SCRIPTURE: John 2:1-11
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CHAPTERS 2-12: THE BOOK OF SIGNS
Jesus told Nathanael, "Most certainly, I tell you, hereafter you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (1:51). The fulfillment of that promise begins immediately with "the first of his signs" at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee that reveals Jesus' glory and causes his disciples to believe in him (v. 11).
Chapters 2-12 are often called the Book of Signs, because in them Jesus performs signs that reveal his glory (v. 11). A sign is more than a demonstration of power. A sign reveals something –– points to something beyond itself. At Cana, the sign points to Jesus' glory (v. 11). The usual listing of seven signs is as follows:
1. The wine at Cana (2:1-11).
2. The healing of an official's son, also performed at Cana (4:46-54).
3. The healing of a sick man (5:1-9).
4. The feeding of the five thousand (6:1-14).
5. Walking on the sea (6:15-21).
6. The healing of the man born blind (9:1-34).
7. The resurrection of Lazarus (11:38-44)
VERSES 1-11: A WEDDING IN CANA
This is Jesus' first act of ministry in this Gospel. In Mark, his first act is an exorcism; in Matthew, it is the Sermon on the Mount; in Luke, it is a sermon in the synagogue. "Each of these events is typical and paradigmatic of the portrayals of Jesus in its respective Gospel" (Smith, 83). The wedding at Cana is not just an interesting story included at random, but provides clues to the meaning of the rest of this Gospel.
It is an odd beginning, however. We would expect this Gospel's "paradigmatic portrayal" to be more significant. In this Gospel, Jesus heals an official's son (4:46-54) and a sick man (5:1-9), feeds the five thousand (6:1-14); walks on water (6:15-21), heals a man born blind (9:1-34), and raises Lazarus from the dead (12:1-11, 18). Why would his first sign be wine for a party? Why not one of the more significant miracles?
Keep in mind that, in this Gospel, Jesus speaks and acts on more than one level. It is only on a surface level that this story is about wine for a party. At a deeper level, it is about revealing Jesus' glory.
VERSES 1-5: MY HOUR HAS NOT YET COME
1The third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. Jesus' mother was there. 2Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the marriage. 3When the wine ran out, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no wine." 4Jesus said to her, "Woman (Greek: gunai), what does that have to do with you and me? (Greek: ti emoi kai soi gunai –– literally, "What to me and to you?) My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Whatever he says to you, do it."
"The third day" (v. 1a). This would be the third day after Jesus' encounter with Nathanael (1:45-51).
"in Cana of Galilee" (v. 1b). Cana was probably eight or nine miles north of Nazareth. It is Nathanael's home (21:2). Its significance is its insignificance. Just as God regularly chooses unlikely candidates to do his work (Moses, David, Gideon, etc.), so also he chooses unlikely places to reveal his glory (Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana).
Jesus will return to Cana after visiting Jerusalem and cleansing the temple, and will also perform his second sign there –– the healing of the son of a royal official from Capernaum (4:46-54). Thus Jesus gives his first and second signs in this small, obscure town far from the Jerusalem temple –– an example of ministry at the margins.
"Jesus' mother was there" (v. 1c). Jesus mother appears in this Gospel only here and at the cross (19:25-27). Her name is not mentioned on either occasion.
Jesus and his mother surely know people in Cana, or they would not be invited to this wedding. This is friendly country. The people of Galilee are receptive to Jesus, in contrast to Judea, where he will face determined opposition.
"When the wine ran out" (v. 3a). These people live plain lives, but they are expected to provide plentiful food and wine for weddings. The wine in question would be fermented wine, diluted with water.
Weddings are celebrated for seven days, and are a community celebration. To run short of wine would be a serious embarrassment for the host parents and newlyweds. We can be sure that a community would long remember the shame of a family that failed to provide adequate wine for a wedding.
"Jesus' mother said to him, 'They have no wine'" (v. 3b). If water is a symbol of Jewish purification and this wine is a symbol of Jesus' grace, then "Mary's statement, 'They have no wine,' becomes a poignant reflection on the barrenness of Jewish purifications" (Brown, 105).
It is not clear what Jesus' mother has in mind. Perhaps she expects him to take a collection from his disciples to purchase additional wine. Perhaps she senses that he is capable of a miracle.
"Woman (gunai), what does that have to do with you and me?" (ti emoi kai soi gunai –– literally, "What to me and to you?) (v. 4a). This question is a Semitism that can mean (1) What have I done to deserve this? or (2) What is my involvement in this? The first meaning seems hostile, while the second "implies simple disengagement" (Brown, 99).
Jesus' response sounds uncaring and even disrespectful to our ears. However, "woman" (Greek: gunai) suggests distance rather than disrespect. Jesus uses the word as a form of address on several occasions ––never disrespectfully.
Jesus' response is most likely a gentle, distancing rebuke –– a way of telling Mary that she can no longer presume upon their mother/son relationship. "Everything (including family ties) must be subordinated" to the work that he has been sent to do (Bruce, 69).
