Today I want to look at the story of the wedding of Cana when Jesus turned gallons of water into the best of wine. To understand why John included the story in his Gospel we need to begin at the end. There John wrote: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory: and his disciples believed” (2.12). The term “sign” is significant – it is the word John uses of all the miracles of Jesus. Whereas for the first three Gospel writers miracles are ‘acts of power’ for John the seven miracles he records are ‘signs’ – pointers not just to who Jesus is, but also to that Jesus typically does in people’s lives. Indeed, the good news is that Jesus can still turn water into wine in the sense that he can turn the dull water of mere existence into the sparkling wine of real life.
It was in Cana that a wedding took place. Weddings in Jesus’ time could often last a week. The celebrations took the place of a honeymoon, with brides wearing their wedding dress the whole weeklong!
We don’t know the names of the bride and groom, but we do know that Mary, “the mother of Jesus was there” (2.1). Along with Mary “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding” (2.2). The party appears to have been in full swing, when suddenly the discovery was made that the wine had run out – “They have no more wine” (2.3) declared Mary. In our context this would have been embarrassing. However, in the East hospitality was regarded as a sacred duty. If supplies were to run out the family would never live down the shame.
Fortunately, the crisis was not allowed to develop into a disaster. For Mary, on hearing the news, went to Jesus and said: “They have no wine” (2.3): i.e., they had “no wine left” (GNB).
Clearly, she was looking to Jesus to do something. Mary in anticipation then said to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (2.5). Interestingly, this is the only one instruction of Mary’s that has been preserved for us. It has become what Gerard Sloyan, an American Roman Catholic, academic, called “a watchword for the Christian ages”, adding that “Doing whatever Jesus commands is for John the essence of discipleship (see 15.14,16).
Setting the scene for what Jesus would command, John mentions the presence of “six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification” (2.6). Made of stone, these jars were deemed not to contract uncleanness. They were used for holding water not for drinking but for ritual washing, which took place between each course.
These jars each held 20-30 gallons. At Jesus’ order, the servants filled the jars “up to the brim” (2.7). If each of the six jars averaged 25 gallons, then there would have been 200 pints in each jar, and therefore 1,200 pints in total. Or expressed metrically, each stone jar contained some 100 litres – enough for many hundreds of bottles of wine.
“Now”, said Jesus, “draw some out and take it to the chief steward” (2.8), who in our terms was the master of ceremonies or toast master. Totally unaware of what had happened, he must have smacked his lips with surprise. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine – what The Message calls “the cheap stuff” — after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now!” (2.10).
Precisely how Jesus performed this miracle, we do not know. I love the explanation given by C.S. Lewis, who wrote:
Every year, as part of the natural order, God makes wine. He does so by creating a vegetable organism that can turn water, soil and sunlight into a juice which will, under proper conditions, become wine. Thus, in a certain sense, he constantly turns water into wine, for wine, like all drinks, is but water modified. Once, and in one year only, God now incarnate, short circuits the process: makes wine in a moment: uses earthenware jars instead of vegetable fibres to hold the water. But uses them to do what he is always doing. The miracle consists in the short cut, but the event to which it leads is the usual one.
One way or another, Jesus turned water into wine. In so doing, he saved the day. Jesus made the difference – he made that vital difference between disaster and happiness. The Good News is that Jesus can still change situations, not least when people feel as if there is ‘no more wine’ left in their lives. Jesus can transform every situation. When we turn to him, he can make all the difference.