Summary: The significance of Jesus’ miracle at Cana is in the way it pointed to him, displayed his glory, revealed him as the Messiah and Son of God.
Last week I began by asking you a question. I’m going to do the same thing this week. I want to start by asking you a question about driving. It’s a really easy question to answer but it does help us in understanding our passage today: When driving, do you keep your eyes on the side of road to keep your eyes on all of the road signs or do you quickly get the meaning of the important signs and then turn your attention to what they’re pointing to? For instance, if you see a road sign indicating that a sharp turn is ahead, do you pay careful attention to the road or do you keep scanning the side of the road in case there are more important signs to be read? Of course, you pay attention to the road, because the sign tells you there’s a sharp turn ahead that you have to be aware of.
What is the significance of signs, then? Are they important in and of themselves? Are we to pay a lot of attention to the signs themselves? Or are we to be more concerned with where they are pointing us?
Just looking in the dictionary tells me that a sign is something that conveys information about something else. Many of the definitions of sign use the word symbol, and a symbol is something that represents or stands for something else. Signs convey the meaning and importance of something else. This is true of road signs, of signs and symbols used in mathematics, of any kind of sign. This is also true of biblical signs, and it is significant that “sign” is John’s word for “miracle.”
A Wedding Faux Pas
So here’s the occasion. It’s the day after Jesus calls his first disciples, and he has literally just begun his public ministry. He, his disciples, and members of his family, including his mother and brothers, are invited to a wedding. And of course they attend. Now, weddings in the Jewish tradition lasted seven days – an entire week! – and the bridegroom as the host was expected to provide enough food and wine for the whole seven days. Knowing how much work a wedding celebration is that lasts only a day or so, just so recently having been involved with Alisha’s brother’s wedding, I can’t even begin to imagine how much work it was to pull off a wedding like this one in Cana! And perhaps the bridegroom didn’t know much it took either, because they ran into a big problem at this wedding – they ran out of wine!
What we basically have is an example of first century Jewish math: The wine has run out plus an unfinished wedding celebration equals a major breach of social etiquette. In Jesus’ time running out of wine at a wedding celebration was considered a major social faux pas – a definite no-no – and the host would be the butt of jokes for years to come. Being in Alisha’s family I know what it’s like to be the butt of a joke.
You can be sure, then, as you read this story that this embarrassing situation is going to haunt the bridegroom for years to come unless something is done to fix it. Have you ever been to a wedding celebration where something embarrassing has happened, something that reflected poorly on those who prepared the reception? That is what’s happening here in our story. What happens next?
“They have no wine.”
Well, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is also present at the wedding, and when she learns that they have run out of wine she approaches Jesus. This is the Gospel of John’s first mention of Jesus’ mother and this story provides us with some evidence that Mary perhaps knows of Jesus’ power and identity. We definitely know from the other Gospels that Mary had a habit of pondering things about her son quite deeply.
But Jesus does not, it seems, respond positively to his mother’s implicit request. What does he say? He says, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” Another translation says, “Woman, what do I have to do with you?” Now before I get into the actual main point of the story, I want to talk about Jesus’ conversation with his mother here, because it can be easy to misunderstand. Some people might say Jesus is showing a lack of respect for his mother here, and that he is being harsh with her. Is this true?
The fact is that Jesus often addressed women by saying “woman.” Now it was unusual in Jesus’ day to use this form of address when speaking with one’s mother, but it seems Jesus does this to play down their familial relation. It calls to mind Jesus’ saying, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Rather than be seen as rude, it was Jesus way of distancing himself from his family connection.