Cana Wedding Gift

Cana Wedding Gift August 2, 2015

sticks into bath towels

The cartoon was shared by Allan Bevere, and seems to clearly be one of the Inherit the Mirth series. The request seems as legitimate as the request for help when wine has run out. But if we lived in a universe where such things happened, where would the cut-off point be, and would it not seem unfair and arbitrary to the one disadvantaged by it? One can even believe in a rather traditional sort of Creator God, and still think that a world in which shortages of wine or bath towels are solved through miracles is not the sort of world we live in, nor the sort of world that a benevolent deity would create. The problematic aspects of such a universe seem to outweigh the positives – even just imagining a scene from it in a cartoon.

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  • Nick G

    The cartoon also brings up an interesting point of miracle-working technique: did Jesus need some water (or sticks) to turn into wine (or bath-towels)? Or could he just have created what was wanted ex nihilo? Even in the case of the loaves-and-fishes miracle, he started with five loaves and two fishes – but this does tend to indicate that conservation of matter was not a constraint.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    The interesting thing about the Hebrew concept of “miracle” is that it is a sign, not necessarily something supernatural. A person levitating in the street isn’t a miracle; it’s just weird. Whereas a goat walking behind a house at a particular time of day could be a miracle.

    John describes the Cana miracle as a semion – the event is meant to point to something. Since John is looking backward to an account of this miracle, my guess is that he included the story not to present Jesus as a purveyor of supernatural wares, but as the Messiah who was going to take the Jewish ceremonial washing water and transform it into wine for this wide array of wedding guests.

  • Gary

    Personally, I think too much is being read into this story. Just typical Jewish mother-son interplay.

    3And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. 4And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. 5His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

    • Shiphrah99

      Agreed. It is a wise man who obeys his mother.

  • David Evans

    Just wondering: what if a truly benevolent God were to provide everyone at birth with an indestructible gadget which would provide daily the essentials of life (food, water, clothing etc)?. This would seem to avoid a number of the evils in our present world while still allowing for altruism, freewill and the other things that a constantly intervening God might prevent.

    The Lord’s Prayer might be amended to “Thank you for giving us each day our daily bread”.

    You may recognize this as inspired by Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld books.

    • Now there’s a scenario that seems on first glance to be (1) better than the world we inhabit, and (2) better than a world with arbitrarily-dolled-out miracles. But perhaps there are some counter-arguments? Anyone?

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        A few things come to mind. I haven’t thought these through, so be gentle:

        1. This would pretty much be the death blow to faith. It’s hard to dispute the existence of a God when a machine beyond what technology could possibly produce mysteriously shows up in your hands when you exit the womb. I’m not saying it’s aliens, but….

        2. It seems on the surface this would provide a better world, but it’s hard to know that. What would happen to world population? What new thing would people fight over? Do people who have their material needs met seem less prone to evil or violence, or does it just take different forms?

        3. God seems to display a predilection for working through natural processes. The few times when this isn’t the case really stand out and cause us to wonder at their meaning or at least be in awe at the mystery. That would probably happen less when we all came into this world with indestructible replicators that appeared out of nowhere. “Miracle” would cease to be a meaningful form of revelation.

        4. We’re defining benevolence as meaning that every individual should be given the means to survive as long as possible. Is that surely benevolence, though, in every case? I feel like the issue might be more complex than such a blanket statement. Maybe all humanity would -not- be better off having their basic material needs constantly provided throughout their lives.

        • I think these points are important ones. It is worth noting that we almost always find, when we try to turn a vision of utopia into a story about the future, it proves to be a dystopia instead. While I am skeptical of “best of all possible worlds” arguments, I think we also need to be skeptical of claims to know how we could have made the universe better still.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I am -very- skeptical of the best of all possible worlds arguments, especially in the realm of natural evil. But at the same time, I have to admit the sheer amount of variables are hopelessly complex. I’m not in an epistemic position to evaluate the relative goodness of the entire world system and/or what the ramifications would be of making a fundamental change to it.

            I mean, when I time travel, I’m not even allowed to kill a cockroach.

