By Dr. Randy L. Hyde
What is it about Jesus that made him so reluctant to march to someone else’s cadence? You can imagine how torn he was, pulled in so many different directions. His family wanted him to go here, and his disciples clamored for him to go there. The crowds called upon this favor, and the religious leaders demanded he give them the answers they wanted.
It happens, at times, to all of us. There is enough goodness in our hearts that we want to be of help to any and every one who calls upon us, and we are made, on occasion, to feel guilty for not being able to be all things to all people all the time.
Needless to say I relate to this on the basis of what I do in terms of my particular profession. In other words, there are times when I feel pulled in several directions at the same time, and don’t know how to deal with it very well. It’s like a friend of mine said to me recently… he had a hard decision to make, and regardless of what he decided he was going to disappoint somebody. That happens more often than you might think.
John Killinger touches on this. He says you have heard that a preacher lives in a fish bowl, but according to his own pastoral experience that is hardly the full story. It is more like a piranha bowl, John says… people take a bite here, a bite there, and pretty soon all that’s left is a stain in the water.
That happens only in extreme cases, to be sure. But it does happen. Nobody knew that better, or experienced it more, than Jesus.
It started in Cana at the wedding when they ran out of wine. Though John doesn’t say it, such a social mistake would have caused great embarrassment to the bridegroom, who was the wedding host. Weddings were joyous occasions, to be sure, but they were taken very seriously.
On the surface of things, it appears that Jesus accompanied his mother to the wedding simply to have a good time. Weddings were indeed a good time; one of the most anticipated events in that culture. The parties, or receptions, could go on for days at a time, which may be why they ran out of wine. The wedding guests just stayed and stayed and stayed.
Yet, as William Willimon points out, it seems like a pretty mundane way for John to portray the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. A wedding is certainly not ordinary to those who are hosting it, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is not a small thing to pay for one! But why use a wedding for Jesus to inaugurate his power? Why not a healing miracle? After all, Mark has Jesus beginning his ministry with an exorcism. That’ll get their attention! Why would John start with something so – well, so common – as turning water into wine? Not that this was a small feat, but if you were going to write Jesus’ biography, would you begin with a wedding reception? Bring somebody back from the dead! Now that’s more like it!
And if John’s purpose in telling this story is to inform us that Jesus was inclined to have a good time like everybody else, he does a very poor job of it. Or if his desire is to let us know what happened, and who were the principle characters involved, he misses the target. He doesn’t even tell us why Jesus and his mother attended, only that it seems to have been Mary’s invitation and the rest of them just tagged along. Was the bride a cousin or the groom Jesus’ best friend? We don’t know because John doesn’t tell us, which can only lead us to believe that he was not the society editor of the Cana Tribune or Galilean Globe.
When Janet and I were married in Forrest City thirty-four years ago next week, I want you to know our wedding “was of interest to the tri-state area.” Are you curious as to how I know that? Because that’s the way Katherine Leftwich described it in the Forrest City Times-Herald. You see, Katherine and her husband Alex lived next door to Janet and her family, and Katherine was the society editor of the paper. Still is, in fact, after all these years. Writing that our wedding was “of interest to the tri-state area” meant we had family and friends coming from three states. Now that’s the way to write up a wedding story!
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Despite giving us some very interesting details, this story in John is compelling as much from what John doesn’t tell us as from what he does. For example, what has transpired in Jesus’ life so far that gives his mother the idea he has the ability to do something about a wine shortage? Did she expect Jesus to perform a miracle — or as John calls it, a sign — or is she suggesting he run down to the local spirits store and make a purchase? Is she hinting that perhaps this might be a good time for them to leave, so as to remove some of the pressure from the wedding host, or that Jesus should take up an offering from among the wedding guests? Why is there so much water on hand, and what do the purification rites have to do with a wedding? Why does Jesus seem to take exception to his mother’s subtle request that he do something about the situation?
At the wedding, very few people even knew how the miracle was done or who did it. Look at the story carefully and you will find that not even the steward (who was something of a wedding coordinator), nor the servants who toted the water, knew what had happened or why or when. Jesus had a very small audience for his first miracle, didn’t he?
It’s true: John leaves us with more questions than he does answers. But then again, if he gave us all the answers, we preachers wouldn’t have anything to talk about, now would we?
Well, then, what is John’s point? I thought you’d never ask. Everything in this story — all the little details, the things John tells us, as well as the things he doesn’t say, the interesting way in which John frames it — points to Jesus’ glory. It was the first miracle — the first sign — that Jesus performed, and it really doesn’t have that much to do with water and wine. Not really. John tells us that (v. 11), and informs us that this whole thing is done in order to reveal Jesus’ glory. But what does that mean? What is Jesus’ glory?
First of all, understand that a miracle, or sign, does not have a life of its own. It points to something else, something greater, something more eternal – or certainly longer-lasting – than itself. When Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness, it was a wonderful event. Imagine what it might have felt like to have been there. Talk about goose bumps. But when the next mealtime rolled around, the very stomachs Jesus had filled were hungry once again. No more goose bumps; just growling stomachs. When Jesus healed the cripples or the lepers, when he gave sight to the blind, it gave each of the fortunate recipients a new life. And think of those Jesus brought back from death to life, even Lazarus who had been rotting in the grave four days. What joy that brought to these people! To walk again, to see again, to breathe again. Yet, eventually, they all died and their bodies decomposed in the grave. The obvious consequence of Jesus’ miracles was short-lived.
