Today’s reading: John 2
Today we read one of the most famous scenes of the New Testament. It is a story of Jesus at a wedding with his disciples. It is the occasion of his first public miracle.
From the outset the words John is inspired to use is important. He tells us that this wedding is on, “the third day”. Thus, right away we should see the overtones of the resurrection and salvation.
Ancient Jewish weddings were elaborate affairs. The feast was meant to be a display by the groom that he had resources to care for the bride. Running out of wine would have been a social disaster, something that would have stigmatized the marriage from then after. Mary, learning of the plight of the groom turns to her son. What happens next is important. Here is the exchange:
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Some people argue that Jesus’ here to Mary as “woman” means that Jesus did not think of his mother in any special terms and that she was a “regular” person like all of us. While it is certainly true that Mary is a human person the reference to her as “woman” is an important signal of the honored role Mary plays in salvation. In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus refer to Mary by name. Mary is always referred to as “woman”. This is a little odd because looking ahead we know that Mary went to live with John after Jesus’ death and resurrection so the two would likely have been close. Why then does John always have Jesus referring to Mary as “Woman”? The answer is because Mary is the “New Eve” the woman promised by God in Genesis immediately after the fall. The woman who will deliver into the world a Messiah that will crush the head of the serpent. She is also the woman that we will see in Revelation who will be crowned the queen of heaven. By referring to her as “woman” Jesus (and John) are showing us that Mary is the fulfillment of these prophecies.
It is important to understand WHY she intercedes for the groom and the people at the wedding with her son. In the kingly line of David, the king could have multiple wives. However, if the king has many wives who then is the queen? The Jewish people solved this problem in that the mother of the king was the queen. Only she was allowed to enter the throne room without being introduced and given permission. By tradition, she was the advocate for the people with the people and the King would grant whatever request he could that she made on their behalf. We see again how this is exactly the role of Mary. We will see in the Book of Revelation that she is indeed a Queen. Here she intercedes for the wedding guests with her son.
We also see something important in the instructions that Mary gives to the stewards. She says to them, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary’s role is not to fulfill the people’s wishes. She takes their pleas to her Son. She leaves it up to her son as to how he will fulfill the needs of the people. Her instruction to us is always the same, “Do whatever He tells you.” She always points to her son and advocates that we submit to him.
Jesus instructs the stewards to fill the stone jars with water. The fact that these are stone jars is important. These are jars that are generally used for ceremonial washing when a Jewish person becomes unclean. The water would wash away the impurity. By changing the water in these jars to wine Jesus is signaling that purity will now come through wine. We know from what is to come that this wine will be his blood, offered at the last supper and at the wedding feast in heaven.
Notice how the story ends. Jesus leaves the feast in Cana and travels to Capernaum where he stays for a few days. Recall that Jesus is born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth but his base of operations during his public ministry seems to be Capernaum. Recall from our reading in Matthew that many of Jesus miracles are specifically identified as taking place in and around Capernaum. These miracles include the Feeding of the 5,000. Now notice that the very next section begins by noting that, “The Passover of the Jews was at hand” (Jn 2:13). As we will see in John 6, the Feeding of the 5,000 and the Bread of Life Discourse also occurred near Capernaum at the time of Passover just before Jesus traveled down to Jerusalem for the holiday. Of course, the Last Supper is a Passover meal. Thus we can infer the turning of water into wine, the feeding of the 5,00 and the Last Supper are all related. They all involve eating bread and wine at Passover and the traveling from Capernaum to Jerusalem.
Tomorrow: John 3:1-21