Jesus at a wedding

Epiphany 2, 2013

Wedding at Cana – John 2:1-11

Marian Free


In the name of God who showers us with abundant blessings and reveals himself to us through his Son Jesus. Amen.


I don’t need to tell you that I know a great deal about weddings. Not only do I conduct numerous weddings but I had a hand in planning my wedding and have been involved in the planning of my children’s weddings. Even quite simple ceremonies take quite a deal of planning. A bare minimum requires the signing of the Notice of Intent at least one month before the ceremony, arranging a celebrant a venue and two witnesses. Anything more elaborate also involves deciding on the number of guests, sending invitations, choosing music, booking a reception centre, selecting a menu, organizing a cake, making or purchasing a dress, hiring or buying a suit, buying shoes and flowers, planning the seating arrangements, thinking of and inviting someone to be an MC and hopefully planning a honeymoon. For those who want to go to more trouble cars need to be hired, a photographer booked, wedding favours made or purchased, bridesmaid’s dresses made or bought and the list goes on (and on).  No wonder people find it stressful, I’m exhausted just listing what needs to be done!

Weddings in the first century were quite different, but I presume that they also required a great deal of planning. From what we can re-create from the literature available, it appears that in the first century all of the village would have been invited and the festivities would have lasted for seven days. The celebrations would have started, not at 3pm at an appointed time, but whenever the friends of the bridegroom arrived with the bride. One can only imagine the sort of organisation that would go into such an event. Feeding a large crowd over a number of days would involve a considerable amount of preparation – beasts would have to be chosen, slaughtered, prepared, and cooked, bread and sweets would have to be made and enough wine procured. Other arrangements such as dowries would have had to have been settled long beforehand.

It is interesting that the first event in Jesus’ life that is recorded by the author of John’s gospel is that of a wedding not a healing. What is more, the story raises a number of questions – not least of which is why the hosts ran out of wine. Were the groom’s parents really so unprepared as to not have enough to drink, or was it, as some suggest, that Jesus and the disciples did not observe the tradition of bringing a contribution to the festivities? Other questions arise: Whose wedding was it? Why was Mary concerned about the lack of wine if she was not the host? Why does Jesus address his mother in such an abrupt way: “woman”? Scholars have had a field day with the question of Mary’s interference in the festivities. It is this story that has led to the theory (used by Dan Brown) that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. If this were the case, it would explain Mary’s concern with the wine – she is the host of the celebration. It is her responsibility to have catered adequately for the party, it is her reputation that will be harmed if she proven to be an inadequate host. This is why Mary notices the shortfall and looks to Jesus for a solution.

Commentaries on John’s gospel provide answers to some of these questions, but the real key to the story lies not in the specific details, but in the evangelist’s purpose in recording it. The heart of the account is not Jesus’ relationship with his mother, nor is it the miracle itself, nor even the vast quantity of wine that results. The last line of the story tells us that its primary purpose is the revelation of the person of Jesus – to the disciples who are present and to those who will read the account later.

From start to finish, the author of John’s gospel is intent on making known that Jesus is the one who is to come, the one sent by God to bring salvation to the world and eternal life to those who believe. As we learn in chapter 20, John’s gospel is written: “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” So the purpose of the first of Jesus’ miracles recorded by John is to bring people to faith in him.

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels which begin with Jesus’ healing the sick and casting out demons, John begins with a wedding and a miracle of abundance. What is not readily obvious to us will have been clear to Jesus’ disciples and would certainly have been plain to those for whom the Gospel was written. Through the use of symbol and allusion, John portrays Jesus as the one who will bring the redemption promised by God. For example, as today’s reading from Isaiah indicates, marriage is a sign of the restoration of Israel – the people will be the bride and God the groom, their shame will be taken away and they will be able to hold their heads high among the people. A wedding and a feast imply that Jesus is the one who was to come.

Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of the danger of putting new wine into old wine skins. Wine replacing water is suggestive of a new and different era replacing the old. Lastly, the water to which Jesus refers is stored in stone jars, jars which because they were not porous and could not be contaminated, held the water used for the ritual of purification. John’s readers would have understood the illusion – Jesus’ salvific action replaces the need for repeated ritual purification. Through Jesus, the people have been put right with God for all time.

In the written account at least, and possibly in the actual event, all of these images would have spoken to the disciples of the fact that God, through Jesus, was doing something new. Something that has been pointed to by the prophets was now a reality in the life and presence of Jesus. Through allusions to OT expectations John presents Jesus as God’s answer to all that has been promised. He suggests that through Jesus the relationship between the people and God has been healed, the promised banquet has begun, the forsakennness of Israel has been supplanted by marriage and that because of Jesus the need for purification has become redundant.

So you can see, there is so much more to this wedding than a miracle. The wedding allows Jesus glory to be revealed which in turn leads to the disciples’ belief in him. The revelation of Jesus in John’s gospel has one purpose and one alone, that those who see and those who hear come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

A miracle-worker does not change the world. Someone who turns water into wine does not bring about the salvation of humankind. The extraordinary thing about Jesus, as John’s gospel will make clear over and over again, is that he and the Father are one and that through him, the world is redeemed and the relationship with God is restored.


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