            It has interesting ramifications for the whole “would you kill an infant Hitler” scenario. Or even an adult one, for that matter. On the surface, it seems like you would want to stop Hitler before the unspeakably horrible things he was responsible for. At the same time, it is impossible to predict what might have happened without him, both in the arena of nations as well as our current level of awareness of the issues raised by WWII.

        • Michael Wilson

          I think the expectation that a benevolent God would have ensured every one have all their needs met short sighted and superficial. There are those mystics ascetics, and monks that say they are quite content to not be provided for. Any how, our perspective is so limited, how could we really say if God is good or not? Its like asking children if they think school, vegetables, or war is good. What do they know?

          As to faith, I don’t think good faith is believing God exists but believing God is good for you. No miracle could ever prove God is good, so the value of faith as I see it us the choice to live as though your life has meaning and is good.

    • arcseconds

      I have read Riverworld, but I don’t remember this?

      On reflection, I haven’t read Riverworld… I think I started it once, but somehow I got confused with with the World of Tiers series.

  • arcseconds

    I’ve always figured that he turned the water into wine because he wanted to party on! rather than after the booze has gone everyone shambling off to find a bar or a liquor store that’s still open or just give up and go home, like the death of many parties.

    If this is correct, then he might not have the same interest in fixing up someone else’s problem of forgetting a wedding present.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      John conveniently left out the miraculous origin of red Dixie cups.

      • Andrew Dowling

        This was a classy wedding! Clay chalices all the way; Jesus did not associate with Galilean rednecks . . .

    • Gary

      Although, being serious, I find this story out of place from the whole John 1, “Word from the Beginning” thing. Jesus is ticked off at his mother, but then goes ahead and makes wine. Seems hardly the attitude of the creator of the universe! I wonder if this was a later story added to deflate Gnostic use of John, since they liked Spirit, but not so much spirits (being ascetic).

      • I think the problem is that you are viewing the Jesus depicted in John not just through the lens of the prologue – which has him embodying the word of the Creator rather than being the Creator himself – but also through the lens of even later Christological developments.

        • Gary

          Just curious. What do you make of “They have no wine. 4And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come”? You would think (at least I would), in John’s view of God-Jesus, Jesus would then not make wine. Or, I would expect John to leave out the rebuke of Mary. Very interesting. I know supposedly Valentinians liked the Gospel of John. I suppose I should check a couple commentaries out.

          • I don’t understand the question. John views Jesus as the human being who embodies God’s Word and God’s Light. Why would he not make wine? Are you asking about a possible connection to Dionysus?

          • Gary

            No, not Dionysus. Why would he not make wine? Because he specifically said (at least according to the author), “And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.” I take that as an implied no. Otherwise, I would have to default to the “Howard of Big Bang” explanation, that he is whiny, not divine. Or, as Vshd said, the author is indeed trying to show that Jesus is human. Having been written late, I suspect that there is something more in the author’s intent.

      • Vshd

        Jesus is God, but He isn’t ONLY God. He is also human. He unites the divine nature with the human nature. So it makes perfect sense that, right after telling us Jesus is God, John then adds a story to display the human side of Jesus. This way, both natures of the God-man are shown, one after the other.

        We don’t call this author John the Theologian for nothing. 🙂

      • arcseconds

        To me it has the air of an orally-transmitted anecdote, with a plausible origin in some historic moment. It’s not clear it serves much in the way of theological function, (although it has just occurred to me on reading James’s remark below that it might be likened to alchemy, i.e. turning base substances into higher ones, on the other hand perhaps that doesn’t make much sense as Jewish culture probably doesn’t see wine as purer than water? given the nazerite vows…) apart from Yet Another Miracle Story, but it’s not too difficult to imagine “you remember that party that Jesus was at? where we thought we ran out of wine but we found some more? Good times” turning into “there was this party that Jesus was at, where they ran out of wine, but Jesus totally made some more!”.

        (And honestly, people really do talk up parties and other celebrations rather a lot. )

        Also bickering with mum is a strange thing to script the embodiment of a cosmological principle to do.

