The Explorer’s Way
St. John: Gospel of Glory,
Sign One: King of the Wedding Feast
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine. And Jesus said to her, “What business do you have with Me, woman? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He tells you, do it.” Now there were six stone waterpots standing there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing two or three measures each. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” And they took it to him. (John 2:3-8, NASB)
At first, this may seem an awkward story to begin recounting Jesus’s public ministry. Jesus’s response to His mother’s request sounds rude as he refers to her bluntly as “woman.” Mary and her son also appear to be at cross purposes.
But Jesus’s actions that follow Mary’s response will show Him finding a way to align them. Mary has faith that her son will do so, for after His stark words to her, she says, “Whatever He tells you, do it.”
How does the contrast between Mary’s thoughts and Jesus’s potential actions foreshadow how the Lord will display His glory through this first sign?
Context is Everything
There was probably no more significant social occasion for any ancient Middle Eastern family than a wedding. We Westerners sweat out a rehearsal dinner and a two-hour ceremony, followed by a wedding celebration that features a meal for 50 to 400 people. But imagine putting on a wedding feast that lasted an entire week and included an entire village!
Worse, in this shame-based Middle Eastern culture, running out of food or drink too early in the party would be scandalous, marking the couple and their family for years. This was the crisis Mary had been made aware of. The host was running out of wine too early in the festivities. It was potentially ruinous for this young couple.
But when Mary approaches Jesus for a solution, He is thinking about a very different “cup of wine” – the one that would symbolize His death for all the world’s shame. Jesus was aiming higher. He was looking to the true marriage “supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6-9), where, as the true Bridegroom, only His blood could purchase His betrothed, His true Bride, the Church (Eph. 5:22-33, NASB)
Jesus’ Glory as King of the Wedding Feast
Now when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter *called the groom, and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the guests are drunk, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. (John 2:9-11, NASB)
Even though the reputation of the headwaiter is not ultimately on the line the way our young couple’s is, we can imagine he breaks out in sweat as the wine starts to run out. The celebratory feast is headed for disaster! How could he have let this happen? Why didn’t he check the wine casks before the feast to make sure and alert the family? Did he underestimate the guest count?
Then comes the miraculous reprieve, shocking this headwaiter. This man has presided over many a lavish wedding and partaken of many wealthy families’ finest wines. But no groom has ever withheld the finest wine until the end. Usually you see the Tattinger ’74 Brut come out first. Then, when everyone is a little “tight,” they start passing around the André pink champagne.
The headwaiter commends the groom on his unusual generosity. Jesus has rescued both the wedding party and the celebration.
How Does this Show Jesus’s Glory?
Many Bible passages that depict the Kingdom of God describe it as a “Grand Banquet (Luke 14:15-24), a welcome-home party (Luke 15:11-32), or a wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14). Jesus is consistently portrayed as the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, says all human marriages are just a snapshot, an imperfect image at best, of the divine wedding to come between Christ and His Church (Eph. 5).
Anytime Jesus speaks of “His hour” or “time” in John’s gospel it is always the hour of His death (John 2:4; 7:8. 30; 8:20). As Mary first approaches Jesus, her son is thinking beyond the shame of this immediate wedding feast if it fails. He is thinking more about taking upon Himself the shame of the world when His hour comes, to guarantee the true marriage will take place. Jesus is King of the Feast, for without Him all the hopes in any earthly celebration must end in a veil of tears because the True Marriage would never happen. And so, as a sign, He shows His glory both as Lord of Creation and Messiah by turning water into the choicest wine.
Ritual Washings vs. New Wine
When Mary tells the servants to do anything Jesus asks, it doesn’t seem she has any idea what that might be. Jesus chooses to take a symbol from the old way of dealing with impurity and sin. He commands that the servants bring out water that would be used for ritual washing. This points to the way Jesus would show the entire old-covenant sacrificial system to be inadequate, that a new covenant was coming. This new and permanent cleansing of sin and impurity would have wine as its symbol. Not just any wine, but wine formed by the hands of the Creator Himself.
There are three things about Jesus’s new wine we should see.
- It is the best new wine. And it points as a sign not to just any blood, but to Jesus’s infinitely potent, sin-erasing blood.
- This new wine would need new wineskins to carry it. Trying to contain the Gospel in the old ways of law-keeping and ritual-observing would burst the skins and waste the wine (Mark 2:22).
- The new wine would be intoxicating and delightful. It would surprise and confound those who consume it. It would become the focus of the entire celebration.
There’s a passage in Paul’s letter to Ephesus that mentions wine. We tend to read it in a grumpy, moralistic way. We try to make it into a rule. But The Message paraphrase of this passage gets it right:
Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of Him (Ephesians 5:18, The Message).
This wording picks up on the real contrast between the two different “drinks,” each of which will alter perception. One distorts and dissipates; the other expands perception, informs it, corrects and fills it in a healthy way.
This is how Jesus shows His glory through this first sign. He is King of the Feast, the one Who rescues all from shame, the true Bridegroom to Whom we are all matched in the Divine Wedding where we shall become complete.
Before closing out this sign of glory, it is important to note, with scholar Richard Bauckham (The Gospel of Glory, Baker Academic, 2015) that what the jovial headwaiter says to the bridegroom is hilariously off. The young man had nothing to do with the resplendent wine supply and Jesus has gone about this miracle with only His disciples, His mother, and the servants “in the know.” Bauckham points out it is not the bridegroom who has kept “the best wine for last,” but rather God has been keeping the “best for last.” And this first miracle at Cana is the beginning of God’s revealing His “best” for the world in Jesus.
What is the best wine you have ever tasted? How do you think it would measure up to Jesus’s “Private Label?”
In what ways can the Holy Spirit cause us to perceive the world differently?
Do you carry shame with you? Jesus knows and hears you. Tell Him your fears. Share them with trusted brothers or sisters. Don’t be afraid to take your shame to His cross.
Next Week - Sign Two: The Healing the royal official’s son (John 4:46-54);
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Laura Vida says
Thank you for this! I have never really connected the significance of this event with the larger scale of what Jesus had in mind. I loved the cultural background piece, Mary’s motive of trying to spare this young couple shame, the message version Scripture that captures the essence of the concept, and the questions for reflection. Though not a wine connoisseur by any stretch, I can say that through prayer via the Holy Spirit (which often naturally takes us to a place of humility), my focus shifts from what I want to get to what I should be giving, from how I have been “wronged” to what my part is in a conflict, from seeing the world through a disgruntled lens to gratitude and (often) wonder. Thank you for sparking this important line of thought and dialogue.
Dianna Lubeck says
We’ll, I’ve had some pretty amazing wines, so I can’t imagine a vintage that the Son of God himself has created. What strikes me most in this passage is the utter kindness of Jesus. Yes, his sight is on the far greater, global need of humanity…yet, he is able to meet these individuals in their very present and seemingly short-sighted need. His story that He willingly invites us to be a part of, and uses our seemingly insignificant desires to reveal His glory and His care and love for us. What kind of God does that?