Isaiah 62:1-5, I Cor 12:1-11. John 2:1-11
Whilst I was at Theological College I shared a house with some fellow students; on the kitchen wall was a postcard which listed ‘10 things that prove Jesus was an OK bloke’. One of them was ‘He turned water into Chardonnay’. Now I’ve met people who give the impression that Christians never enjoy themselves; that Jesus should have done the reverse at Cana and turned all the wine into water, but that is far from the truth of our faith. So what can we learn from the events at Cana?
The story itself is, I think, well known, so I am not going to repeat it here. However a brief comment on the water jars will set the rest of what I want to say in context.
The jars would have stood at the entrance to the house and each guest would have washed hands, faces and feet in them when they arrived. Now those six jars are big ones; each held about 20 to 30 gallons or, to be even more up to date, between 70 and 100 litres. That’s at least 100 bottles of wine in each of the six jars that Jesus provides. And, as we learn when the steward tries it, this is not cheap plonk but a good vintage wine. Truly evidence of a ‘good bloke’!!
That is what happened but the real question for us is what did it mean? John is quite clear about that; he tells us that this was a sign which ‘revealed Jesus’ glory’ and so ‘his disciples to put their faith in him’. Throughout his writings, John, wants his readers to see beyond the surface action to the real truth underneath, to what this tells us about Jesus. There is for John, and so should be for us, real significance in this first sign that Jesus gives of who he is; but what is the sign showing?
Let’s go back to those water jars, which were part of the Jewish religious rituals; part of the duty that a Jew had to God. Jesus takes that symbol of obedience to the law and turns it into something to be enjoyed within the setting of a wedding feast. He demonstrates by his action what his earthly ministry is to be about. Jesus offers a new and different understanding of the Kingdom of God, not as something that has to be worked for and struggled towards but as a free gift of God, provided in a quantity so great that everyone present will have more than enough. To those who saw and understood what was going on he seems to ask ‘Do you want to settle for the surface obedience to the law of God or are you prepared to get fully involved in the life-changing Kingdom?’
It is a question that we each do well to ask ourselves occasionally; how deep does your commitment to God go? For, to be a true disciple of Jesus, demands more than an hour or so on Sunday morning. Stop at that and we risk being like the Jews, keeping the letter of the law but missing it’s real meaning. People for whom the water will remain just water.
How then do we get more involved in that Kingdom? The passage we heard offers us three different examples of people who do respond appropriately.
First there is Mary, the one who has borne the baby who became this man. Who has seen her child grow up and perhaps always known that his destiny was something very special. She recognises there is a problem and brings it to Jesus. Now I don’t want to over-spiritualise this, as she may have been thinking in very practical ways, maybe the 1st century equivalent of someone going shopping, but Jesus answers more as God’s Son than hers when he reminds her of his greater purpose. Perhaps that is what Mary is responding to when she tells the servants to ‘Do whatever he tells them’, having been reminded who He is she responds with faith in Jesus.
For each of us there will be times when we need to bring very practical, down to earth needs to God. When we do so it is his great joy to respond.
The servants provide our next example as they respond in faithful obedience to Jesus’ instructions. Remember that they are the ones who know where this drink has come from, they probably emptied out the dirty water and they certainly know it was only water with which the jars were refilled. Now they are expected to serve it up to the boss!
Jesus then, as now, needs faithful men and women who will obey his directions, even when it seems a mad and risky thing to do.
Finally there are the disciples. Presumably sitting close enough to have seen and heard all that went on, they are expecting something special from the man who they believe to be the Messiah. John tells us they ‘put their faith in Jesus’; for them this moment was one of those sudden glimpses of who this man was.
Three responses within the story. But how do we respond – and to what? I commented as I started on how many people would almost have preferred Jesus to change the wine in to water. But that is not God’s way. At the very least there is at Cana a sense of God sharing in the glory and joy of our humanity. Of the exuberant, creative power of God at work in bringing uncomplicated, human pleasure to a wedding feast. Do we know enough of God’s joyous ‘YES!’ to all of our human joys?
But, as we are all very much aware, the sometimes anarchic free will we share as part of the image of God in us, can also cause deep divisions and desperate suffering and pain. Perhaps surprisingly, God in that pain is also hinted at within the Cana story. Look how it begins ‘three days later’. John of all Gospel writers, used words with care. Yes, it is three days after the calling of the first disciples but another three days are reflected in Jesus’ response to Mary. ‘My time has not yet come.’
That time came three years after the wedding at Cana, at the end of his earthly life. As he prepared to die, taking upon and into himself all the suffering and pain of our humanity, Jesus once again took an old symbol of the Jewish faith and gave it a new meaning. Just before his arrest and crucifixion, as he shared the Passover festival with his disciples, Jesus took the elements of their tradition and created a memorial to himself in the broken bread and shared cup of the communion service. At the end of his earthly ministry, as at it start, he asked, do you want to settle for the surface observances of religion or will you put your faith and trust in me?
Whether we are those who, like Mary have lived for months or years with a growing awareness of who Jesus is or, like the newly called disciples it is something that we suddenly recognise, Jesus’ call to us is the same. Do you want to settle for water or will you risk the full-bodied, fully committed, world-changing life of the Kingdom of God?