The wedding at Cana. 2:1-11


The changing of water into wine is the first of the signs performed by Jesus. It is a sign which proclaims the dawning of the new age of God's free grace and this like the pouring out of "new wine", Jer.31:12. In this miracle Jesus "revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him", v11.

The passage

v1-2. Mary, along with Jesus and his disciples, attends a wedding. Much is made of the symbolism of the "third day", eg. C.H. Dodd believes it ties the miracle to the glory of the resurrection. It is more likely telling us that it is only two full days since Jesus' promised that his disciples would see "greater things than these", 1:51-52.

v3. Some commentators argue that Mary's words are a request for Jesus to do something, but they are more likely an agitated comment driven by embarrassment. Jesus, now a rabbi, along with his disciples, would not have contributed to the occasion, as would the other guests.

v4. One suspects that the sense of Jesus, words is: "now mother, don't drag me into this mess, I didn't have anything to do with it." The second sentence is even more enigmatic. The "hour" is obviously a reference to the glorification of Christ, his death and resurrection. On this wonderful day the blessings of the messianic kingdom will be poured out on God's people; they will drink the "new wine" of a new age, Jer.31:12. So, Jesus is playing with words and giving his mother a clue to his true nature; something like, "In any case, mother, the day when your son will usher in the new age with its free flowing wine, is still in the future."

v5. There is little indication that Mary understands what Jesus is talking about. Many commentators argue that her words are a faith response, but they are more likely an expression of frustration. This is not a time for riddles, but for action; "do something!"

v6. The stone jars, holding about 500 liters all up, were used for ritual purification, the washing of utensils, hands.... They were stone to guarantee the purity of the water.

v7-8. Jesus directed that the jars be filled with water and that servings of the water, now turned into wine, be taken to the head waiter. The point of the imagery, assuming that John is making a point, is that what blessings were gained through the rites of ritual purification are totally superseded by the blessings of the dawning new age.

v9-10. The comment by the head waiter further develops the imagery of the sign. The "new wine" of the new age is "the best" (choice, good, beautiful).

v11. Signs are not just miraculous displays of divine power, they actually reveal divine mysteries for those who seek the divine. John tells us that the sign of water into wine reveals something of Jesus' "glory", something of the mystery revealed in the cross and empty tomb. The blessings of that "hour" can be imaged in the abundance of the "new wine" that will flow at the kingdom banquet. The sign of water into wine displayed that the hour is close at hand; the old age is passing away, the new has dawned, and how choice it will be. The disciples understand and believe.

The good drop

My father, who was a manufacturing chemist, had this wonderful party trick. He had two half full glasses of clear liquid, one being water. He had a stick with some condy's crystals (permanganate) secreted in a hole at the end of the stick. He would remind the kids about the water into wine story and then stir the water with his tricky-stick to prove he could do the same. The water magically went bright red. Then, for his finale, he would claim to go one better than Jesus. He would pour the red water from the condy's crystals into the second glass. Now of course, I have long forgotten the chemical he had in the second glass, but any chemist woiuld know, for it totally turned the red liquid back to clear. Of course, we were never given a chance to drink his tricky "wine", and its the drinking that makes all the difference!

The sign of water into wine is an acted out gospel presentation. It proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand. For those waiting for the dawning of the new age, in this case the disciples, it proclaims that the great feast in the last day, with its abundance of beautiful wine, is actually rubbing up against us. The wine is already for the drinking, and what a good drop it is! Those with searching eyes can see and believe.

Moving the miracle into the 21st century is no easy matter, but let's have a stab at it. The sign of water into wine is a good-news story. It proclaims the coming of a new age, a wondrous age of perfection and plenty.

There are beautiful wines, quaffing wines, and terrible wines. Even with beautiful wines, some age well, but others turn sour before our very eyes. No matter how hard we try, the best wines can be corked and destroyed by fungus. As with wines, so with life, we are constantly reminded of the impermanence of life, reminded that "moth and rust corrupts." We can be stoic about imperfection, within us and about us, or better still, we can look beyond our moment to a brighter day when the wine will not disappoint us. When Jesus visited a wedding in Cana he performed a miracle that served to remind his disciples of that brighter day, a day that transcends the imperfect moment. His disciples understood the point he was making and decided to trust him to carry them to that day. Do we trust him to carry us to that day of perfection and plenty?


Discuss the validity of the the wine-bibbers application of the sign of water into wine used in this study.

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