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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New Testament Grace - the Water and the Wine

John 2:1-2 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:  2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

One of the most commonly-known miracles of Christ is the miraculous change of water into wine at the marriage at Cana. It has been quoted by believers and non-believers alike for as long as language and speech exist among men. How many of us have heard “water into wine” all whole lives? It is a metaphor for a total change.

This occasion is important for at least two reasons.  First, because it effectively marks the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry.  Second, because it is the beginning of the path to Calvary. In three short years, Christ would be offered as the perfect sacrifice for mankind at the garbage dump of Golgotha.  No short span of time has ever changed so world so much.

The passage begins as Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were guests at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  This suggests that the bride and groom were either friends or relatives of Christ or of Mary.[1] Suddenly, the wine begins to give out, and a crisis looms.  Imagine the embarrassment of not having enough refreshments for one’s wedding guests!  In the ancient Middle East, it was also more than just embarrassment, it was serious business.  This unfortunate event, in the close-knit communities of Jesus’ days, would have haunted the married couple their entire marriage, had it been allowed to occur.[i] In Christ’s days, one could be sued for an inadequate wedding gift![2]

At any rate, Mary turns to Jesus and says simply, “They have no wine.”  It is not necessarily a request for help, but it is something more than a mere statement of fact.
While some feel that Mary was just informing Jesus of the situation, others believe that she was doing what we all should do when faced with an insurmountable problem: bring it to our Lord.
Mary was not just an ordinary woman. She was selected of all the women on earth to bear Jesus.  She alone knew the fullness of the miraculous advent of the human Jesus.  It was she, after all, to whom Archangel Gabriel spoke directly.  It was she who heard the words of the Magi and the prophetic words of Anna and Simeon in the Temple.  It was she who stored up all these words in her heart. Therefore, she says, “They have no wine.”

Christ’s response is both puzzling and prophetic.  “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” He says to her. At first, to our ears, this seems peremptory, even rude.  In actuality, the Greek “guvnai” was a term of respect for a mature woman in that age. Christ is addressing, not retorting or disrespecting her. Then, when He says, “What have I to do with thee?” it is again puzzling to us at first. Upon further reflection, it becomes clear. This phrase is a semiticism. It was used in ancient Israel as a way of expressing either hostility or disinterest, as in “Why do you involve me?” or “What’s this got to with me?” [3]  Yet, in this case, the intent of this statement is probably neither of these.  Christ continues to say, “Mine hour is not yet come.” Also, Jesus does not address Mary as “Mother”, but as “Woman.”  This is indicative that a change in relationship is about to occur.

Christ may be saying that He is not ready to begin public life, or that He didn’t want His hand forced to do something He was not ready to do.  This, however, is unlikely.  Instead, He is most likely referring to the Penultimate Hour on the Cross when He would be offered as the spotless Lamb of God.

Yet, his mother is not taken aback.  Instead, she says to the servants, “Whatever He tells you to do, do it.”  There is implicit authority and power in this statement.  There is fulfillment in it as well. 

The servants fill up the six water pots standing close by, each containing six or seven firkins, which total about 20-30 gallons per jar.
So, we have the potential creation of about 109-120 gallons of wine.  Yet, considering a Jewish wedding could last for two or three days, this is not unseemly.

Jesus then gives the instruction to bring the master of the feast a taste of the water-made-wine. He tastes it and calls the bridegroom. He then commends the man because he has kept back the best wine until now. Usually, the best wine was served first, until the guests’ palates had been dulled by the alcohol; then the lesser-quality wine was brought out.  The steward’s amazement is evident. 

Our amazement should be evident as well when we realize that the water used for Jewish ceremonial washing and purifying becomes the choice, new wine of the Messianic Age.  It also reminds us of the difference between the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ.  The beginning of Moses' miracles was turning water into blood (Exodus 7:20), whereas the beginning of Christ's miracles was turning water into wine.[4] The symbolism of New Testament grace here is rich and abundant. It highlights clearly that Christ is the fulfillment and completion of the Old Testament.  It is also fitting that this first miracle unfolds at one of the most joyous of human events, a wedding, which in turn evokes the image of the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb in heaven.

St. John tells us this event was the beginning of miracles that Jesus did.  In so doing, His disciples believed on Him and He manifested forth His Glory.   In actuality, the word used here is shmei/on semeion {say-mi'-on}, translated as sign.[5]  This is the word many modern translations use.

 This translation tracks with the nature of the Book of John itself, which is known as the Book of Signs.  Throughout John, Jesus performs seven notable miracles, or signs, each with an express purpose of showing forth an important part of His ministry.  This first sign takes place at the beginning of his Christ’s ministry, and it unfolds during an occasion of great joy. The last sign, the raising of Lazarus, would be a sign of Christ’s own death and resurrection.
The purpose of all these signs, should be obvious to all of us. Just as St. John tells us Jesus manifested forth His Glory, causing his disciple to believe in Him.

All these miracles have one important purpose: to point to Jesus. He is the whole point of the Gospels. He is the focus of our religion.

What lessons can we learn from this Gospel selection?  There are many, of course, but the one lesson on which we should focus is this: in all situations, let us look to Jesus. He is the centrality for a Christian. What do we mean? Simply that in all situations, let us look to Jesus.  In Him, we will find joy. We will find comfort, and we will find peace.

This preacher does not speak these words lightly.  Our lives are constantly filled with occasions of happiness and gloom.  Yet, despite this, we have a source of unending joy welling up inside us, filling us and completing us.  That source, above all earthly sources, will never disappoint us, never forsake us, and never leave us.

We are blessed to call Him our Lord, our eternal High Priest, our Savior, and our Friend. As we are told in Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

This mighty Friend, our own Alpha and Omega, manifested forth his Glory the first time at a Wedding in Cana of Galilee some two thousand years ago. For that, we give unending thanks and praise.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.   AMEN.

[i] David Guzik, Commentary on the Gospel of John