There are aspects to life in a small town that are very nice. In a small town like Waterville, it’s not unusual to see someone you know at the grocery store or the post-office, and the UPS driver knows that if no one is at the church he can deliver his package to the pastor’s house which he happens to know where it is located. That’s the nice part about living in a small town.
But a typical, small, middle-eastern village like Cana is much tighter-knit community that anything we have here. Everyone knows everyone and there’s lots of family connections. When a baby is born in the village, the whole village celebrates. When someone dies the whole village mourns. When there’s a wedding, the whole village attends.
A typical middle-eastern wedding takes place in the cool of the evening. The bride and groom each wear a crown on their heads, identifying them as king and queen for the day.
After the ceremony is completed, the couple is led through the streets of the village with a canopy held over their heads, burning torches blazing, the band playing music that demands clapping and dancing and singing. The parade winds through every street in the village so everyone will know that bride had a new name and one new family had been created out of two.
The whole village looks forward to and eagerly anticipated an upcoming wedding day. A wedding is a significant event for the whole village that is filled with joy.
Once the newly weds arrived at their new home, the reception would begin. The reception was hosted by the newly weds, the husband was responsible for making the preparations and making sure that everything was ready. The celebration was for the whole village and would last for us to seven days. It was quite a party.
Jesus was from the village of Nazareth which is nearby Cana. Mary was there and it seems like she had some responsibility for overseeing things. She could have been related to either bride or groom. Jesus was invited to attend, and He does.
I don’t know what you’re image of Jesus is, always serious or even sad or mad. But if you read the gospels carefully, it’s obvious that He loved to participate and share in the joy of others, not to mention the incredible joy that He brought to so many. He never counted it a sin to be happy. So if you want, it’s perfectly alright to picture Jesus dancing the polka and doing the ‘chicken dance’ and the ‘macherena’ along with everyone else at this wedding reception in Cana.
One place where some of you might be able to connect to a middle-eastern village wedding is in the fact that it took a lot of preparation. You don’t just invite the whole village over for a party without lots of advanced planning and preparation.
Jesus would later tell a parable about a man who had invited his village to his wedding reception. And after counting those who said they would come, he slaughtered the necessary number of animals for the banquet. But at the last minute, a lot of folks did the unspeakable thing and made stupid excuses for why they couldn’t attend – a terrible insult to the bride and groom. And what about all of that meat in a day before refrigeration that would go bad?
Here, at this wedding in Cana, the problem is just the opposite. It’s the groom who underestimated the amount of wine his guest would drink, and they ran out. What an insult to the village and what a damper on the party and how embarrassing for the bride and groom.
The servants make their way to Mary and tell her of the problem. Mary says to Jesus, “they have no wine.” She is taking the problem to her son and putting it in his lap. What was she thinking? What did she expect Him to do?
Jesus replies to Mary in a way that is hard for us to understand, but it seems clear that Jesus is no longer Mary’s little, 12 year old boy who amazed the rabbis at the Temple but followed his mother home and was ‘submissive to her.’ “Woman, what doest his have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
It’s also clear that Mary’s relationship with her son is no longer that of parent and guardian as much as believer who turns to her Lord for help in time of need. She neither tells Him what to do, nor does she tell the servants what they should expect Him to do. She trusts that whatever He does or doesn’t do will be exactly the right thing.
Maybe she is thinking about that day 30 years earlier when an angel visited her and told her that “nothing is impossible with God.” What are you supposed to do with that? Argue? “Yea, but this is a really, really big problem?”
No, you say, “let it be to me according to your word.” You say, “Do whatever he tells you.” And stop worrying.
“Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Fill the jars with water.” These were not the jars that the wine had been in. Wine was usually stored in skins, not stone jars. Jesus sends the servants to the stone jars that held the water for purification – that is, where everyone would wash their hands before they ate.
You would think that Jesus would have told the servants to fill the ‘wine skins’ with water. By this time in the reception, everyone would have expected the hosts to start serving the cheap wine. Even if they could have tasted that the wine had been watered down, it would have been acceptable. It was pretty typical.
I think that the servants are really the great examples of faith here. The problem is, “the wine has run out.” And Jesus tells them to fill the purification jars with water.
Maybe He misunderstood. “It’s not the water in the purification jars that has run out, Jesus. It’s the wine in the wine jars that has run out.”
But Mary said, “Do whatever He says.” And they do.
And what must they have been thinking when He said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast”? But all that we read is, “So they took it.”
O LORD, MAKE ME LIKE THOSE SERVANTS.
Now we come to the real drama in this account. The “master of the feast” doesn’t know what has just taken place. We do. The servants do. But the guy whom the bridegroom had put in charge of running the show doesn’t know.
“When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, AND DID NOT KNOW WHERE IT CAME FROM…”
But this much he knows – this is really good wine! In fact, this is much better than the wine the wine they had been drinking.
And the wonderful irony here is that he thinks that this is all part of the bride and groom’s plan. He thinks it’s intentional and he credits them for their amazing generosity. They’ve gone overboard for the village. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
They were on the verge of being terribly embarrassed in front of the whole village. But now they’re lavishly praised in front of all of their guests.
And what about the bride and groom? What were they thinking? They knew that they had NOT PLANNED THIS. And whatever was going on, they knew that all this praise that was being lavished on them was completely undeserved.
And it’s right here where this account becomes the picture of the glory of God that Jesus has come into the world to demonstrate. And we’re in the picture.
How embarrassed we would all rightfully be before God and one another if Jesus had not intervened and done what only He can do to turn a total disaster into a greater joy than anything we could ever have imagined.
He speaks His Word, and turns the certain disaster that our sin leads to, into an incredible success story. And we go from being scorned and rejected by God to, “well done good and faithful one.” And we know it’s not because of anything we have done. But Jesus has turned our sadness into incredible joy.
So, the big question that’s the unspoken elephant in the room is, ‘how did He do it?’ And the answer is, ‘it was a miracle.’ To say that is was ‘a miracle’ means that it has no other explanation than that there was a supernatural power at work that can only be attributed to GOD.
John says, “this, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” John uses the word ‘sign’ in the same way that the other New Testament writers use the word, ‘miracle.’
For John, the ‘miracle’ is never a ‘miracle’ in itself. It’s always a ‘sign’ that points to something else – and that something else is the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Here, at the wedding in Cana, Jesus gave us “the first of His signs,” which means there’s more to follow.
John concludes his gospel saying, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31).
In other words, don’t get so caught up with the ‘signs’ that you miss what the ‘signs’ are pointing to. They are pointing to the divinity of Jesus Christ. He is GOD WITH US, WORKING ALL THINGS FOR OUR GOOD, TURNING OUR SORROW INTO JOY, OUR DEATH INTO LIFE, OUR SHAME INTO GLORY.
We can only hope that the servants informed the dumbfounded bride and groom what actually took place and how it happened that their celebration went from disaster to success and their embarrassment and shame to lavish praise.
They didn’t see it happen just like we didn’t see it happen. But hopefully, they believed the word of the servants and gave thanks to Jesus for all that He did for them. And hopefully, we do the same.