Epiphany 2.19 “Water to Wine at a Wedding Thing” John 2:1-11
John tells us in the last verse of one of my favorite Gospel pericopes that this water to wine at a wedding Thing was “the beginning of signs Jesus did”. And the natural question is “so, what is this water to wine at a wedding thing a sign of, exactly? How does is affect me?” In 10 minutes or so, if you please! My initial answer is: “I’m not sure exactly”. Now, it’s not because I haven’t thought about it a lot and studied the answers of wise scholars down through the centuries on the question that I don’t have an easy answer. I have thought about it—a lot! Read up on it pretty thoroughly as well. I have lots of possible answers actually, just not sure any one of them is exactly the Answer. Here’s a few observations though, to give you some possibilities:
It could be a sign of the social awkwardness of having disciples. That’s hinted at in the first verses—though most people miss it. The wedding was “on the third day”. “Third day after what?” is another question not answered. Could be the third day after Jesus met John and Andrew, future apostles, 2 days after Philip and Nathaniel get on the team. It’s tough to say how many disciples Jesus has at the time of the wedding at Cana. John and Andrew seem to have been instrumental in rounding up Peter and James. So, that’s 6. Maybe the whole crew of 12 is already on board at this time? But Jesus has definitely gathered a bunch of disciples in just a few days. Let’s go with 12 as a safe number at this point.
“Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding”. If you’ve ever been part of wedding planning, you’ll know figuring out the guest list can be very involved. You don’t want to snub any family or friends, but a couple hundred wedding guests make for an enormous bar bill if you have open bar and full dinner. Open bar and full dinner and a week or so long bash was pretty much the only socially acceptable option for first century Israelites. So the question of just inviting Jesus (who apparently is family for this wedding) or whether you need to invite these dozen disciples as well was certainly a tricky one, I’d think. Emily Post and my cousin Judith Martin a.k.a “Miss Manners” have nothing to say on the social status of disciples. Who has disciples? Are they family? Friends? Other?
However the discussion went, the disciples made the list. “We’re going to a wedding guys,” I can hear Jesus telling the disciples. “Cool! We love weddings” the disciples go. Now why worry about this? Well, I detect a possible causal linkage here. We’re told “both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding” then, uncomfortably “and when they ran out of wine…” Cause/effect? The 12 (or more if they brought their wives/dates as is customary at weddings) could probably seriously deplete your wine cellar. Maybe they were a bridge too far invite-wise. Maybe the disciples are the reason they ran out of wine? It would explain why Mary comes to Jesus with, I detect, a little tone in her voice, “They have no wine!” And Jesus goes “how is that My problem, exactly?” and Mom just glares. Jesus, being an Omniscient Guy, should know that a polite son would have said “Oh, mom: inviting my disciples, wives, and dates is not necessary! It would be too much—this should just be a family only thing. I’ll send the disciples to that seminary symposia in Ft. Wayne and that’ll keep them busy and out of everyone’s hair. Better for everyone, really.”
But, no. The disciples had to come +1. And they think all the wine is all for them. So Mary tells the servants “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Jesus will not leave mom in the lurch especially when the problem is sorta His fault anyway, if you look at this thing from the right angle. And that could be a hint as to what the sign is: really, doesn’t the problem seem to be somewhat God’s fault?—i.e. He made the snake. Let the snake talk smack. Let him loose in the Garden. Let Eve get fooled, eat the forbidden fruit, sin, die, etc. He could have said “No snake or disciples on the invite list for the Party!” So it’s kinda His fault, this whole sin thing. But, good news! Jesus cleans up our messes, says “I got this.” And doesn’t argue with us over whose fault it is. He’s more concerned that the Party go on and be fun for everyone…
Of course, the obvious sign is that if you can turn water to wine with just a Word, you must be God! Because only God speaks a Word and makes something out of nothing. Water never turns to wine on its own. Never evolves like this, even Darwin will admit. This is creation ex nihilo! This is the handiwork of Him who made the starry skies with just a Word—made water and grapes and all that stuff in the first place. That could be where this sign points, for sure!
That Jesus only makes the best is another good point. The master of the feast is annoyed that the bridegroom has saved the best wine for last. Normally, you set the Chateau Montrachet out first to make them ooh and ah, and when they’ve “well drunk” the 3 buck Chuck. But this Guy has saved the really good stuff for last. Crazy! And I would say Jesus is certainly like that! The best is always yet to come, with Him…
That only His disciples believed in Him is another interesting thing. You’d think the servants at least who saw and knew what had happened would believe too. But, apparently, they don’t. It might be a sign that we are very stubborn and even when Jesus’ identity is in plain sight, still are able to miss it, convince ourselves it’s just a trick rather than bend our stiff knees in worship of the true God and King. I could go with that.
Luther always thinks anytime Jesus does something with water, Holy Baptism is in view; and anytime He does anything with wine, the Lord’s Supper is in view. Far be it from me to argue against that, but I can never figure out the exact connection between the water at Cana and the Baptism of Jesus, or Cana’s wine and that served in the Upper Room.
So many possibilities of what the water to wine at a wedding Thing could be signifying. Do we just pick one? Do we just say the Lutheran “Yes”? Honestly this is the point at which I got stuck Friday morning writing this. Then I went:
Hey! Maybe we’re overthinking this?! Jesus tells lots of parables about how the Kingdom of Heaven is a Wedding Feast the Bridegroom throws for unworthy guests, whom He has great difficulty getting to the Party, which turns out to be the Marriage Feast of the Lamb—our own wedding! Free Gift, Greatest Party ever. Maybe, it’s just this simple? Jesus turning water to wine at a wedding signifies simply that He does all this only so that His Joy might be in us and our Joy might be full? He does say something like that later! I’m going with that as my Final Jeopardy answer.
Jesus breaks all the social register rules in bringing us to this Party in the first place (we’re unreliable/unworthy guests!). But at this Party (the Never-ending Feast!) Jesus Himself is Host and Feast, turning water to wine, wine to His blood, bread to His Body—that eating, drinking with Jesus, His Joy would be in us fully, by faith alone, and our Joy complete, as Peace surpassing all understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.