Name three miracles of Jesus that were the most powerful and beneficial of all the miracles he performed. (Ask for a few responses from the council members.) His resurrection. The raising of Lazarus. Calming wind and wave so that he saved his disciples from drowning. Those are the three miracles I find most impressive. Jesus’ very first miracle on the other hand, the changing of water into wine, seems to be nothing more than a warm-up act - like an acrobat juggling a few tennis balls before he gets around to the grand finale of juggling chainsaws while riding blindfolded on a unicycle. Oh, changing water into wine isn’t something you or I could do, and it did save a bride and groom some embarrassment, but what of it? Does this miracle really matter when you stack it up against the other miracles Jesus did? No dead were raised. No disease was cured. No demons driven out. A wedding party’s thirst was quenched. That was all…or was it? The miracle of changing water into wine does matter because it teaches us what should matter most to us. Let’s find out what that is.
This miracle occurred at a wedding in the small town of Cana not too far away from Jesus’ childhood home of Nazareth. Jesus and his disciples (who numbered only five or six at this time) were invited. We don’t know who was getting married. It may have been someone that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was related to because she seemed to have an active role in making sure the food and drink service was going well at the reception.
Would you have invited Jesus to your wedding? Perhaps you did. He was there in the Word that was preached at your wedding ceremony. But what about afterwards? Did you invite him to the reception? You may have invoked his name in the prayer before the meal but were you glad to get that done with so you could “cut lose” and forget about that “Jesus” stuff for a while? If we think that inviting Jesus to our gatherings will turn them into dour events, we should think again. It was in fact Jesus who kept the party going at the wedding in Cana.
Jewish wedding celebrations in the 1st century often lasted as long as seven days. If you didn’t plan carefully, you were bound to run out of something. That’s what happened in Cana. They ran out of wine. Mary was aware of this and so she came to Jesus and said: “They have no more wine” (John 2:3). From Jesus’ response we know that Mary was doing more than reporting facts. She wanted Jesus to help. Jesus, however, replied: “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come” (John 2:4). Does that sound like the Jesus you know? Not really. It sounds more like an uppity kid who has come back from college and thinks he’s too cool for Mom. Jesus, of course, had not just come back from college but he had recently been baptized. There, God the Father identified Jesus as his Son while the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus signaling the beginning of his public work as Savior. In other words Jesus was no longer Mary’s little errand boy who would nip off to the local grocer from some milk when needed; he was the savior of the world. As savior Jesus had come to serve but that doesn’t mean that Mary, or we, should treat him as our servant.
Mary took the needed rebuke in stride. She didn’t turn away in a huff but instead faced the servants standing nearby and said, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). What a wonderful faith Mary demonstrates! She realized that Jesus’ rebuke didn’t mean, “No, I will not help.” Instead she trusted that the Jesus, who had made time to be at a wedding in an insignificant town, loved the bride and groom and cared about their wedding. And so she doesn’t prescribe the means, the measure, or the manner in which Jesus should help, she just trusts that in his time he will.
“Do whatever is best, Jesus.” Would that our prayers were more often like that! Instead we give our Lord detailed instructions including a timetable for how to answer our prayers as if we know what is best. Yes, God wants us to pray specifically and boldly but he doesn’t want us to forget our place…or his. We are nothing but dust, and sinfully cruddy dust at that. He, on the other hand, is the all-wise and all-knowing God. Indeed, even before Mary told him, Jesus knew that there was no more wine. If it really had been a pressing problem, Jesus would have taken care of the need before Mary was even aware of the shortage. Instead Jesus thought it better that there be a crisis before he acted. God is still in the habit of emptying us before he fills us. He does this so that we will turn to him more often and more completely for the help we need because Jesus always does what is eternally best for us.
So what did Jesus do about the wine shortage? He told the attendants to fill up six stone water jars that held between 20-30 gallons each. They did and then he instructed them to take that water and give it to the master of ceremony for tasting. Wouldn’t you love to have been able to see what was going through the servants’ minds as they hauled the water to the MC? If they had witnessed the exchange between Mary and Jesus, they probably thought this was some tasteless joke. Jesus obviously didn’t care about fixing the problem. If he did, he would not have made them trudge to the well and back to fill six huge jars with water but would have sent them to the liquor store instead.
Don’t we often think the same about Jesus? We look at all the suffering and pain in the world and imagine Jesus could care less because he doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. But he is doing something about it just as he was doing something about the wine shortage in Cana. When the MC tasted the water that had been turned into wine he called the groom over to commend him for the quality wine being served. If my math is correct, Jesus supplied the equivalent of 960 (750 ml) bottles of wine! If the bride and groom didn’t want to serve any of Jesus’ wine at the banquet, they would have been able to enjoy one bottle of premium wine a day for the next two and a half years of their married life.
Did the miracle of water turning into wine matter? It mattered to the bride and groom of Cana. Jesus took care of them in their time of need and he did so with abundant quality. This miracle also mattered to Jesus’ disciples for John says: “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 2:11). The disciples now had some tangible proof that Jesus was who he said he was: the Son of God. And so this miracle also matters to us because it’s proof that God is not aloof. He mixes with us sinners and he provides what we need at the proper time – even giving us something as insignificant as a glass of wine.
Of course what we really need from Jesus is forgiveness for treating him as our servant and for accusing him of not caring about us or for us. We need forgiveness for not inviting him to our parties because we wanted to give free reign to our sinful nature. The same Jesus who turned water into wine is the Jesus who now turns wine into a sin-cleansing detergent. He does that in Holy Communion where Jesus gives us his blood with the wine that we drink. Swallowing a household detergent would kill you but this detergent, Jesus’ blood, cleanses us from the inside out because it soaks up our sin.
No, it might not be the most spectacular miracle in the Bible but the miracle at Cana matters because it teaches us that what should matter most to us is a humble faith that trusts that the Son of God is in our midst and will act for our best. Jesus may never give you 960 bottles of premium wine (because it’s probably not what would be good for you) but through his death and resurrection he has given you something even better: a place at the eternal banquet in heaven. No, you’re not seated at that banquet yet. You may have to endure some lean and trying days now but cling to Jesus through the thick and thin, as Mary did in Cana. You won’t be disappointed. Amen.