        • Gary

          I agree. But I see wedding, wine, bridegroom, marriage ceremony of Gnostics, perhaps influencing all this – “my time has not yet come”…sounds pretty suspicious. I can see the Valentinians buying into this. Considering the late authorship of John, and that the story didn’t appear in the earlier gospels, and some authors like Pagels have said perhaps the Gospel of John was written specifically to counter the Gospel of Thomas…who knows. But I don’t think it is so obvious as a simplistic explanation of “make wine”, “a miracle”, and “keeping mother happy”. I just don’t know. The “Howard” explanation, of John showing Jesus just having a bad day, may be true. An oral story that got spun in a specific direction sounds like the most reasonable explanation. But the purpose of the spin is a question.

          • arcseconds

            Oh, that phrase is extremely likely to be the work of the evangelist, I am sure.

            I think we should be wary of over-analyzing the intentions of the Gospel authors. Obviously they’re far from being innocent and illiterate Jewish peasants, and they’re clearly making judicious choices about what they include and how they stitch it all together, and doing a workmanlike job of it.

            But we’re not dealing with the sophistication of Plato, Cicero, or even Paul(*) here. So I don’t think everything they include is necessarily intended towards a particular theological end (more plausible in the case of John, maybe). Some of it might just be “here’s a cool story about Jesus! And people really like it, really need to work that in somehow.”

            I understand there are reasons for thinking John had some access to sources that the authors of the synoptic gospels did not (although I can’t remember who says this and why). There might be little more to this than John distinguishing himself from the synoptics by including material they do not, the message being nothing more than “look! stories about Jesus you haven’t heard before from those other guys!”

            Or, if you prefer a story with a little more gravitas and less marketing, maybe John just thought it worth preserving, and as the synoptics hadn’t included it, John figured he would.

            (this sort of thing happens with modern biographical material, too)

            (*) I imagine we’re not seeing all that Paul was capable of, actually. I’m sure he worked hard at his letters, and was putting down arguments and accounts and things he’d worked at over a long period of time. But they’re still letters, quite occasional works: I don’t think he had any real idea he was writing foundational works for Christianity for all of time. If he had worked at some seminal volume over several years it might have been even more impressive.

          • Gary

            Just for consideration ( which I find interesting, and does fit Pagels’ thought, although I don’t think she covered the wine story specifically -I read her book on Thomas, but do not remember the details, and I do not have a copy handy right now)…

            Just making a quick comparison of John and Thomas, I can see John countering Thomas with the first miracle (same for the mother-thing, but I’ll leave that out:

            John 2,
            “Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now”.

            Meaning the “good wine” is newly made by Jesus!

            47 “Nobody drinks aged wine and immediately wants to drink young wine. Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil.”

            Additional Thomas quotes, wine related:

            13 “Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.”
            Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.””

            28 “Jesus said, “I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty.

            But meanwhile they are drunk. When they shake off their wine, then they will change their ways.”

          • Michael Wilson

            Arcseconds, I suspect that Jesus miracle stories began as testimonials of supposed healings and exorcisms at the hands of Jesus. “Jesus cast a demon out of me” or “I heard Jesus touched a guy and his leprosy was cured” it seems that later people started telling these stories with tweeks to give these vulgar displays of power a subtext that communicates what the tellers thought was important, not that Jesus healed lepers, but spititual truths. Other tellers simply invented miracles, a common feature of many tales of saints and prophets, to graphically illustrate deeper chridyisn teachings. Hence I don’t think the suthir, or even the first hearers thought Satan really took Jesus to mountain tops, or even to explain didn’t do even more spectacular miracles, but to show what Jesus’s messiah status meant. I think John’s wine miracle is not to impress listeners with a testimony to Jesus’s vast power, but to illustrate the greater miracle, the filling of empty hard hearts with a powerful spirit.

          • arcseconds

            Yes, that all seems almost certainly true as a general account of how some of the miracle stories wind up being used in the Gospels. I’d love to know more about how people interpreted accounts like Satan tempting Jesus whisking him away using magic to high places, etc. but it seems to me that surely that particular story must have been first created as a deliberate metaphor or something like that, so at least the author wasn’t trying to write or pretending to write literal history.

            (And I’m very open to the idea that many people at the time would have been sensitive to such symbolic accounts, and on the whole Western society somewhere along the way became far too literal-minded and tone deaf. But I’m also open to the idea that what we call fact and fiction may have been thoroughly blurred for many people, so there might not be a clear answer as to whether a story was understood to be ‘literally true’.)