"My hour has not yet come" (v. 4b). As will be revealed to us later (12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1), Jesus' hour in this Gospel is the hour of his glorification –– the hour of his death, resurrection, and ascension. But in this Cana context Jesus' hour probably has more to do with the beginning rather than the end of his ministry. His "actions will be governed by the hour set by God, not by anyone else's time or will" (O'Day, 537).
"His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you'" (v. 5). Her response is modeled after Pharaoh's instruction to the Egyptians during the famine (Genesis 41:55).
This does not mean that Jesus meekly submits to his mother's demand (Brown, 102-103). "In this Gospel Jesus is consistently pictured as responding not to human pressure but to the direction of God" (Borchert, 156).
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VERSES 6-8: JARS FOR THE JEWISH RITE OF PURIFICATION
6Now there were six water pots of stone set there after the Jews' way of purifying, containing two or three metretes (Greek: metretas duo e treis –– two or three measures) apiece. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the water pots with water." They filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, "Now draw (Greek: antlesate) some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast." So they took it.
"Now there were six water pots of stone set there after the Jews' way of purifying" (v. 6a). Stone jars are used for ritual-purification water.
Barclay notes that the Jews regard seven as a perfect or complete number, and six is incomplete. "The six stone waterpots stand for all the imperfections of the Jewish law" (Barclay, 89).
The amount of water held by each jar is literally "two or three metretes (metretas duo e treis –– two or three measures)" (v. 6b). The total amount of water, 120-180 gallons, is far more than the amount required to purify this crowd, and thus symbolizes the overwhelming grace available through Jesus.
"Jesus said to them, "Fill the water pots with water." They filled them up to the brim" (v. 7). The servants respond with full-measure obedience even though hauling and pouring nearly 200 gallons of water is no small task.
"Now draw (antlesate) some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast" (v. 8). The chief steward is in charge of the wine, and would share the embarrassment of the shortage.
VERSES 9-10: YOU HAVE KEPT THE GOOD WINE UNTIL NOW
9When the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and didn't know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast called the bridegroom, 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now!"
"When the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine" (v. 9a). This story never tells us exactly when the water becomes wine. When the steward tastes it, he discovers that it is wine.
"and didn't know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew" (v. 9b). Only his mother, his disciples, and the servants know what Jesus has done. The steward knew that there was a problem, but doesn't know how it was solved.
"and didn't know where it came from" (v. 9b). There is also much confusion about where Jesus comes from. As is often true in the Gospels, there is a reversal here. The steward should know the wine's origins, but it is the servants who know. In like manner, the religious leaders should understand Jesus' signs, but it is the disciples, more ordinary folk, who believe.
"Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse" (v. 10a). Guests can be expected to have more discriminating palates when they first begin to sip the wine. Later, when their senses have become dulled, they would not care whether they were drinking good or mediocre wine.
"You have kept the good wine until now" (v. 10b). In this Gospel, people often say things that have a deeper meaning than they realize. In this case, the deeper meaning is that Jesus is the good wine (compared with the old wine of the law).
VERSE 11: AND HIS DISCIPLES BELIEVED IN HIM
11This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
"and revealed his glory" (v. 11b; see also 1:14). In the Old Testament, the word "glory" (Hebrew: kabod) is most frequently associated with God (Exodus 14:4, 17; 16:7, 10; 24:16-17; 29:43; 33:18, 22; 40:34; Leviticus 9:6, 23, etc., etc., etc.). When Jesus reveals his glory through these signs, he is revealing his divinity.
"and his disciples believed in him" (v. 11c). This is the point of the story (Brown, 103). The purpose of Jesus' signs is to inspire belief. Indeed, the stated purpose of this Gospel is "that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (20:31).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, "The Gospel of John," Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1955)
Bauckman, Richard, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001)
Beasley-Murray, George R., Word Biblical Commentary: John (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999)
Borchert, Gerald L., New American Commentary: John 1-11, Vol, 25A (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1996)
Brown, Raymond, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John I-XII (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966)
Bruce, F. F., The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983).
Carson, D. A., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991).
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV –– Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred R.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1994)
Dodd, C.H., The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1953)
Gossip, Arthur John and Howard, Wilbert F., The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952)
Howard-Brook, Wes, Becoming the Children of God: John's Gospel and Radical Discipleship (New York: Maryknoll, 1994).
Kostenberger, Andreas J., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004)
Lincoln, Andrew T., Black's New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John (London: Continuum, 2005)
Moloney, Francis J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of John (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998)
Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)
O'Day, Gail R., The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Pfeiffer, Charles F., Baker's Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Co., 1961 –– revised 2003)
Ridderbos, Herman (translated by John Vriend), The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Sloyan, Gerald, "John," Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Smith, D. Moody, Jr., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: John (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999)
Williamson, Lamar, Jr., Preaching the Gospel of John (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004)
Willimon, William, "Some Saw Glory," a sermon preached Jan. 18, 1998 at the Duke University Chapel.
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