By Sam Gutierrez
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. John 2:11
For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at the key “framing” stories for the liturgical season of Epiphany. The first week we examined the story of the Magi (Matthew 2) and saw how Jesus is not just a Jewish king, but the King of Kings – for all God’s children both near and far. The second week we took a look at the story of Jesus’ baptism and saw through words and water that Jesus is the beloved Son of God who brings grace and blessing to a broken world.
Now, in the third framing story, we take a look at Jesus’ first miracle in his public ministry–changing water to wine at a wedding feast in Cana. So, what is significant about this story and how does it tie into the season of Epiphany?
Like I’ve mentioned before, Epiphany is a season of light. It is the third season (along with Advent and Christmas) that has light as its main theme. Light has many meanings, but in Epiphany light symbolizes revelation. Epiphany emphasis the teachings and miracles of Jesus as a way of revealing his true identity. It’s no wonder, then, that Epiphany ends with the revelatory light at a maximum on Transfiguration Sunday. On the mountain top we see the human and divine nature of Jesus together in one glorious form.
So, if Epiphany is about revelation, then what does the miracle at Cana teach us?
First of all, it’s interesting to note that Jesus’ first miracle is a reluctant one. It seems like he’s not too excited to exercise his miraculous power in such a public setting. He says that the timing is not right, but does so anyway at the urging of his mother, Mary. We don’t have any examples of this, but Mary has probably witnessed his “special abilities” and now calls on him to do something about the tragic lack of wine at a local wedding. Jesus obeys his mother and changes six large stone jars of water into vats of the very best wine – and thus performs his first of seven “signs” in the book of John.
These large vessels were not for thirst, but used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. Remember that in Jesus’s day there were many, many religious rules and laws about what was “clean” and “unclean.” To stand in God’s presence and to be in relationship with God, a person had to be “clean.” If anyone violated a law that made them “unclean,” they had to go through a series of practices/rituals in order to become clean again. These included the sacrificial system happening in the temple courts, but also included the “washing of hands” to stand in for a full body cleansing. If I could make a crude analogy, this ceremonial washing was like our version of hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer does not take the place of a shower or bath, but rather acts as a quick “cleansing.”
Jesus turns the water used for ceremonial cleansing into expensive wine. The most obvious conclusion is to draw a straight line from Cana to Calvary. This miracle points to what Jesus is going to do on the cross – shedding his own blood (symbolized in wine at the last supper) in order to cleanse us from our sin once and for all.
But, the wine also symbolizes the manifestation of a new age (the kingdom of God is here). Now, the the intoxicating love of God available to all. After all, what else could be the reason for so much wine? The coming of Jesus is also the coming of a kingdom marked by a grace that is abundant, absurd, and free to anyone who wants to dip their cup in and drink. There is enough grace available to make you lightheaded and intoxicated with gratitude.
Friends, may this Epiphany be filled with light and God’s lavish love.
Then [the master of the banquet] 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.” John 2:10