Summary: A look at the wedding in Cana in it relation to the first wedding in Eden and the final wedding feast of the Lamb.
MSNBC reported on an archaeological dig in Cana, Israel in 2004. The article read: “Among the roots of ancient olive trees, archaeologists have found pieces of large stone jars of the type the Gospel says Jesus used when he turned water into wine at a Jewish wedding in the Galilee village of Cana. They believe these could have been the same kind of vessels the Bible says Jesus used in his first miracle, and that the site where they were found could be the location of biblical Cana. . . . Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexander believes the Arab town was built near the ancient village. The jar pieces date to the Roman period, when Jesus traveled in the Galilee.”
I reference this archeological dig to say that the story of the first miracle of Jesus at the wedding in Cana is firmly rooted in the real world. It is grounded in history. History is “his story.” This wedding and miracle are inextricably connected to what God is doing in the world. It is linked to what God did in the beginning of world and what he will do at the end of the world, as we shall see.
It is interesting that Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding. And what is even more interesting is the nature of the miracle he performs. It raises puzzling questions. What would you do if you were Jesus and you were about to begin your ministry? What kind of miracle would you perform? The devil gave Jesus a few ideas during his temptation in the wilderness: “Hey Jesus, how about turning some rocks into bread? The crowds will love it. Or, how about this, throw yourself from the high point of the temple over the Kidron Valley. Let the people see the angels come to scoop you up just before you hit the rocks. That will get their attention!” Now there are some miracles for you! But Jesus begins his ministry with a miracle in a nondescript remote town of Galilee, and he performs the miracle in a way so as not to bring attention to himself. No one actually saw him do anything.
The miracle itself mystifies American Christians who have the prohibition movement as part of our history. Many Christians have very strong feelings about any use of alcohol whatsoever. So this passage is problematic for many American Christians — not so much with Christians elsewhere in the world. And the more you study this passage the more problematic it becomes. If a pastor brought a bottle of wine to a wedding it might cause a stir, but Jesus not only turns water into wine, he makes a lot of it, and after the guests have had too much to drink. As John tells the story, he says that there were six stone jars containing 20-30 gallons each. Average that out to 25 gallons, and multiply it by six, and you have 150 gallons of wine. That’s a lot of wine, and this is not some sort of grape juice, otherwise the master of the banquet would not have pronounced it the “best” wine.
In fact, it was not until 1869 that Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch, a physician and dentist by profession, successfully pasteurized Concord grape juice and made non-alcoholic wine possible. The company his son started is still called Welch’s grape juice. Dr. Welch was an ardent prohibitionist and the communion steward at his local Methodist Church. He wanted to have non-alcoholic communion wine available at his church.
Jesus’ miracle also raises other concerns. We think it is strange that he provided the wine after the people had already had too much to drink. They had drunk all the wine that was available. The master of the banquet said to the bridegroom, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (John 2:10). The word the NIV translates as saying, “had too much to drink,” is the Greek word methusko (meqskw), which literally means “to get drunk.” Most people served their best wine first and waited until the guests had become too inebriated to realize they were serving a cheaper wine, but the wine Jesus made was superior. It is the best wine, and it is served after everyone has had too much to drink already. It is not that Jesus is promoting drunkenness, but he is doing what he always does: giving his gifts extravagantly and in abundance.
But still, the questions remain, “Why did Jesus begin his ministry by turning water into wine at a wedding? Why did he not begin with a healing, raising someone from the dead, or even feeding the multitudes?” There must have been a reason. Then we remember that not only did Jesus’ ministry begin with a wedding, but human history began with a wedding. Adam had been created, but he is alone. He has nothing really in common with the animals who are in the garden. No one is like him, nor they can speak his language. God is there, but God is as different from Adam as Adam is from the animals. No one is “suitable” for him. The Bible says that he did not have a suitable “helper.” Augustine, one of the early fathers of the church, believed that this meant there was no one to help him bring forth children. The Bible says, “So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs [lit: “a part of his side”] and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib [lit: “the part”] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22). The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). Adam finally recognizes his likeness, as well as a wonderful difference, in the woman. The next verse in the Genesis account is one which Jesus quoted regarding marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).