January 20, 2013
Jesus' mother, whose name we are never told by John, appears only twice in his gospel. She appears here at the wedding at Cana (2:1-12) and in chapter 19 where she stands by the cross and is entrusted by her son to the guardianship of the Beloved Disciple (19:25-27). These two cameo appearances connect Jesus' first sign and his last breath. We are to connect Jesus' gift of wine at the wedding at Cana and Jesus' gift of his life on the cross (Koester, 81). We are to connect the glory revealed by the wine and the glorification manifested in his death and resurrection.
From Cana to Modern-Day Wedding Mishaps
The standard advice to brides is to wear "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." This is meant to insure good luck, but it never really works. So I've tinkered with the old saying a bit and applied it to every wedding I've ever conducted: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, something goes wrong, something is askew."
Here are a few examples from my own experience of wedding mishaps:
- The groom and best man got to the church on time, but they forgot to bring the suit for the 6-year-old ring bearer.
- The matron of honor had surgery a little too recently to be standing for a long time and collapsed during the vows.
- The bride's mother threatened to make a scene if her ex-husband (the bride's father) brought his new girlfriend to the wedding—which he did.
- The pastor got the time wrong and showed up an hour late for the wedding.
- Some of the people who didn't get invited got their feelings hurt, and the same number of those who were invited rsvp, but failed to show up.
- People on the guest list didn't bother to rsvp for the reception, but showed up anyway, assuming there would be enough food and drink for them. And there wasn't.
The last mishap on the list happened at our daughter Melissa's wedding a few years ago. I wonder if that's what happened at the wedding at Cana. We had no way to remedy the situation. But the bride and groom at the wedding at Cana had been smart enough to include Jesus on their guest list. And his mother. And so a wedding is the scene of Jesus' first of seven signs in the Gospel of John.
An Invitation to Experience the Miracles Ourselves
There are seven signs in the Gospel of John—miracles or public actions that reveal the identity of Jesus to both the Jewish and Gentile world. They are:
- The changing of water into wine (2:1-12)
- The cleansing of the Temple (2:13-25)
- Two healings—the Galilean official's son (4:46-54) and the man by the pool (5:1-9)
- The feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-14)
- Walking on the sea (6:16-21)
- The healing of a blind man (9:1-12)
- The raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44).
Each of the signs reveals something about the human condition, ourselves in particular. They invite us to take on the role of the people Jesus encounters in each case. Many scholars believe this is why, in several cases, these people remain unnamed. The man by the pool, the boy at the feeding of the 5,000, the Galilean official and his son, the blind man—these people all presumably had names. But we will never know what they were. We are to fill in the blank with our own name. It may well be that John leaves them unnamed to make it easier for listeners to step into their space to stand with them in the experience of the scene.
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).