mentioning. This first sign of Jesus’ ministry took place at a wedding feast. John writes of another wedding feast in the book of Revelation. In this first wedding feast, Jesus gives the sign of his coming crucifixion and resurrection. In the wedding feast in Revelation, Christ is joined to his bride, the church, which consists of the people ransomed by the lavish shedding of his blood on the cross. This sign points richly to the immensity of Christ’s love for all people. He loves each of us with the passion of a groom about to be joined to his bride in marriage.

There are people who believe that the Bible and the Christian religion are about rules and judgment. They believe that because of the word sin. They believe that God does not love people, because God calls sinful behavior sin. In today’s gospel story Jesus gives us the first sign that helps us to understand that God’s love of people makes him hate sin so much that he will lavishly give his life away in order to save us from it. Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper may we be even more aware of its meaning for us, because John has told us the story of this first signpost on the road to the cross.

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2 thoughts on “Looking Back to Sunday’s Gospel”

  1. You open up many other elements of the sign at the wedding, and relate them clearly with other stories. John’s gospel is rich and deep. It is hard to focus on a small, coherent point when reading such rich texts. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Jesus’ hour, and the phrase “on the third day,” do point to the end of this Gospel. And Jesus’ extended teaching to his disciples at the end (in Jn. 14-16) promises he won’t leave them alone after he departs, but will give them the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth. Earlier, in 7:38-39 Jesus says after he is glorified (after his hour to return to the glory of his Father comes), he will give his disciples living water; he interprets this as being the Spirit. Thus in Jn. 4, the contrast between the well water of the Samaritan woman and Jesus’ living water points to Jesus’ future gift of the Spirit. Likewise, just days before the wedding, John the Baptist’s baptizing with water is contrasted with Jesus’ baptizing with the Spirit. So I think the contrast in Jn. 2 between the Jewish water of purification and Jesus’ new wine is a sign (another liquid metaphor of the Spirit) of what Jesus will give his disciples when his hour does come.

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