John 2:1-12

Jesus Reveals his Glory

New Creation – A Wedding at Cana

John 2:1-2     Third Day – Day of Revelation

1 On the third day there was a wedding celebration in Cana in Galilee.  
The mother of Jesus was there. 
2 Jesus and his disciples were invited in to the celebration.

The previous “day” mentioned in the narrative had been the fourth day, when Jesus and the handful of acquaintances (by now disciples) had been, presumably, in Judea. The walk from Judea to Cana would normally have taken about five days. In that case, the third day would seem to have theological connotations, rather than numerical.

The Third Day

Mention of “the third day” recalled the language used in the Book of Exodus when God had revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites on Mt Sinai:

Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. 
Have them wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, 
because on the third day
the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai 
in the sight of all the people [Exodus 19:10-11].

However, the awkward references to the four earlier days, followed by the third day – together adding up to seven days – echoed another reference to a second version of God’s self-revelation in the same Book of Exodus:

Then Moses went up on the mountain,
and the cloud covered the mountain. 
The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai,
and the cloud covered it for six days; 
on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 
Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD 
was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain 
in the sight of the people of Israel [Exodus 24:15-17].

As the author would note at the conclusion of the episode [verse 11], this visit to Cana was the day when Jesus “revealed his glory”.

John 2:3-5     The Woman

A close look at the grammar of the Greek original would suggest that, while the mother of Jesus was already present at the wedding, Jesus and the disciples were invited, indeed, but had not been invited earlier. It seems that they just arrived on the scene unexpectedly and, along with the population of the village, were invited in.

3 The wine ran short.  
Jesus' mother then said to him:  “They are running out of wine”.

The mother of Jesus noticed that there was no wine left. Her comment to Jesus, who was yet to accept the invitation and join the festivities, may have been intended to suggest that he and his disciples not enter (and thereby make the shortage of wine more obvious).

4 Jesus replied: “How does that concern us both, Woman?  
My hour has not yet come.”

The nature of the dialogue, at this stage, became theological, rather than historical; but a clear theological meaning is elusive.

One interpretation is as follows: Jesus referred to his mother as Woman. The address would occur again in the account of Jesus’ crucifixion [19.26]. Understood conversationally, it sounds offensive. However, theologically, the title contained echoes of the account of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. There Eve was referred to as the Woman:

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken [Genesis 2:23]

In that account, the woman was the partner of the man, and both were implicated in eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Though the man was the one to whom God had given the injunction not to eat of the fruit of that tree, and therefore, bore the primary responsibility for their expulsion from the garden, the woman shared with him in the deed and in its consequences for humanity.

A little later in the Genesis story, when condemning the serpent, God spoke of the future role of the woman and her offspring:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel [Genesis 3:15].

Against this scriptural background, both Jesus’ address to his mother and his following comment begin to make sense, but a sense that would not become obvious until the scene at the crucifixion [19:26-27].

The phrase translated as: How does that concern us both? is a general phrase that can have a variety of meanings, depending on its context. Basically, it is a negation of commonality or relationship. Effectively, it meant: “we are not (yet) working in partnership”. The reason for their not yet working together was because Jesus’ hour had not yet come. Presumably, they would work together then. As the narrative would later indicate, Jesus’ hour was the hour of his death and resurrection. 

A second interpretation is possible. This would be the first of Jesus’ signs [verse 11] in the Gospel narrative. The purpose of all of the signs that would follow was to point to the unique identity of Jesus and to lead to faith in his divinity. The mother of Jesus was the immediate source of his humanity, but certainly not of his divinity. If the dialogue between Jesus and his mother were interpreted as a request on her part for him to draw on his divine power to resolve the problem confronting the young couple, then Jesus’ comment could be seen as a reminder to her that the exercise of that power was a matter between him and his Father – a matter beyond her concern.

When Jesus’ hour would eventually come, Jesus would save the world through his suffering and death. It would be precisely as human, as human son of his human mother, that he would bring about the world’s salvation. Against that background, her mother’s role as source of his humanity would be essential.

5 His mother said to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”

The narrative reverted to its storyline. Somehow or other (the narrative does not explain the context), the mother of Jesus recognised that her son took no notice of her suggestion that he and his disciples not enter. Apparently, she assumed that he knew what he was doing and had some plan in his mind. So, she indicated to the servants to do whatever he would tell them.

Given the possibility of multiple meanings, so much loved by the author, the directive addressed to the servants by Jesus’ mother may be read as referring, also, to all would-be disciples.