            My statement was also meant as a general account, and as such I’m sticking by it: I don’t think we should be twisting ourselves in knots to find theological or symbolic meanings for every story. Sometimes they might just be stories.

            So I suppose the question is whether the wine-conjuring story has a symbolic meaning, or otherwise serves a purpose other than just being a story. Given what you and Gary have just said, I suppose I am being swayed to think it may well do.

            (Not that, you know, I’m any kind of authority on this.)

            But it’s not entirely clear-cut, is it? Your interpretation would fit better if the vessels were actually empty and Jesus fills them, but it’s the servants that fill them with water.

            Plus it seems to me Gary correctly identifies the business about the best wine being served as being key to the authorial interpretation of this passage. It suggests maybe that the best wine is Jesus, who has miraculously appeared late in the party, after the wine has run out, and when there was only water.

          • Michael Wilson

            We see the images of water and wine at a number if places in the early Christian literature. A few times John is said to compare his baptism of water with the baptism of the spirit, or fire, and I see a link between the metaphor of wine and spirit/fire/blood. He is bringing the best last, because John baptized with water but he baptises with spirit. And as pointed out, Jesus used wine as a metephore in other parables, old wineand new wine.

            I can imagine this story finding its origin in kingdom of God saying, “the kingdom of God is like a wedding were the groom serves this best wine last” or a variation of a wine saying, “noboby serves good wine first” referring to John’s movement or Judaism generally up till Jesus’s Messianic new golden age.

            I also am reminded of the incident were Jesus curses a fig tree. Again vulgar and selfish miracle is performed, but the story has a clear moral about Jerusalem, and is echoed in sayings regarding the fate of unptoductive plants. I think this points to a popular form of early Christian teaching were a message is taught by way of an allegorical story in the form of a common magic tale taking advantage of Jesus renown as a exorcist and miracle worker. Strange to us, but what about illiterate audiences? How many philosophy books would they have in there understanding?

          • Michael Wilson

            Regarding how people understood fiction and fact in the world of Jesus, I don’t think peoples operational understandings would have been that different. They needed to understand those differences in their business and personal dealings. But there does seem to be a zone beyond the immediate operational that people work in were fantasy and fact do mingle commonly. Far away and in the past it seems people don’t scrutinize their speculation carefully, and in antiquity it seems people readily accepted ancient sources as authoritative. And I think people of different classes would have had different perspectives. Uneducated hearers of a biography might assume that some one some how knew what some great person said at at so and so occasion, but educated people would know that its probable that the author invented details, as would of course, another author.

            The writers who invented words for Jesus to say or deeds for him to do very likely understood they were inventing it, as would other people of simular rank and education and confidants. Sure some may have believed that some deed or saying was revealed, but I think for the most part Christian leaders would know their is some fiction at work. As the church grew larger, i suspect a disconnect would have occurred between those that were in leadership positions and taught bishops and lay Christians who would only intermittently participate. They would assume fatual reliability of the accounts and leaders woukd see no reason to confuse rubes regarding what miracles were real and which fiction. And of course I suspect virtually all believed some mirracles happened and that God was capable of them. Even now pastors often are taught biblical scholarship tgey don’t explain to congregations. After awhile, since sceptical discussions were not writren but orally passed from teacher to disciple and early dources were deemed sacred, even church leaders would assume that the text are factually sccurste, even if they clearly communicate a metaphoric message.

          • Andrew Dowling

            We do know the Gnostics were using John pretty early (in the first half of the 2nd century)

      • Andrew Dowling

        Many scholars think the “prelude” to John is one of the later additions to the Gospel, similar to the Galilean appearance story appended at the end.

        • Gary

          The appearance after resurrection includes one of Pagels’ examples of John countering Thomas. John 20:24 implies poor Thomas wasn’t present to get the Holy Spirit from Jesus. But Luke 24:33 and Matthew 28:16 both say 11 were present (with the assumption Judas was dead). John also puts down Thomas specifically by name in John 11:16 (Thomas doubts Lazarus can be raised from the dead) and John 14:5 (Thomas doesn’t know the way). So I don’t necessarily believe Pagels’ theory, but I think the probability of it being valid is pretty high. Of course, some scholars think some of the Thomas sayings were added later. But they are just sayings of Jesus. John is a detailed theological document with specific goals in mind. One goal seems to strike directly at Thomas, for whatever reason.

