Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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John 2:1-11 The Wedding at Cana
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Today’s reading is from the Gospel of John. In John, Jesus regularly does things to prove that he is a particular, special incarnation of God. John’s primary tool for proving Jesus’ identity are seven key stories, usually called seven “signs.” I have been grateful for the work of scholar Karoline Lewis who says it is better to think of the miraculous events in these seven stories not as neat magic tricks but as particular revelations that are crucial for demonstrating who and what Jesus is. Four of the seven are healings, including the resurrection of Lazarus. One is walking on water. One is feeding thousands. In those six stories, Jesus is stronger that physics, has access to more food than a hundred Hannafords, and is more powerful than illness and even death itself. The seventh sign, by which I mean, the first sign, is Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding.
At this wedding, nobody is dying or sick, that we know of. Jesus is just hanging out with his mom at a wedding where everyone seems to be having so much of a great time, that they run out of wine. Even though there’s not a story of Jesus’ miraculous birth in John, Mary, Jesus’ mom, is still vital to this story. Dr. Wil Gafney, in her commentary, notes that it is Mary who pushes her son to help out this couple. How he helps will become the sign that begins his entire public ministry.
At first, Jesus tries to decline his mother’s request. He says “my hour is not yet come.” She does not care and that is maybe my favorite part of the whole story. She’s already decided he can and will help them and has even gone up to the servants, telling them to “Do whatever he tells you.” Because Jesus is a good son, he does what his mom wants. The servants line up 6 big jugs of water. Lewis says in her book about John that each one of this particular kind of jug held 20 to 30 gallons of water. So that means that Jesus was looking at somewhere between 120 and180 gallons of water. The servants are the only ones who see he does next.
Jesus tells them to draw some of the liquid out and take it the head waiter. Sometime between the moment that they draw up the water and the moment the head waiter tastes it, it becomes wine. And, not just any wine. Very good wine. The head waiter just assumes that the groom had good stuff socked away and did the weirdly generous move of bringing it out after everyone was probably too drunk to appreciate it. He would have never guessed that Jesus had simply made the wine appear. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t explain why he decided to make all this wine. He will go on to explain why he does every other sign. This story simply says this was the first of the signs and “revealed his glory.”
A question that you might have: In the face of the life and death... illness and health... walking and drowning... hunger and satiation... why on earth does making a ton of wine at a wedding get to be the sign that introduces us to Jesus? Remember: this is the very first of the seven signs. First, let’s talk about why the wine is important. In her commentary on this text, Lindsey Jodrey notes that there was not a lot of clean water around, so wine was the safest drink for most folks most of the time. And, the wedding celebrations of this era would often take several days. To run out of wine when hosting many people for many days was to run out of a basic provision of life. And, it was just rude. You don’t have a bunch of people over and not make sure they have enough food and drink that is also safe.
Jodrey also notes that, in many cases, family and friends helped provide food and drink at weddings. If this couple ran out of wine, it may mean that they didn’t have enough community support to host the kind of wedding that was expected of them. Given how insistent Mary is that Jesus help the couple, we can assume that she had already made sure they brought their fair share of wedding food and wine. Given that his family had likely already contributed, isn’t it interesting that Jesus decided to be more gracious than necessary?
In her commentary, Jodrey reminds us that feasts are important metaphors for divine generosity throughout the Bible. She also reminds us that a key metaphor for God’s Wisdom in the book of Proverbs is that Wisdom is like a woman who builds a house and sets a rich feast and invites everyone to come eat and drink. And, Jodrey reminds us that the beginning of John tells us that one way that we can understand Jesus is to think of him as the embodiment of God’s Wisdom. The Word became flesh and lived among us, it. While it might not be as flashy as walking on water, in helping this couple more extravagantly host their friends and family, Jesus embodies God’s Wisdom, becoming the One who fills cups until they overflow and fills bellies until they are full. This is not the abundance of the rich, who can just send out servants to scoop up whatever wine they can find in town. This is God’s abundance... taking what is already there and using good will and skill to make sure everyone has more than enough. This is the abundance that is the core of Jesus’ ministry.
Karoline Lewis points out that abundance is part of several of the other signs, too. When Jesus healed the man in chapter 5, he was responding to the man’s request for help being put in a healing pool. Jesus gave him enough grace that he didn’t even need to get in the pool. In chapter 9, when people responded to his healing of the blind man with fear and anger, expelling the man from their community, Jesus invited him to become a sheep in his fold. After bringing Lazarus back to life after three days, a feat miraculous on its own, we truly know that Lazarus has been restored when we read, a few verses later, that he is eating with his sisters. These actions, actions that go above and beyond, actions rooted in abundance, not scarcity, rebuild relationships among people and relationship between humanity and the Divine. By the end of John, Jesus will be so clearly associated with reckless and extravagant acts of abundant grace that, after the resurrection, the disciples will be assured that it is truly Jesus on the beach when he tells them where to fish and they catch so many that they can barely get the net back to shore.
We are introduced to Jesus with a sign of extravagant hospitality so that we know that God's love, God’s wisdom, is most clearly seen in abundance and reconnection. We are given this story of water being turned to wine so that we know God is offering us more than the bare minimum, and we are called to offer more than empty jars to our neighbors. In a world that tells us that there isn’t enough, this story reminds us that there can be, if we listen to the person pushing us to share it. Some people benefit from us believing that there isn’t enough and fighting for scraps among ourselves. May we know that Jesus doesn’t call us to fight over scraps or to hoard necessities away from our neighbors. Jesus, the very best wedding guest, shows us that water can become wine. May we take this good wine and share it.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Lindsey S. Jodrey: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3946
Karoline Lewis, John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014)
Karoline Lewis: https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5276
Wil Gafney, "Proper 28 (Closest to November 16) Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2022)
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.