Summary: Why does Jesus answer Mary so?
My Hour Has not Yet Come: An Exposition of John 2:1-12.
On the surface, this passage is a cute story which demonstrates the compassion Mary and Jesus had on a bridegroom and his family when they ran out of wine at a wedding feast. When it is preached this way, emphasis is placed upon Mary’s intercession to what seems a somewhat reluctant Jesus to do something about it. This text is applied by an appeal to intercessory prayer. And this is certainly valid. Others would say that we need to help the poor to take away their shame. Again, this is valid. But there is more to this text than that.
The passage begins with another time marker. The previous three had said “on the next day.” Here it says: “on the third day.” If this refers to the end of chapter one, this would have been the third day after the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel. Scholars such as Warren Gage have another take on the term “on the third day” and say that this is a reference to the third day on which Jesus rose from the dead. This opens up the text to allegorical treatment where the details of this story all point to something else. In support of this is at the end of the passage, John tells us that this is the first of signs which Jesus performed. There are seven of these signs in the gospel, although John implies that he could have added many more. Seven is the number of completion. So should we treat this as an allegory? In answer to this, we must realize that a sign points to another reality. But the sign has its own reality in itself. The event literally happened as recorded. It has its own story to tell. But a literal event can point to a greater reality as well. An allegory says that every detail in the story has a deeper meaning. I would hesitate to agree with this. But we must be open to details that point to the greater story of Jesus.
The text says that on this day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. When we look at verse 12, it says that Mary, Jesus’ brethren and His disciples returned home to Capernaum. From what we understand of the wedding practice of that day, the extended family of the bride travelled to the town of the groom. So the bride was related in some way to Mary. It was the groom who was responsible to provide a feast large enough to feed two villages who came together for the wedding. This amounted to quite an expense. After the engagement and before the wedding, the groom’s responsibility was to add a room to his father’s house for the new couple to live and to provide for the feast. It would certainly be shameful in that culture if proper preparations had not been made. The bride’s family was to remain on watch until the broom and the best man came back to the bride’s family. Then the village would go out and follow them to the groom’s town.
Some have suggested that the groom’s family miscalculated on the amount of wine needed and that this was due to Jesus bringing extra guests (His disciples) to the feast. However, it seems that the calculations were considerably short of what was needed. Perhaps the groom’s family was financially stressed. What we do know is that the wine ran out in the midst of the feast. Wine was a symbol of joy in what was a hard Palestinian life. The text implies that the guests became quite drunk at these feasts. If they were drunk, they might not have noticed the lack of wine so much. Or really cheap wine might have been brought out in the hope no one would notice. Maybe an uncle of the groom had some ordinary wine which could have been brought to the feast. The trouble is that the guests, at least the master of the feast, was able to distinguish good wine from bad.
Mary had become aware that the wine had run out. The grooms family would have done everything to conceal this shameful fact from the bride’s family. So by the time Mary had found out about it, the word had already gotten out. The groom and his family were already shamed. Mary intercedes by coming to Jesus for help. The bride’s family did not bring a cart of wine with them of course. By natural means, there was nothing that Jesus could have done. Even if there was a stash of wine in Capernaum, it would have taken hours to retrieve it. Some cynics could accuse Mary of spreading gossip as though she was telling Jesus and everyone else about the shameful lack. This is not the case. Mary knew there was something special about her son. The gospel of John is silent about the physical birth of Jesus, but Matthew and Luke fill us in on the details. She came to Jesus knowing that Jesus could fix the problem. At this point, he had done no miracles, and the much later accounts of Jesus doing signs and miracles as a child is fantasy.