Cana: the sign

wedding-canaThe Jars of Water. 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim.

The gospel provides an interesting amount of detail: the number of jars, their composition, purpose and size. The half-dozen represented a good store of water for carrying out the kind of purification of which we read in Mark 7:1–4. Before the meal servants would have poured water over the hands of every guest. “Stone jars, in contrast to earthen jars, are free from the possibility of levitical impurity (Lev 11:33). The ‘rites of Jewish purification’ probably refers to the ritual cleansing of hands at meals (cf. John 3:25). Even taking into account the possibility of a large gathering at the wedding, the quantity of stone jars and their capacity is unusual. Everything about v. 6 is overdrawn, from the description of the jars to the amount of narrative space the Evangelist devotes to the description. The narrative technique mirrors the size of the jars in order to emphasize the extravagance of the miracle that is about to take place.” (O’Day, 537-38) Continue reading

Cana: what He tells you

wedding-cana1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.   2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

The very sparse opening of this narrative calls a host of questions to mind. Who is getting married? Why is it that Mary, Jesus, and the disciples are all there? How is it that the wine runs short? All questions of importance to the modern mind, but John is interested in the sign (semieon) of the story: water miraculously transformed into wine. Continue reading

Cana: even more context

wedding-canaWedding and Wine Imagery in Scripture. The image of a gamos = “wedding [banquet]” is used in synoptic gospel parables, as Stoffregen points out:

  • “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (Mt 22:2-12)
  • The kingdom of heaven will be like this….while the ten maidens went to buy more oil, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut (Mt 25:10)
  • “be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet” (Lk 12:36)
  • “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,… (Lk 14:8).
  • In Revelation we have the image of the “marriage [supper]” of the Lamb (19:7, 9).

Also from Stoffregen,

“Wine was very important. It was the normal beverage at meals — and especially at festivals. Wine was a symbol of joy. One ancient rabbi stated, ‘Without wine there is no joy.’ At the same time, drunkenness was a great disgrace throughout scriptures. I don’t believe that Jesus intended all the guests to drink up all the wine that night. There was enough wine to satisfy a large number of guests throughout the rest of the wedding feast week.”

“Although the Greek word oinos is not used in any of the eucharist accounts — they all use ‘cup’ and the synoptics also use the phrase ‘fruit of the vine’ — the Cana miracle and the multiplication of the loaves early in church history became symbols for the bread and wine of the eucharist.”

“In the OT, an abundance of good wine is an eschatological symbol, a sign of the joyous arrival of God’s new age: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, (Is 25:6a); The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it (Amos 9:13cd); In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk (Joel 3:18a)”

Minimizing miracles. In many 20th century commentaries, I am always surprised by the tendency among some scripture scholars to seek to explain away the miraculous. More than one (but thankfully not a lot) offers that Jesus, realizing people were well inebriated already, simply ordered the jar filled with water, and then the water taken to the master of the banquet who enters into the merriment while not wanting to embarrass the bridegroom, proclaims this wine to be the best. The bridegroom becomes a silent conspirator as the word spreads – and thus the miracle is born of rumor. Another avenue by which the miraculous is minimized is the suggestion that John adapted an Ancient Near East (ANE) legend. Similarly, several German scholars adopted the position that John had juxtaposed the Cana account with rites associated with the Greek god Dionysos. Gail O’Day [539] writes:

“The central act in the story of the wedding at Cana is the miraculous transformation of water into wine. The contemporary reader, living in a rational, scientifically oriented age, may find this miracle puzzling at best, embarrassing and offensive at worst. Interpreters, therefore, often are tempted to talk around the miracle by focusing on other aspects of the text or to explain away the miracle by focusing on the differences between the biblical worldview and the modern worldview. In preaching this text, however, the preacher should not get caught up in an explanation or apology (just as the preacher should never succumb to the temptation to explain the resurrection). The essence of any miracle is that it shatters conventional explanations and expectations, and this miracle is no exception. It is incumbent upon the preacher not to diminish the extraordinariness of this story in any way. The christological revelation of this story must not be reduced to a discussion about the facticity of the miracle. Contemporary hearers of this story must be allowed to struggle with what this miracle says about Jesus.”

