The Gospel of John
The Wedding at Cana
The story of the wedding at Cana follows the standard form of a miracle story. The setting comes first in verses one and two. The preparation of the miracle occurs in verses three through five. The miracle is actually performed in verses six through eight. A conclusion wraps everything up in verses nine through eleven, and verse twelve is a transitional link into what follows (O’Day, 1995).
There I very little in the way of setting for this miracle story. It takes place at Cana in Galilee. Cana was probably what is now called Kef Kenna. It is about four miles northeast of Nazareth. It is possible that Jesus’ family had moved to Cana. Mary is mentioned as a guest. Some scholarly legends say that Mary was the aunt of the bride. Joseph is not mentioned, leading most scholars to believe he had already died. There is also a vague reference to Jesus’ brothers or disciples depending on the translation. Usually all or most of the women would be helping out with the festivities. Mary would most likely be a part of this entourage of caterers, and therefore would have known that the wine was running low. (St. John, 1995).
In the story of the wedding at Cana, Mary’s charity and her prominent faith in Jesus’ power are her two most noticeable features. In verse three she points out the lack of wine to her son. The problem is established, however Mary does not ask anything explicit of Jesus – she only draws her Son’s attention to the need (Haenchen, 1984). At first glance the crisis appearse to only be connected to earthly drink. In Israel at the time, wedding celebrations lasted for days. In the case of a virgin bride they could last up to a week (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1964). During the course of the wedding celebration relative and friends of the wedding couple and their family would come and go. Many times even people passing through would join in on the celebration. Wine was a critical part of meals in general, the wedding, and the creation of a festive atmosphere. The hosts would be extremely embarrassed if the wine ran out, and it would be a very negative beginning for a marriage (Fuller & Kearns, 1990).
Jesus replies in a tone that comes off harsh to contemporary ears. The first part of his answer is a widely used phrase in the Old Testament and Judaism in general, and the Hellenistic world. It never means, “What concern is that of yours and mine?” Depending on different nuances such as tone of voice it translates better to “What would you have me do?” or “Leave me in peace.” It displays certain aloofness on the part of Jesus towards Mary (St. John, 1995).
The rest of Jesus’ words can also come off very abrasive. Jesus addresses Mary as “Woman” where the reader might have expected a gentler “Mother.” It is not a rude, hostile usage. The term is respectful, and Jesus uses it often when talking with women including the Samaritan woman at the well. It is, however, unusually to refer to ones mother. It again creates an aloofness, a distance between Jesus and his mother. It downplays their blood relationship. The Lord does not act as a result of human prompting, even if that prompting comes from his mother. He acts only in accordance with the Father’s will (Lightfoot, 1963).
The words spoken by Jesus, “My hour has not yet come,” is characteristically Johannine. It is clear that the hour Jesus if referring to is his glorification and death, which leads to the salvation of all. The reference to the “hour” alludes to this event, and can be understood symbolically to represent Jesus’ blood. The reader is shown that there is greater meaning to the story than what is simply happening (Meeks, 1988).
Although rebuked, Jesus’ mother continues with instruction to the waiters. She speaks the famous words; “Do whatever he tells you.” These words hearken back to the words Pharaoh says about Joseph as he also solves a problem of scarcity (Gen. 41:55). The Pharaoh expresses his confidence that Joseph will be able to solve the situation. Mary is also confident of her Son’s abilities.
As in the synoptic gospels, Jesus has a soft heart for those who express unconditional faith in him. This includes his mother. The miracle itself occurs in verse six as the water jars are described. The jars contain water, and are used in the Jewish rite of purification. They were probably used for the ritual cleansing of hands before a meal. Many believe that the changing of the purification water to wine alludes to the outdatedness of Jewish ritual law. The amount of time that passes between Mary’s words and Jesus’ actions is not given (O’Day, 1995). The water is turned into wine. In fact the wine is of the most exceptional quality as the waiter later professes. The amount of water in the jars is excessive, archeological evidence tells us that the jars probably held about 9 gallons each, but other scholars believe that they could have held up to 20 gallons each. Not unlike the story of the fish and bread, Jesus provides for the people in abundance. The extravagant proportion alludes to the abundance of gifts that Jesus will eventually give (Haenchen, 1984).
