Summary: The miracle of Jesus changing water into wine at Cana is a sign pointing to the new wine of the Kingdom found only by obedience to Mary’s prophetic words to the servants "do whatever he tells you".
THE NEW WINE OF THE KINGDOM
Have you ever wondered how the stories recorded in the Gospels came to be selected out of the many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the events in the earthly life of Jesus? (John 20:30; 21:35). The evangelist John gives us the reason for their inclusion in Scripture: "But these 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" (20:31). The keyword is ‘Life’.
In all likelihood John was the longest living disciple of Jesus and had ample time to reflect on the significance of the public ministry of Jesus. A characteristic of John’s Gospel is his inclusion of seven miraculous signs. These signs or wonders by Jesus of providing help or healing to those in need were recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They reveal his glory to those who believe in him and so "have life in his name."
John records these supernatural acts as historical events but also sees them as symbolic parables pointing beyond what happened to demonstrate how we can obtain the fullness of his blessing. God knows how slow of understanding we are and so he’s provided us with illustrations and examples to illuminate the message. John is fond of dropping hints, inviting us to see a deeper meaning in what we read.
The first of these signs - the changing of water into wine (John 2:1-11) - is history, but has a wider significance in speaking to us of the new wine of the Kingdom. It’s an event that reveals who Jesus is and what he does. Let’s look at:
THE SCENE OF THE SIGN
Jesus had been invited to a wedding at Cana, a village near Nazareth in Galilee. The fact that Jesus, together with the handful of disciples who had recently begun to follow him, attended the happy function shows that he’s not an antisocial killjoy. On the contrary, he’s pleased to enter into the whole spectrum of human life. It’s an occasion like this that Jesus gladly shared. It’s quite likely that there was a family link behind the invitation because his mother, Mary, was also present and evidently had some responsibility for the celebrations.
When we’re invited to a wedding we can reckon on writing off a whole day but in Israel wedding celebrations sometimes lasted as long as a week! The newly married couple didn’t go away for their honeymoon but stayed at home, keeping open house for their guests. I think I prefer the modern arrangement! And so we come to:
THE PROBLEM OF A CATERING BLUNDER
It can happen in the best of circles! It was probably the length of the festivities that was the reason for the lapse at the centre of the story - the wine supply having dried up! This was a serious social error and would reflect poorly on the bridegroom. I’ve read that lawsuits were not unknown in these circumstances when there was a row between the families as to who was to blame for the disaster!.
Mary appears to have had a leading catering role at the wedding. If you’ve ever been involved in the organisation of a wedding you know how demanding it can be! Imagine then how concerned she was when she learned from the head servant that the wine had run out. This was serious - the family would be in disgrace! She knew that if the dilemma became public it would place the host family in an extremely embarrassing situation. But she tried to keep calm - don’t panic, she told herself. Her mind went into overdrive in thinking what could be done to retrieve the situation. Perhaps the servant could run out and buy a fresh supply from the local off-licence! No, there wasn’t time and anyway the gap in providing refreshment would be noticed. But why was she worrying? There was no need to as it suddenly dawned on her that:
THE ANSWER WAS JESUS
The solution to her problem had been present all the time. Of course! Jesus was here. Surely he would know what to do. After all, only three days previously his cousin John, now a popular prophet, had proclaimed Jesus to be of a higher rank than himself, and the one that Israel was waiting for! She remembered what the angel had said to her about the very special baby she was going to have: "So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). Here was a wonderful opportunity for him to disclose himself in the company of his relations and friends! That was Mary’s strategy, but did Jesus agree? We shall see.
Mary could smile again. "Don’t worry," she advised the servant, "I’ll tell my son, Jesus. He’ll know what to do!" She had no doubt at all that this problem was well within his scope to deal with. It’s likely that Mary had been widowed for some years and in the absence of Joseph Jesus could be depended on to help in a variety of family needs. It’s true that this situation was quite beyond the normal but she’d heard that at the Jordan "the Holy Spirit descended on him" (Luke 3:22). After all, he was her son, and if he were truly the Son of God he could easily use his power and get the family out of a fix! - and here was a golden opportunity.