Cana: more context

wedding-canaThe New Creation Week. Many scholars have noted that repeats the theme of Creation as he begins the narrative of the Gospel. Where the synoptic gospels focus on the events at the beginning of Jesus’ public life, John seems to assume that the reader is familiar with those accounts and calls our attention to the ways in which people respond in faith to him – yet, at the same time, unlike the other gospel writers, places the beginning events on a timeline. The beginning is the testimony of John the Baptist (v.15) On the “next day” (John 1:29), the Baptist testifies to the more powerful, promised baptism of the Son of God.

The Baptist has heralded the Anointed One, now he reveals the him to the world. The first response in faith comes on the “next day” (John 1:34) where John the Baptist continues his testimony (maryteria) to the Son of God. Upon seeing Jesus, the Baptist exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Upon hearing this, two of the Baptist’s disciples (Andrew and John) are moved by grace to approach Jesus. The “next day” (v.43), now day four of the new creation week, Philip and Nathanael are added as disciples. “On the third day…” (John 2:1) we find ourselves, according to the Johannine imagery, on the seventh day of the new creation week. The creation week reaches its climax – the unveiling of the public life of the Anointed One of God.

Possibilities of New Life. Gail O’Day (John, The New Interpreter’s Bible, 535) neatly provides an overview of the larger context in the section following the Prologue and this “new creation” and possibility of new life:

John 2:1-5:47 is the first realization of the “greater things” promised by Jesus (1:51). The events of this unit – the two “signs” (2:1-11; 4:46-54), the cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22), Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus (3:1-21) and the Samaritan woman (4:4-42), the renewed witness of John (3:22-36), the healing of the man beside the pool (5:1-9) — all demonstrate the authority of Jesus’ words and works. Jews and non-Jews, men and women all see and hear the “greater things” Jesus says and does. These chapters contain the full spectrum of responses to Jesus, from the faith of the disciples (2:11) to Jesus’ rejection by the Jews (5:16-18). These chapters establish the central themes and tensions of the entire Gospel: the possibilities of new life and faith made available through the words and works of Jesus, and the decisions individuals are called to in the face of those possibilities.

First Century weddings. Our information about the details of marriage ceremonies (as distinct from marriage regulations) in first-century Judaism is very sketchy. There are later references and details about weddings, and so if one assumes the customs did not change a great deal, then perhaps we know more.

We know that marriage was preceded by a betrothal that was much more binding than our modern-day engagement. It included a solemn pledging of the couple, each to the other, and was so binding that to break it divorce proceedings were necessary. At the conclusion of the betrothal period the ceremony began with the bridegroom and his friends making their way in procession to the bride’s home. This was often done at night, when there could be a torchlight procession (such seems to be the case with the “Wise and Foolish Virgins” account.) Undoubtedly there were speeches and expressions of goodwill before the bride and groom went in procession to the groom’s house, where the wedding banquet was held. It can be assume that there was a religious ceremony, but we have actually have no details. The processions and the feast are the principal items of which we have knowledge. The feast was prolonged, and might last as long as a week (cf. Judg. 14:12).


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