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. Continue reading

Cana: context

wedding-cana1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.   2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. 9 And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. (John 2:1-11) Continue reading

More than kind

wedding-canaThe “Wedding at Cana” story comes from the second chapter of John, but allow me to draw your attention to the first chapter. In the beautiful prologue of John’s Gospel, we hear in John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” Full of grace and truth. Now, here at Cana Jesus is drawn into the public light for all to begin to see, witness, and understand – that the fullness of grace and truth stands among us, dwelling with us in all the wonders of this life. This is what grace looks like. Continue reading

Cana: the sign

wedding-canaThe Jars of Water. 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim.

The gospel provides an interesting amount of detail: the number of jars, their composition, purpose and size. The half-dozen represented a good store of water for carrying out the kind of purification of which we read in Mark 7:1–4. Before the meal servants would have poured water over the hands of every guest. “Stone jars, in contrast to earthen jars, are free from the possibility of levitical impurity (Lev 11:33). The ‘rites of Jewish purification’ probably refers to the ritual cleansing of hands at meals (cf. John 3:25). Even taking into account the possibility of a large gathering at the wedding, the quantity of stone jars and their capacity is unusual. Everything about v. 6 is overdrawn, from the description of the jars to the amount of narrative space the Evangelist devotes to the description. The narrative technique mirrors the size of the jars in order to emphasize the extravagance of the miracle that is about to take place.” (O’Day, 537-38) Continue reading

Cana: what He tells you

wedding-cana1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.   2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

The very sparse opening of this narrative calls a host of questions to mind. Who is getting married? Why is it that Mary, Jesus, and the disciples are all there? How is it that the wine runs short? All questions of importance to the modern mind, but John is interested in the sign (semieon) of the story: water miraculously transformed into wine. Continue reading

Cana: even more context

wedding-canaWedding and Wine Imagery in Scripture. The image of a gamos = “wedding [banquet]” is used in synoptic gospel parables, as Stoffregen points out:

  • “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (Mt 22:2-12)
  • The kingdom of heaven will be like this….while the ten maidens went to buy more oil, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut (Mt 25:10)
  • “be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet” (Lk 12:36)
  • “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,… (Lk 14:8).
  • In Revelation we have the image of the “marriage [supper]” of the Lamb (19:7, 9).

Also from Stoffregen,

“Wine was very important. It was the normal beverage at meals — and especially at festivals. Wine was a symbol of joy. One ancient rabbi stated, ‘Without wine there is no joy.’ At the same time, drunkenness was a great disgrace throughout scriptures. I don’t believe that Jesus intended all the guests to drink up all the wine that night. There was enough wine to satisfy a large number of guests throughout the rest of the wedding feast week.”

“Although the Greek word oinos is not used in any of the eucharist accounts — they all use ‘cup’ and the synoptics also use the phrase ‘fruit of the vine’ — the Cana miracle and the multiplication of the loaves early in church history became symbols for the bread and wine of the eucharist.”

“In the OT, an abundance of good wine is an eschatological symbol, a sign of the joyous arrival of God’s new age: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, (Is 25:6a); The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it (Amos 9:13cd); In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk (Joel 3:18a)”

Minimizing miracles. In many 20th century commentaries, I am always surprised by the tendency among some scripture scholars to seek to explain away the miraculous. More than one (but thankfully not a lot) offers that Jesus, realizing people were well inebriated already, simply ordered the jar filled with water, and then the water taken to the master of the banquet who enters into the merriment while not wanting to embarrass the bridegroom, proclaims this wine to be the best. The bridegroom becomes a silent conspirator as the word spreads – and thus the miracle is born of rumor. Another avenue by which the miraculous is minimized is the suggestion that John adapted an Ancient Near East (ANE) legend. Similarly, several German scholars adopted the position that John had juxtaposed the Cana account with rites associated with the Greek god Dionysos. Gail O’Day [539] writes:

“The central act in the story of the wedding at Cana is the miraculous transformation of water into wine. The contemporary reader, living in a rational, scientifically oriented age, may find this miracle puzzling at best, embarrassing and offensive at worst. Interpreters, therefore, often are tempted to talk around the miracle by focusing on other aspects of the text or to explain away the miracle by focusing on the differences between the biblical worldview and the modern worldview. In preaching this text, however, the preacher should not get caught up in an explanation or apology (just as the preacher should never succumb to the temptation to explain the resurrection). The essence of any miracle is that it shatters conventional explanations and expectations, and this miracle is no exception. It is incumbent upon the preacher not to diminish the extraordinariness of this story in any way. The christological revelation of this story must not be reduced to a discussion about the facticity of the miracle. Contemporary hearers of this story must be allowed to struggle with what this miracle says about Jesus.”

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. Continue reading