Summary: John begins his coverage of the ministry of Jesus with a wedding in an obscure small town and ends it in Revelation with the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven.
Come to the Wine Tasting
Rev. Mark Barber
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ public ministry begins with an appearance with His disciples at a wedding. It occurred in a very small village called Cana in Galilee. In modern terms, this village was located in West Podunk. It was a long way away from the majestic cities of the Roman Empire in time and place. It was a small town in a region of Palestine that even the more cultured Jews in Jerusalem looked down upon. These Jews called Galileans uneducated idiots in general. So Jesus’ public ministry began in a very obscure place.
As little and unimportant as Cana of Galilee was, a wedding was a big event for the village. Life in Palestine was hard. The workday was twelve hours long, and the daily wage was barely sufficient for the day laborer to feed his family. Every week, the Jew had to make the awful decision whether to work on the Sabbath day to feed his family or to be loyal to the Law given by Moses. Life was short as a result as bodies wore out under the strain.
So a wedding feast was an opportunity for joy. The feast lasted for a week, and it was the responsibility of the groom’s family to feed the guests and to provide the wine to make the hearts of the guests merry. The ability of the groom’s family to provide the wedding feast for their own village as well as for the bride’s village was seen as proof that the groom could provide for his new bride. So when the wine runs out during the feast it is more than a minor inconvenience. It was a crisis.
The text says that the mother of Jesus was there, and that Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding as well. The word “invite” is a little weak in translating the Greek as we consider invitations to weddings as a take it or leave it matter. It is actually closer to the word “summoned”. The fact that Jesus and his mother were there indicates that they were related to the wedding party. As Cana was not their village, it seems likely that they were related to the bride. When the groom had finished adding a room on to his father’s house and the wedding feast made ready, the groom and the best man would come to the village of the bride to claim his bride. Often he came at night by torchlight. The bride spent the time of the engagement preparing for the wedding and had to be ready to leave with her family at a moment’s notice as she did not know at what time her betrothed husband would come to claim her. Her family kept her up in an inner room to assure her purity.
So one day, the groom came to the bride’s village to claim her. And the village left off everything they were doing and came to the feast. They might not have known the way to the village they were going, but that was all right. The bridegroom had come to show them the way. So the bride and her family came to the feast. And with her came Mary and Jesus. The disciples came as a disciple was seen as part of the Rabbi’s family.
When the wine ran out, Mary was made aware of the situation. There were no wine stores one could go to to purchase more. If Mary was with the bride’s family, it would not have been her place to remedy the situation. The groom’s family was responsible to deal with this crisis. The bride’s family was to be provided for, not to provide. So when Mary came to Jesus, it was an act of grace on her part. The groom’s family was in no way deserving of being delivered from embarrassment. But Mary, who knew the circumstances of her Son’s birth came to Jesus. She knew that Jesus alone could solve the dilemma.
Jesus response to Mary’s statement that they had no wine “Woman, what is that to me?” seems rather rude at first. First of all, we would have expected Jesus to have called Mary “mother” rather than the formal and somewhat distant term “woman” or what we would use today, “ma’am” or “madam”. And the rest of the statement makes it sound as though Jesus is unconcerned about the groom’s plight and the shame it would bring upon his father’s house. Perhaps Jesus was reminding Mary that it was not His responsibility to remedy the situation as he was one of the guests who came with the bride’s family.
John, however, is fond of double meanings. As true as the immediate response may be in the current situation, the evangelist is implying more as well. John never mentions Mary by name in the gospel and refers to him as the “mother of Jesus”. And the only other time that Jesus addresses His mother is at the cross, and here he uses the same term “woman” to address her when he entrusts Mary to the care of John. Here he tells His mother that His “hour has not yet come”. Again, Jesus is saying more than He is not ready at this time to start performing miracles. The very fact that He goes on to turn the water into wine proves that. The term “hour “ is very significant in John and is used in context with the cross.