Weddings, Water and Wine

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.9When 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 10and 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.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Every time I read this passage I envision Cal Naughton, Jr. at the dinner table in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby as he says, “ I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I’m here to party.  I like my Jesus to party.”  As irreverent as that is, this is exactly the Jesus we see in John 2.  Attending a formal party…a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

This opening miracle, or as John calls them “signs”, in the Gospel of John seeks to help us understand the nature and character of Jesus.  But before I lift up a few of the relevant portions of this passage there is something we need to discuss – wine.   Because the bottom line is this – this story is all about wine, but not about wine as you and I think about it.

In order to truly understand John 2, we need to reclaim a Biblical understanding of wine.  Unfortunately, most of our understandings and misunderstandings about alcohol come more from our culture than the Bible.  If we refuse to open ourselves and gain a Biblical understanding of wine, we will totally miss the point in John 2.

Wine in the Bible is first and foremost a symbol of blessing, abundance, and redemption.  There are numerous verses to support this understanding.  In Genesis 14, the Priest Melchizedek gives the Abrahamic blessing to Abraham communicated with the symbols of bread and wine – in scripture, these are basic fundamental symbols of providence, abundance and blessing, along with oil.  Bread, oil and wine are symbols of God’s creative sustenance and abundant blessing.  Isaac’s blessing to Jacob and Esau, given over bread and wine.  And we see in the blessings passed along by the patriarchs, the hope that God grant you “heaven’s dew, earth’s riches – grain and new wine in abundance.”

In several passages wine is brought as a drink offering to God, the aroma of which, is pleasing to God.

In Psalms and Proverbs, the signs of bread, oil, and wine overflowing are signs of blessing and peace from God, “God will give wine to gladden the heart, oil to shine the face, and bread to sustain the heart.”  During the feast of the Passover, and the Last Supper, there are four cups of wine, representing the four redemptions promised by God to the Hebrews – (The Cup of Sanctification, The Cup of Judgment, The Cup of Redemption, and The Cup of Restoration).

I could go on and on and on, but what I want you to hear is this – wine is a symbol of redemption, abundance, blessing, sustenance and redemption.  If you don’t get this, you won’t get John 2.

As a pastor, I do want to be careful here.  None of this has anything to do with the warnings the Bible gives regarding the abuse of wine – as with anything in God’s creation – the basic symbols of God’s creative sustenance; bread and wine can both lead to sin – too much bread is gluttony, too much wine is drunkenness.  There is a time and place for a discussion or two on the abuses bread and wine, but not today.

The point today is if we can get out from behind our culturally formed sensibilities regarding wine, we are able to see this story and hear its message.  Because after all this talk about wine, let me surprise you.  This story is not as much about wine as it is about who Jesus is.

This is the first sign or miracle in the Gospel of John.  This sign defines him, his ministry, his purpose.

Weddings have meaning in the Bible far beyond the joining of a man and a woman.  The wedding has eschatological overtones – we are called upon to pay special attention because a wedding points to fulfillment, fullness of God’s design and plan, and the culmination of all things.

The celebration of the wedding is confronted with a problem – the wine has run out.  Jesus’ mother comes to him and says to Jesus, “They have no wine.”

Jesus’ response to his mother is hard for us, but let me explain.  “Woman” was not an uncommon greeting for a stranger.  It is neither rude nor harsh.  But it is odd for one to address their mother this way.  Why does Jesus speak to her like this?  Jesus at this moment plays down his family relationship with his mother.  What concern is that to you and me is not rude, but rather disengagement.  Professor Gail O’Day points out, “In this one exchange, Jesus establishes his freedom from any and all human control – not even Jesus’ mother has a claim on him.  He is governed by only one thing – God’s timing and direction.”

And here we see a fascinating image.  Very descriptive, six stone jars for the ritual of purification, each holding 20-30 gallons.  The cleansing of hands, arms, and face before eating is tied to wholeness, blessing, and spirituality.  You receive the blessing of food and life once you are ritually/spiritually clean, so you bless God and you wash – then you eat and drink.

When Jesus turns the water from these jars of purification into wine – the biblical image of abundance, redemption and blessing, we see something amazing.  The sign and symbol of wine will also become the symbol of Christ’s blood – wine, blood, redemption, blessing, abundance, ritual cleansing….

Jesus is the new wine, his blood will purify us.  This gift is not a rejection of their faith, but rather the fulfillment of it.

The last thing I will point out is not only the superabundance of gifts given through Jesus (think about the feeding of the 5,000 and how much food is left over).  But the vast amount of wine is only surpassed by its vintage – it is the BEST wine.  We are not talking $4.99 Trader Joe’s here.

The sacramental nature cannot be missed.  Wine in John 2.  Bread in John 6.  The symbols of life, redemption and sustenance.  The symbols of God’s blessing.  The symbols of life.  They symbols of Jesus.

This miracle is about more than good wine and parties.  It points to the one who comes to embody the blessing of God.  Jesus is the new wine.  Jesus is the bread of life.  Jesus is the redemption of the world.

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