Summary: God wants us to taste the fine wine of his abundant blessings
As John tells the story in his gospel, Jesus and his disciples are invited to the wedding in Cana only days after Jesus’s baptism in the river Jordan. He has only known the disciples for about three days and he has not performed any miraculous signs as yet. His first miracle will take place in a quiet backwater town, with nothing special about it at all. It’s a domestic scene, a family wedding. The family are probably what we would recognise as working class people. It could just as well have happened here.
If you go to a wedding these days you probably wouldn’t be surprised if you had to buy your own drinks from a hotel bar. But in the days of this wedding in Galilee, the expectation was that the bride’s family would provide food and wine enough for five days of feasting and drinking. It would have been an terrible breach of hospitality to fail to provide for their guests and being a small village, everyone would have remembered the failure for years to come and it might have blighted the couple’s reputation before their new life together had really begun. Mary wanted to help them out of this awful situation.
“What concern is that to me?” says Jesus, when she tells him. And what concern is it to God that a small town wedding catering arrangement has gone wrong? Let’s face it, there are bigger things going on in the world. There are people suffering in poverty and sickness; there’s crime and immorality all around; natural disasters blighting people’s lives. Why does he care about one family who will be embarrassed by a catering blunder? Why does Jesus choose this time to reveal his glory in the first of his miraculous signs?
Firstly, as Matthew tells us in his gospel, our God is aware of every sparrow and feeds them; he clothes the fields with beautiful flowers. He is involved with every detail of the world around us. And will he not much more clothe us and feed us? Our God chooses to get involved in our lives – no job too big or too small. If only we have faith to believe it and ask. It’s a point Jesus reiterates over and over again, “ask and you shall receive” and yet we so often too timid in our asking.
We should also notice that God often provides his greatest blessings, as in today’s gospel reading, when we have reached the end of what we can provide for ourselves and finally recognise our need for him.
Mary recognized the need and recognized that Jesus can do something to relieve that need. She also has faith that her son, God’s son, will not fail the friends who have invited him to their wedding feast. When he asks the servants to fill the six stone jars with water, the ladleful which is then taken to the steward contains fine wine.
In Jewish thought, wine was often used as a metaphor for joy. There was a saying that “without wine there is no joy”. So running out of wine becomes a symbol for those times when life becomes anything but joyous. And, in John 15, Jesus makes clear his mission is to ensure that his joy might be in us and our joy might be complete.
Then transforming water used for ritual cleansing into wine also becomes a symbol, of the new covenant bringing life to the old – not replacing it but transforming it. The world is concerned with external things: making the right impression, having the right catering and wearing the right clothes. But God is concerned with things being right on the inside: he wants to forgive our sins; he wants to give us the gift of eternal life and he wants us to start living that life to the full in his name. He wants to transform us from people of the world to people of His Kingdom. And to do this we must first recognise the need we have for him, as Mary recognised the need for him at the wedding in Cana.
So, Jesus saved face for his family friends by providing wine to continue the wedding celebrations. He met their immediate need, but he went further. He didn’t provide just enough and he didn’t provide just a reasonable quality wine. He provided one hundred and twenty gallons of such superior wine that the steward makes the comment “you have kept the good wine until now”. Jesus breaks with tradition in order to provide abundantly for his friends and this reflects his Father’s desire to give abundant blessings to his people.
Receiving the blessing is linked here, and elsewhere, to obedience to God’s commands. Jesus’s primary command is to love one another as he has loved us. As he loved us first, he asks us to allow his love to overflow from us to bless each other and our community as we build his kingdom here on earth.