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.
So there they were – Mary, invited to the wedding of some friends, or the children of friends, and apparently, Jesus was there as Mary’s plus-one. And the disciples are all there too, and since there were twelve of them they paired up nicely and the table placements worked well. Honestly, my heart goes out to the couple getting married in this story. I know it’s enough to think about planning a wedding that will only last a few hours, but in Jesus’ time, a wedding celebration could go on for several days. And when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about our upcoming wedding, worried that more people will show up than have RSVPd, and we won’t have a seat, or enough cake, or champagne for them all, I can only imagine that couple stressing over the same kind of things for a multiple-day affair.
And yet, despite what must have been massive planning, we hear that something very definitely went wrong – someone really messed up, and they ran out of wine, and apparently pretty early in the game, and it causes Mary to mention it to Jesus. It isn’t clear whether she mentioned it in passing, just disappointed that she couldn’t top off her glass of Cabernet, or if she actually expected him to do something about it. And it isn’t really clear if Jesus’ answer to her was really as sharp and rude as the English translation sounds to our ears, or if we’re missing something through cultural differences, and it was really a more neutral answer. Either way, Mary told people to stand by and do whatever Jesus might tell them to help fix the problem, and Jesus does, in fact, ultimately do something about it – maybe because, as any good son knows, when Mom isn’t happy, nobody’s happy, and it’s going to be a long trip home; or maybe he did it because he had something else – something more important – in mind.
John’s gospel is all about signs – laying out signs that Jesus was, in fact, God’s chosen. God’s anointed. But more than even that, that he is the indwelling of the divine Word, the Logos, the cosmic Son, second Person of the Trinity, eternally coexistent in God and with God and as God; the creative force through which all the cosmos was created. All living, in the flesh, in this very human being, Jesus – who knows all our human joys and sorrows and gain and loss; and sore muscles after a long, hard day’s work; and the blessedness of enjoying some good wine and music and dancing and celebrating the joys of this life with family and friends. John’s gospel give signs to show Jesus’ identity, and his actions here at the wedding are the first of these signs. It’s a sign not only that Jesus is divine, but it’s also a sign of what that divine being is actually like.
Because the narrator of this story is very concerned about signs, it seems significant that this story, the beginning of it all, occurs on what he says is “the third day” – similar to the end of the story, Jesus’ resurrection on that third day after his death. And maybe it’s also significant that there were six jars of water that were transformed. Some people have suggested that they symbolize the six days of creation, so that, just as Jesus transformed them into a new, better creation, so too does he mysteriously, miraculously, transform all of creation into a new, better creation. I don’t know if that interpretation is what John actually had in mind, but it sounds believable and it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to think about it that way.
One thing that we can say is going on here is that through his actions, Jesus is most certainly honoring and blessing this idea of the wedding itself, and by extension, human joy, and actually, all of human life itself.
As a point of Christian doctrine, we believe that marriage is an illustration of God’s love for the world, and of our love for God. And just as we and God are quite different, marriage involves two people, two souls, who have that mysterious combination of being both alike and different, similar and complimentary, who have found each other and who are committing themselves to each other. Those who think that marriage is really all about procreation have really missed so much; they’ve missed what I think to God is this much larger point: Through marriage, God gives us a distilled illustration of all of the wonder and the value, and the true definition, of love; and the very sanctity of human life as actually lived; and of our connection with God, with one another, and with all of creation. Love, supposedly perfect and pristine and protected in a glass case, is just a shallow and even harmful imitation of real love, as intended by God.
God sanctifies the humanness, the earthiness, of love as we actually experience it. The kind of love that needs to worry about running out of wine at a wedding. Or dealing with conflicting weekly schedules with work, and home, and church. The love that’s seen in the joy of marriages, and births, and graduations, and anniversaries, and binge-watching Netflix and family game nights and once-in-a-lifetime vacations. It’s all of that. But it’s also the love of the depths – of passing on that thing you really wanted because the other person needs something else even more, and two o’clock feedings or diaper changes, and getting back out of bed because you forgot it was your night to take the trash out to the curb, and terrifying childhood diseases, and equally terrifying adult diseases. The depths of money problems and aging and loss of independence and nursing homes and hospice and the heartache of losing the one you’ve lived with for years through all of these things, and now what are you supposed to do?
In the novel The Brothers Karamazov, one of the main characters, Alexei Karamazov, falls asleep and has a dream about this gospel text, the wedding at Cana. In his dream, it’s an indescribably wonderful and beautiful event, and when he awakes from the dream, he does something unusual – especially for him, since he’s certainly experienced his fair share of the depths of life. He gets down on the ground and embraces it, and kisses it, and through tear-filled eyes he forgives the earth and asks it to forgive him, and he promises to love it forever. In his dream, Alexei came to see what Jesus recognized at the wedding in Cana – knowing full well not only the joy of the day, but also all the difficulties the unnamed couple would undoubtedly face during their lives together. That somehow, all the beauty and ugliness are part of a greater, connected cosmic entirety, and that God is actually present with us in it all, sometimes in spite of it all. That God blesses and sanctifies it all, out of love for us, and that in some miraculous, mysterious, incomprehensible way, even when it’s painful, it’s beautiful. A beauty that can cause tears, tears far more deep than just tears over the beauty of the tux or the gown or the flowers. And Alexei, and Jesus, knew that sometimes, recognizing the mystery of that beauty really just calls for a good glass of wine.
(sips a glass of wine)
Thanks be to God.