Miracle at Cana
- Main Text: John 2:1-11
- Accompanying text: Psalm 104:12-16
“Jesus, Mary and His disciples attend a wedding in Galilee. When the entire supply of wine has been consumed by the wedding guests, Mary comes to Jesus and tells Him what has happened. Jesus instructs the servants to pour water into jars and take it to the master of the banquet, who, upon tasting it, discovers it has been transformed into wine. Despite performing the miracle, Jesus initially showed reluctance when Mary approached Him, saying, ‘Why do you involve me? My time has not come’. Jesus makes multiple references to ‘time’ or ‘hour’ throughout the Gospels, alluding to His crucifixion and resurrection, when His blood, often symbolised by wine, will cleanse humanity of all sin” .
Sometimes, to get the full flavour of the narrative, it’s worthwhile reading a biblical story completely without pausing to analyse individual verses on the way. Compare different translations, if you can, to get more of the flow of what’s going on. In John 2:1-11 there is a list of characters: Jesus, his mother, perhaps his brothers (2:12), the servants, the bridegroom, the master of the feast, the people (the guests) and Jesus’ disciples, possibly including Nathanael, who was from Cana (John 21:2), and who had become a disciple only a few days before. The setting is a wedding, for which there would have been a ruler or master of the banquet, effectively the person in charge of the catering and the provision of food and drink. Sometimes the festivities would last over a week, as in the example found in Judges 14:17, which means that the guests would not have finished off the wine all at one sitting, but, rather, during several days. It would have been a community celebration with refreshments provided for all who came to witness the marriage and to rejoice in the occasion. Wine would have been an important part of the festivities, and to fail to provide enough of it would have been cause for embarrassment. The large stone jars of water, “each holding twenty or thirty gallons” (2:6 ESVUK), would have been for ceremonial/hygienic handwashing purposes.
Thoughts re application today
John describes Jesus as being involved in the life and love of a typical family in attendance at a wedding. Some scholars see significance in the frequent mention of marriage feasts/special meals both in the events of Christ’s ministry and in his parables of the kingdom. “Add therefore to your computer memory bank as many dinner parties, suppers, and wedding receptions as you can gather up out of Scripture: not only the final Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19), but the marriage feast at Cana of Galilee (John 2), the Last Supper (Matt.26; Mark 14; Luke 22), the evening meal at Emmaus on the night of Easter Day (Luke 24)…the Passover meal in Exod. 12, all sabbath meals everywhere, the feast of the prodigal son (Luke 15)”, all of which, including the parables such as that of the king’s son’s wedding (Matt.22), can be “read in the context of all the gracious invitations to ‘sit together in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6), be they Old Testament antitypes, Gospel events, present realities, or eschatological promises. The world has been summoned precisely to a party — to a reconciled and reconciling dinner chez (French for ‘at the house of’) the Lamb of God; judgment is pronounced only in the light of the acceptance or declination of that invitation” .
The master of the feast/ruler of the banquet would have been responsible to ensure that there was a constant and adequate supply of wine and perhaps Mary should have reported the problem to him instead of to Jesus. This might explain the context of Jesus’ comment, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (2:4) because the supply of wine was not Jesus’ responsibility. Being someone of David’s lineage and a rising new celebrity teacher, Jesus may have been asked to provide wedding benedictions, but he had nothing to do with the physical arrangements of the celebrations. To our modern ears it may sound rude when Jesus addresses his mother as “woman”, but it was not necessarily so in New Testament times. Jesus addresses her in the same way at his crucifixion (19:26), and he uses the same term when speaking to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection (20:15). His mother does not appear to be hurt or shocked by Jesus’ words. She has gone in faith to the one person that Mary thinks and knows can do something about the problem. When Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come” (2:4), it’s relevant to remember that his ministry was just about to begin and that Jesus was not yet at the time when he would glorify the Father as in his prayer of John 17:1,“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you”.
The Greek word used often in John for “sign” is not the same word used for “miracles” in the synoptic Gospels and elsewhere. It’s a word used to show a mark of genuineness and authenticity. It’s used this way in 2 Thessalonians 3:17: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” — the sign of authenticity is Paul’s own signature. Therefore, the miracle of turning water into wine takes on significance beyond the event itself. It is a sign of the authentic Messiah and of his glory, and it resulted in a strengthening of the disciples’ faith: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (2:11). Luke uses the same word in Luke 2:12 — “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” It was to do with proof and evidence to demonstrate that Jesus was and remains the real thing, the genuine Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of God. Some scholars suggest that the implication of this first sign in Cana is that there had been no intervening signs and miracles since the events of Jesus’ birth and the changing of the water into wine.
- Psalm 45
Footnotes and references
- The Bible Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by various contributors, published by DK: Random House Publishers, UK, 2018:337.
- Kingdom, Grace, Judgment; Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus by Robert Farrar Capon, published by William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, USA & UK, 2002:456-457.