Wedding Mishaps and the Cross: Reflections on John 2:1-11
In the case of the wedding at Cana, the role of the mother of Jesus is partly to witness to the fact that the exalted Word made flesh of the Prologue is a real human being from a particular place and family. The Logos has a mom. Her other role is simply to articulate our human need for her Son. She makes a stark statement of what is lacking in the scenario: "They have no wine." Weddings epitomize the fact that even the best planned and most auspicious of human scenarios are imperfect, flawed, and lacking. Something always goes wrong. Something is always askew. It is the role of the mother of Jesus to express that reality and to look expectantly (I imagine) in the direction of her son.
Her son's role, through the sign he performs, is to point us toward his divine identity. All seven signs in John's gospel have in common a Christological focus, pointing to Jesus variously as prophet, Messiah, and divine Son of Man. They all redefine associations both Jewish and Greek readers in the late first century would have brought to them. Jews would have heard in the wine miracle an allusion to the advent of Messiah. Prophetic writings and late-first-century Jewish tradition (Amos 9:11, 13; Joel 3:18; Is. 25:6) associated a lavish outpouring of wine with the advent of the Messiah. Greeks would have connected a miraculous gift of wine as a revealing of the presence of a deity through legends associated with the god Dionysos (Koester 80). Commentators often point out that the six stone jars, each of which could contain fifteen to twenty-five gallons, signify the fantastic abundance of the gifts introduced by Christ (Gaventa 87). The impact of the sign at Cana is that "Jesus revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him" (2:11).
Fixing Wedding Mishaps and More through the Divine Gift of Life
But that glory, as with all the other signs, is framed by the cross and the resurrection. All seven signs contain allusions to Jesus' death and resurrection, the lens through which John wants us to read his gospel (Koester, 76-77). Jesus' mysterious reference to "my hour" (2:4) refers to his future suffering and glory here as it does throughout the gospel (Jn. 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).
Cana and the Cross are connected through the presence of Jesus' mother, the reference to the hour, and the outpouring of a gift beyond human deserving or making. In the miracle at the wedding at Cana, human resources are at an end. There is no more wine left. In other miracles in John, when humans have come to an end of their medical skills, supply of food, and supply of courage, Jesus heals, feeds, and comforts amid the storm. Here he supplies what is needed for the feast to continue: the gift of wine.
In the cross, the Word made flesh is coming to an end of his earthly life. His energies as a physical being are about to fade from the world. This is his hour of death. And in it God who sent him will flow into him with resurrecting power that will result in his glorification. A miracle of supply where there is only lack. Of life where there is only death. Of a beginning where there is only an ending.
Says biblical scholar Paul Meyer, "The Cana story is not primarily about a humble Galilean village wedding, but about the Bringer of divine gifts" (quoted in Gaventa, 87).
At Cana, the gift is wine. It propels us forward to the hour when the gift will be new life.
Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus, Chapter Four, "Cana and the Cross: The Mother of Jesus in the Gospel of John," (University of South Carolina Press, 1995).
Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis: Fortess Press, 1995).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.