  • Vshd

    You know, for Orthodox and Catholic Christians, the miracle at Cana is all about the relationship between Jesus and Mary. It’s one of the main biblical foundations for the veneration of Mary, precisely *because* it’s a story about Jesus doing something completely unnecessary that didn’t really change anyone’s life in any meaningful way… simply because His mother asked Him to. This is why we sometimes ask Mary to pray to God for us.

    Thus, in the Orthodox/Catholic view, Jesus made wine ONLY because the request came from His mother. He wouldn’t have done it for anyone else. He just couldn’t say no to her (I mean, He did say no at first, but then He presumably sighed, and did it anyway). It IS supposed to be a mother-son moment.

    And it has the added bonus of displaying the human side of Jesus, right after John started his Gospel by telling us about the divine side. So it’s John’s way of saying “Jesus is God… but he’s also human, too. Let me tell you about that time He let Himself be persuaded by his mom to make wine for a party.”

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      So, when John calls the miracle a “sign,” your contention would be that it’s a sign that he does what his mother says?

      • Vshd

        No, or rather not quite. It is a sign that He can be persuaded by His mother to do something that He had not originally intended to do.

        …which would be perfectly mundane and unremarkable and not worthy of the “sign” status if Jesus were merely a man. After all, it’s no big deal if a man is sometimes persuaded by his mother. But if GOD is sometimes persuaded by His human mother? Now that’s a big deal.

        • For Catholic interpreters, the story indicates that it makes sense to have Jesus’ mother bring your request to him.

          • Vshd

            Yes, precisely. And that is the view of Orthodox interpreters as well.

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          Assuming Jesus is divine, sure. But even so, that seems more like an interesting observation than a “sign” in the Hebrew sense. I think John’s usage refers to signs that Jesus is the Christ, not just general facts about him, however unique they might be. But I could be wrong!

        • Gary

          I am not saying I buy into Pagel’s theory that John was written to counter Thomas, but on the rebuke by Jesus of his mother, and then doing what his mother requests…I find consistency in Pagel’s theory.
          John – Jesus ticked off at mother, but ahh! He really loves her and does as she requests! Love that wine too!

          Thomas – not exactly the same attitude about Mom:

          55 Jesus said, “Whoever does not hate father and mother cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters, and carry the cross as I do, will not be worthy of me.”

          99 The disciples said to him, “Your brothers and your mother are standing outside.”

          He said to them, “Those here who do what my Father wants are my brothers and my mother. They are the ones who will enter my Father’s kingdom.”

          101 “Whoever does not hate [father] and mother as I do cannot be my [disciple], and whoever does [not] love [father and] mother as I do cannot be my [disciple]. For my mother […], but my true [mother] gave me life.”

          105 Jesus said, “Whoever knows the father and the mother will be called the child of a whore.”

          • Gary

            And this is reinforced by John 19:26, again not in the other Gospels:
            When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27Then saith he to the disciple, Behold, thy mother! And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home.

          • Gary

            Just to complete this cycle, after which I am done… I find it interesting, although maybe no connection at all, John 19:29-30. I’ll use NRSV, since they use “wine”. Vinegar is used in some translation.
            Jesus goes out with some bad wine…
            “29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

            So, first miracle, wine, and mother story. Last bow-out, sour wine, and mother story. All refuting Thomas. Coincidence?

  • Andrew Dowling

    I’ve long thought that taking the miracles in the Bible literally really compounds the theodicy issue. Imagine Jesus in a town, healing people of their chronic illnesses and deformities. A woman brings her son, who has regular seizures and lives as an outcast as people think he’s cursed by spirits, but gets to the town 5 minutes after Jesus left. Just tough on them? That to me is simply a horrible thought.

    • Vshd

      Except that since Jesus is God, He could have easily timed his traveling schedule in such a way as to ensure there were no “near misses” like the one you’re describing.

      We don’t have to affirm a “best of all possible worlds” view in order to say that Jesus carried out the “best of all possible ministries”.