We were at a wedding reception once. Someone was going around, table to table, with a video camera, asking everybody to offer “words of wisdom” to the happy couple. When the camera got to me, I said to the groom, “I have TWO words form you. And if you can learn these two words, yo0u will have a happy marriage. And those two words are, “Yes…DEAR!” My wife elbowed me and said, “Why can’t YOU learn those two words?!” Ouch! The truth, as it all turns out, DOES hurt!
On Ash Wednesday, we began a true journey- traveling from one geographic location to another- as we walk through the story leading up to Easter. This series, called Oh, the Places You’ll Go and based on…the Dr. Suess book of the same name!…is looking at the geography of the Easter narrative and how it impacts the overall story. On Ash Wednesday, we started in the wilderness as Jesus faced temptation. Today, we’ve traveled about 100 miles north to the city of Cana. The average distance you might cover in a day on foot is about 30 miles. So, Cana was a good 3+ days of walking from the wilderness of the temptation. And along the way there, Jesus calls His disciples.
Cana is almost midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. The topography in that area is hills and valleys as you rise from the Sea of Galilee and then start to drop off toward the vastness of the Mediterranean. The going between the wilderness and Cana would have had Jesus and His growing cadre of disciples following known roads. Getting too far off the beaten path would be really hard, especially over a 3+ day walk. But once they get there-
John 2:1-11 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Ancient Near Eastern weddings centered on the groom as much as modern Western weddings center on the bride. And these weddings went on for days and days. At this particular wedding, they eventually run out of wine. Mary seizes the occasion, turns to Jesus and says, “They have no wine.” Notice, she doesn’t actually ask Him to do anything about it; she just tells him about it.She remembers the promises made when He was born. She expects Him to act. Now that Jesus has called His disciples, Mary sees that He’s ready to fulfill His destiny.
When he says, “Woman, why do you involve Me?”, we think He’s being rude to His mom. But calling her “woman” is a sign of respect and asking, “why do you involve Me?” is simply a Hebrew way of saying, “You don’t understand.” So, what He’s saying is NOT that He isn’t going to do anything. Instead, He means, “What I do won’t accomplish what you’re hoping- it won’t persuade the people that I’m the Messiah.” She seems satisfied with His response, because she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” Good advice!
As always, Jesus works with whatever’s at hand. “Fill the jars with water.” And they do- filling them to the brim with about 150 gallons of pure water. Then Jesus says, “Draw some out, and take it to the master.” There’s no prayer, no command, no hysterical shouting, no laying on of hands, no hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo or abracadabra- nothing. He doesn’t even touch the water beforehand or taste it afterward. The water simply becomes wine. Jesus leapfrogs over basic things like time, growth, gathering, crushing and fermenting. He takes water- a common substance- and, without a word or a gesture, changes it into wine. Why did Jesus perform this miracle? It seems, on the surface, irrelevant and insignificant. Here are 3 reasons why:
1. Compassion- on its most basic level, this miracle shows us that Jesus is compassionate. He got the couple out of a social disaster. In the Ancient Near Eastern world, running out of wine at a wedding wasn’t just a minor social inconvenience- it was a social disgrace, a major breach of hospitality and it would be devastating for the couple. But Jesus helped them out. And when Jesus does something- He does it well. If you’re going to have a wedding…make sure you invite Jesus!
2. Promise- on a deeper level, this story is about a promise- a covenant. Those at the wedding feast would know their Old Testament scriptures well. And they would know that an abundance of wine symbolized the arrival of God’s new age. By providing an abundance of wine, Jesus is announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
3. Confidence- Jesus wanted to build confidence among His disciples. Why? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is trying to develop the faith of those around Him. The disciples had heard John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the Messiah. And yet they had seen “messiahs” come and go. But this miracle clinched it for them.
Here are 2 truths about this story:
1. This 1st miracle was a sign. Signs aren’t just miracles; they’re miracles that have a meaning, conveying a truth that wouldn’t be known otherwise. Men can fill water jars, but only God can turn water into wine! Men do the ordinary, but when God touches it, He brings it to life and gives it flavor and fragrance. Bring God into your life and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
2. His disciples believed in Him. When they saw this, they believed more deeply than before. The significance of this sign is that God can take the ordinary, normal events of life and, with just a touch, make them full of flavor, fragrance, strength and beauty. And He can, and will, do this for anybody who is willing to faithfully walk with Him.
We tend to not turn to God until all other possibilities are exhausted- until the wine runs out. But we should turn to God BEFORE the wine runs out, before we have no other options. Jesus shouldn’t be out LAST hope…but our FIRST!
Ultimately, what John wants us to see has NOTHING to do with Jesus turning water into wine. John wants us to see that when Jesus comes into our lives, He brings a new quality. Without Jesus, life is dull, stale and flat. But when Jesus comes in, life becomes vivid and sparkling and exciting. Moses turned water into blood. Jesus turned water into wine. Later, Jesus would turn wine into blood…the blood of salvation.
The bride and groom were given another chance. And isn’t that what the Gospel is all about? Our God is a God of the second chances. He wants us to have faith in Him. But the choice is ours. The cost of the new wine Jesus offers is thirst. Are you thirsty? The cost of the kingdom is hunger for the bread of heaven instead of the white bread of the world. Is that what YOU want? Are you satisfied with yourself, your car, your TV, your computer and your job? Or are you hungry for more? Ultimately, we should follow Mary’s advice- do whatever He tells you! When we do that, life-changing things can happen in the most unlikely of places.