Jesus’ miracle is publicly attested to at the end of the story. The steward indirectly verifies what has happened when he speaks with the host. The steward, however, does not know the source of the wine. He also is the one who attests to its high quality. The statement that he makes, “Everyone serves the good wine first . . . you have kept the good wine until now,” is most probably a hospitality maxim of the time. If the wedding feasts lasted only one day, the second batch of inferior wine could be brought out hours into the party, these feasts continued for days, a fact not conducive to a literal interpretation of the steward’s words. There is a second layer of meaning that can be added to the steward’s word. The steward attributes the good wine to the bridegroom. Jesus is often depicted as a bridegroom. The wine comes from the true bridegroom.
The last verse, verse twelve transitions Jesus into the next story, the destruction of the temple (Funk & Hoover, 1993).
The Wedding at Cana, however, is much more than a miracle story it is a sign. A sign is “an event which is both a symbol and a channel of something greater than itself (Lightfoot, 1963).” What happened in Cana is a sign, which reveals the true identity and Glory of Jesus. It is the beginning of an entire series of signs, seven to be exact. The sign reveals the “glory” of Jesus to those who believe in him. In the Old Testament an abundance of wine is echatologically symbolic of God’s new age (Amos 9:13, Joel 3:18). Jesus is the fulfillment of eschatological hopes. The sign of salvation by the Messiah is presented (Schnackerburg, 1968).
The disciples of Jesus believed in him before this miracle was performed. They were willing to give up their former ways of life and follow him. However, as even the synoptic gospels show, the disciples did not always understand Jesus’ mission. Their concept of Jesus’ role as savior was very earth bound. This miracle added a new dimension to their faith, a much deeper dimension.
The changing of water of Law into the wine of Christ has very sacramental suggestions. It is not clear, however if the story relates to a specific sacrament. The reference to wine could refer to the Eucharistic wine. In this case it would be a counterpart to the story of the loaves of bread. It is also possible that John was thinking of baptism. Water, once used to purify by Jewish Law, now is much more valuable, and purifies in a much truer sense (Perkins, 1989).
This passage in John’s Gospel is very important in the Christian faith. It says a lot about believes. Not only can it be used to understand Christ, as stated above, this story has a few other, less Christological uses.
Jesus was never married. Blessed Mother was married, however whether it is true or not Church doctrine holds her as an eternal virgin. Christ’s presence at the wedding in Cana is a sign that he blesses the love between a man and a woman who are joined in marriage. God institutes marriage at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:27-28), and then Jesus re-confirms it.
This part of the gospel is also very important for the church’s view of Mary. Throughout the entire gospel Mary is never referred to by name. She is described as the Mother of Jesus, but given the title “woman” by the Lord (St. John: 1995).
She appears only twice – here, and at Calvary (Jn. 19:25) where Jesus is crucified. This suggests Mary’s involvement in the redemption, and is one basis for her title as co-redemptrix in the Catholic faith. There are a number of connections between Cana and Calvary. They are located at the beginning and end of his public ministry. Many scholars say that this suggests her presence throughout his public ministry. At both of these points in Jesus’ life Mary exemplifies the role of a mother as her son’s divinity is being revealed. They show the intimacy between Mother and son. Both episodes also demonstrate Mary’s special consideration towards everyone. At the wedding she intercedes when “the hour” has not yet come. At Calvary she offers her son to redeem all, and accepts the mission Jesus’ gives her to be the Mother of all believers (St. John: 1995).
The miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was an extraordinary and significant event, but in the context of everything its importance as a miracle is very little. Humans consumed the wine that was created. The miracle itself exists only in the sphere of mankind. It does not alter the character of life. The significance of this miracle lies in its revelation of the true identity of Jesus the Christ, and its foreshadowing of Jesus’ “hour” in which he gives himself completely for the fulfillment of God’s will.