John 2: 1-11
On the third day of the week, as was the prevailing custom of the time, a wedding begins. Weddings lasted seven days. The celebration after the ceremony included large quantities of food and wine and was accompanied by music and dancing. Note that if the “miracle” wine in those six 20 to 30 gallon/75 to 115 liter jars was consumed, that was an extra 120 to 180 gallons/450 to 680 liters of wine! However, as the wedding was only in its third day, and there were four more days to go, the quantity is not as significant as the lack of preparation on the part of the host. The bridegroom’s family clearly had not foreseen how much wine they needed for the large company of guests.
The village of Cana’s location is disputed, but excavations in three possible locations reveal much about Jewish life at the time—including that large stone water jars existed, usually in the homes of the wealthy. This was likely a wedding in a wealthy family and it may have been a relative of Jesus and Mary. Mary is portrayed as being attentive to how well the wedding was going!
Other details are interesting. Though difficult or impossible to answer, the questions themselves are intriguing: Why did John not name Mary (he calls her “the mother of Jesus”)? Why did Jesus refer to Mary as “woman” instead of “mother”? Was Jesus irritated with his mother for involving him in taking care of the wine problem which he didn’t consider their business? And, though seemingly irritated, why did he go ahead and respond to his mother’s wishes? Why does John want the reader to know the steward didn’t know what was happening when the good wine was served last, but the servants knew all about it?
There is more. Consider the following possibilities as we look more closely at the Gospel of John as a whole. Seven signs are recounted in the first 12 chapters of John; seven signs testifying of Jesus as the word made flesh. The wedding at Cana is the first of the signs.
What lesson might be found in the need to prepare, or in how God helps when we are not prepared? Could John be metaphorically referring to Jesus as the “bridegroom,” the one who invites all to the wedding banquet that symbolizes the kingdom of God?
Knowing the Gospel of John was written long after the death and resurrection of Jesus, could the best-tasting wine refer to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? Is Jesus the best-tasting wine? Could the response to Mary, “My hour has not yet come” (v. 4), refer to the crucifixion and resurrection that were to follow? Might the opening of the passage, “On the third day,” allude to the resurrection? Does the reference to the servants understanding what was happening while the steward was clueless imply that only those who are servants and followers of Jesus will clearly understand? Is there an allusion to Moses when the waters of the Nile changed into blood to help free the Israelites from bondage?
We cannot know for sure, but theologians and scholars provide valuable insights into the place of the sign given at Cana in the overall literary structure of the Gospel of John. If we focus on the alcoholic content (or not) of the wine, or try to argue for or against whether Jesus turned the water into wine actually or metaphorically, we risk missing the deeper value of this account which signals the divinity of the “only Son” (John 3:16) given to this world God so deeply loves.