John 2:6-12     Water into Wine

6 Six stone water jars were standing nearby
for the purpose of the Jewish purification custom.  
They each had room for about a hundred or more litres.

The conversation had been taking place at the entrance where the purificatory water jars were situated.

7 Jesus said to the servants: “Fill the water jars with water.”  
And they filled them to the top.
8 Then he said: “Draw some out now and bring it to the head-waiter.”  
And they did so.
9 When the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine
[he knew nothing about where it came from -
it was the servants who drew the wine who knew],
he called the bridegroom
10 and said to him: “Everyone puts out the good wine first,
then, when people have got drunk, the inferior wine.  
You have left the good wine until now.”

Through the intervention of Jesus:

  • water became wine;
  • the supply was super-abundant;
  • and the quality was exquisite.

During the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt, Moses had quenched their physical thirst with water from the rock at Horeb, enabling them to survive:

When they were thirsty, they called upon you,
and water was given them out of flinty rock,
and from hard stone a remedy for their thirst [Wisdom 11:4].

With water from the hard stone water jars, Jesus would satisfy people’s spiritual thirst, turning the water into wine, giving joy to their hearts and facilitating their delighted interaction.

For readers familiar with their scriptural heritage, the details recalled the imagery used by God to indicate God’s intentions for humanity – as preached by the prophet Amos:

… the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it. 
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and.. they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine [Amos 9:13-14]
11 Jesus did this first of his signs in Cana of Galilee. 

It was the first of his signs. It would not be the last. As the first, it was significant in that it provided the background and context for the signs that would follow.

Jesus’ mother had cooperated with him, even though indirectly. At this stage, her involvement was no more than the (highly significant) direction: Do whatever he tells you.

To What did the Sign Point?

Joy and Abundance. The meaning would become clearer in the light of the further signs, but basically it promised joy – abundant and unimaginable joy, so graphically symbolised by the profusion of wine. (The theme of abundance would occur in the feeding of the five thousand, and the collection of twelve baskets of fragments left over [6:13].) The author wrote in the hope that his readers, through “believing, might have life in his (Jesus') name” [20:31]. He wished to describe that life in terms of joy. Life would be like a joyful, intricate dance, ever unfolding, never ending.

Intimacy and new Life. The occasion had been a wedding, a celebration of intimate love, of unfolding partnership and of fertility. The occasion pointed to a whole new era of intimate love, partnership and fruitfulness between God and humanity, made possible by the presence and action of Jesus.

… He revealed his glory,
and his disciples believed in him.

As God had done to Moses and the Israelites on Mt Sinai, on the third day, in one passage from Exodus [19:10-11] or on the seventh day, according to another passage [24:15-17], Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples.

The disciples allowed their world view and expectations, already brought into question by their encounter with Jesus and his impact on them, to be radically shaken. They were open to be challenged by the unexpected, to be changed and to wonder. Their journey of faith continued: they believed in him. Their journey into becoming children of God was under way.

In commenting that Jesus revealed his glory, the Gospel saw the sign at Cana as pointing to all that would be revealed in the other signs that would follow, particularly the final sign of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Until then, the disciples’ insight into the glory of Jesus would be incomplete.

Nathanael’s initiation into the greater things than these [1:50] had begun.

The Author’s Call to Faith

The Beloved Disciple wrote his Gospel for the sake of his readers: “that you might believe”. His concern was not, primarily, to inform them of the past. He wished to encourage them to deepen their faith and to be more in touch with it. He expected the risen Christ to make the impact on them that he had made on the original disciples. He wanted them to verify from their own experience the possibilities of intimate love, partnership and fruitfulness, and to encourage them, if that were not their experience, to seek the reasons why not.

The Gospel continues to speak to today’s readers. It encourages them to reflect consciously on their experience, to be alert to what is stirring within them, to notice the changes across time in their relationship with Jesus, to be in touch with their deepest desires and to release the power of those desires in their lives.

12 After this, Jesus and his mother, his brothers and his disciples,
went down to Capernaum,
and they stayed there only a few days.

Jesus’ mother would not reappear in the narrative until the hour of Jesus had come – his death and resurrection – when he would associate her with him in the unfolding work of salvation [19:25-27]. She would remain unnamed.

Jesus’ brothers would be mentioned again only once, when the Gospel would sadly comment: not even his brothers believed in him [7:5].

His disciples would be constant companions, though they would remain always an undefined group. Only on two occasions would the “twelve” be mentioned [6:67 and 20:24], and even then, only in passing.

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