The steward, who comments on the quality of the wine, understands what happened only on the surface level. One minute they’ve run out of wine, the next they have enough to last a couple more weeks, and it’s the best stuff they’ve served yet. There is a deeper meaning here. There has to be a deeper meaning here, and very few who attended the wedding that day understood it.
The last thing Jesus is interested in is helping the bridegroom to save face. It’s for certain he has more important things to do. Then why did Jesus bother? Because every miracle, every sign, pointed to something beyond itself, something that was far greater than just the miracle itself. Each sign Jesus performed gave a glimpse of how it is in the kingdom of heaven where there is not a single limb that is crippled, not an eye that cannot see, not a soul that cannot breathe. The point of every miracle was to show Jesus in his glory, not just to make life better for the one who happened to be in the right spot at the right time to take advantage of his power.
And when it comes time for Jesus to show such glory, such power, he will do it in his time. No check that… he will do it in his Father’s time. And when he finds himself in this ticklish social situation at the Cana wedding, he informs his pushy mama that his hour had not yet come. It’s too early to show his stuff, to reveal his power, at least to the multitudes. He knows that when he does such a thing as a miracle or sign, things happen… eternal things, heavenly things, Godly things. He doesn’t take his power for granted, and he doesn’t want his mother or anyone else to do so either. There will be enough time for him to perform his signs so that everybody can see. But now isn’t that time.
Then he turns right around and does it anyway. It’s almost as if he lets his mother have her way, against his better judgment. As our young folk would say, what’s up with that? Well, let’s keep going…
All that water is there because of the ritual of purification. The Jews had it right: weddings were times of worship. I consider that one of my most important tasks, when asked to officiate a wedding, is to impress on the wedding party and everyone else who attends, that it is first and foremost a service of worship. Some folk, especially those who only attend church when they go to a wedding, tend to forget that… if they ever knew it in the first place.
When the first-century Jews worshiped, first they purified themselves. They prepared. As they entered the synagogue or temple, they dipped their fingers into the water set aside for the purification rite. It didn’t take much. It was more a symbolic gesture than it was hygienic. It only took about a cup of water to purify a hundred men. But John almost goes out of his way to let us know there’s a lot of water here. Six stone jars, he says, each holding two or three measures, a measure being about ten gallons. Let’s do the math: six jars, twenty to thirty gallons each… There could have been as much as a hundred-and-eighty gallons, at minimum a hundred-and-twenty. That’s a lot of water, especially in such an arid part of the world where water is not taken for granted.
If one cup of water could purify one hundred men, imagine how many a hundred-and-eighty gallons would serve! What is John saying? There’s enough water here to purify the world, the whole world! And it is at Jesus’ command.
The point of the story is not that Jesus can take plain drinking water and make it 20 proof. It is that those who once found access to God by means of the ritual of purification now find their way to God through Jesus. He is indeed the way, the truth, and the life. He hasn’t had the opportunity to reveal that just yet. After all, he’s just getting started. His hour has not yet come. This sign is just the beginning. Every story about Jesus that is told in John’s gospel will continue to reveal his glory, his purpose in coming into the world. His hour will indeed come when he will be revealed for who he truly is.
But not now. Not now. And for that reason, it is only his disciples – perhaps as few as three or four – who see what happens. But because they do, they believe in him.
Now, there are at least two clues that pull this idea together. The first has to do with the way John opens the story. He says it was “on the third day.” On the third day in relation to what? He’s not merely offering a timeline, he is using terminology that points to something else, and in this case the something else is the resurrection. Look it up in any of the New Testament gospels, and you will find that any and all references to “the third day” point us to an empty tomb.
The other clue is found in the reaction of the steward. He makes the remark to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first,.. But you have kept the good wine until now.” “Until now.” The best is saved for last. He’s merely commenting on the quality of the wine. But John takes his remark and gives it a theological twist. God saves the best for last, and now – after Abraham and Moses, after the law and the prophets – God gives us his very best. And the best is Jesus.
But God’s people don’t take much to God’s best. No one knew that more than Jesus. So, he tells his mother that “his hour” has not yet come. What hour? The hour of his glory when he will be lifted up to the cross. This story, as simple as it appears to be, points to his death on the cross and the resurrection that follows.
You’ve got to hand it to Mary, she’s pretty cool about all this. When Jesus tells her his hour has not yet come, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” She’s content to let her son be in charge, to stand back and give him room to do his thing.
There’s a message in that, isn’t there? Are we content to let Jesus do his thing in us? What is his thing? After all, turning water into wine, while impressive, is also pretty trivial considering the more important demands facing Jesus. He has people to heal, the hungry to fill, death to conquer. Think of the demands he has yet to face. Remember the piranha bowl? There’s always somebody wanting yet another bite, and it has to be on their terms. Jesus doesn’t respond to us based on our terms. He always does what his Heavenly Father wants him to do. That is his hour.
Jesus gives us his best, his glory. Are we willing to receive it?
When we come to worship, what are we looking for? Better self-esteem, peace of mind, answers to our problems? You may find it, but that shouldn’t be what you come to church for. If so, all you see is water turned to wine. But if you come to worship and honor God, and to follow Jesus, you see not only the sign but what the sign points to, a way of life that leads to the cross.
So the next time you’re thirsty, find something cool that will slake your thirst. But if you’re longing for that which is eternal, yield yourself fully to Jesus. What he will do is far more than turn water into wine. What you will receive from him will last for eternity. He indeed saves the best for last, doesn’t he?
Lord, may your hour come in us. When you come and ask us to follow you, our prayer is that you will find us responsive to your call because we want to see more than just water made into wine. We want to see you in all your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2004, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.