< January 17, 2010 >

Commentary on John 2:1-11

 

John begins his Gospel with the famous prologue, the appearance of the Baptist, and the calling of Jesus' first disciples.

His baptism is not actually related by the evangelist, but rather told in third person by the Baptist. The calling of the first disciples is narrated and in much more detail. The miracle at Cana is Jesus' first public event at which something miraculous occurs. John even points out to his reader the significance of the miracle.

Cana is not in Judea. It is in Galilee. Galilee was known for its thieves, rebels, and Gentiles. Herod the Great had to clear the area of brigands twice in his life. It was in Gentile territory that Jesus made his adult home and performed his first miracle in the Gospel of John. From the very beginning therefore, Jesus is portrayed as a trans-national figure in the Gospel. His life and work go beyond the boundaries of race and nation.

This is a private miracle, subdued and quiet. It is not some flashy show of divine power. Only a few people, including the reader, know what actually happened. Jesus was even reluctant to do anything at the event. It was not meant to happen, but the persistence of his mother led him to perform what has become one of the most famous of his miracles.

The hosts ran out of wine. The wedding celebration would have ended if there was nothing to drink. Mary mentions this to her son and he replies with a sentence that has puzzled scholars. Is it a rebuke? Is it a mild objection? Is Jesus being rude? If so, his mother doesn't seem perturbed by it and tells the servants to do whatever he tells them. She was always a woman of faith who believed in her son.

Jesus' hour had not yet come. His hour refers to his death, resurrection, and ascension in the Gospel of John. It was too soon for wondrous events in Jesus' ministry. Yet, he still performs a rather large miracle. The stone jars at the wedding would have been huge containers capable of holding eighteen to twenty gallons of water each. There were six of them. Not only was there enough wine for the whole village now, it was better than what had first been served. It is at the end of the story that we read the meaning of it and the significance of timing, faith, and glory.

The head-waiter made the ironic statement that the good wine had been saved "until now." Of course, this is a symbolic way of saying that Jesus is better than what had come before. He is the apex of God's glory. In God's own timing the Messiah had come. When the guests were getting parched and the host nervous, and there was no recourse but to shut the party down, it is at this point that Jesus quietly intervenes. It may not have been the most convenient time for the Lord, but because of the need of the guests and the request of his mother, he will do what must be done, for that is why he came.

God is responsive to people's needs. He is not aloof to the human plight. Even if he is inconvenienced by the request, his heart is larger than the stone jars. Some have come to question the divine response to human suffering and have concluded that there is no God. But this quiet miracle belies that conclusion by suggesting that sometimes God does His work without taking out an ad in the paper.

Indeed, as we will discover throughout the New Testament, Jesus does his work in such a fashion that it is often misunderstood and misrepresented. God has in fact responded to human suffering in the suffering and death of his only Son. It's just that many are not satisfied with the response.

Faith is the purpose of the miracle, as it is in all the miracles in John's Gospel. Faith is the reason John wrote the book (20:31). Faith is why we preach. Sermons are not political essays designed to enlighten the rabble and produce enough guilt to get them to recycle their wine bottles, but to communicate faith in Jesus Christ. Good works are by-products of faith. Faith is not a matter of coercion but of wonder at the miracle of Christ. It is an overwhelming gift in which the Giver Himself resides.

Without that power, without the Giver in the gift, all attempts at recycling and good works would be for nothing for they would be based upon the wrong premise of utilitarianism, self-preservation, or the like. But with faith in Christ as the source and meaning of all good things, whatever we do will be done for the proper reason: out of thanks to Christ for filling our lives.

This quiet miracle is the manifestation of Christ's glory. But no one actually saw it. Nor was there a thunder clap to herald the event. God's glory is not what humans expect it to be. His glory is not for mere display, but has the purpose to fulfill his service to his creation. He buries Himself in a quiet tomb to do his work on Easter where no one can see or hear. As Martin Luther said, "God hides his pearls in a pile of dung so the devil can't find them."

In Christ, the very nature of glory is being redefined. It is glory with a silent purpose and aim, to create and maintain faith in Christ Jesus who responds to human need in ways that seem hidden and mysterious, but whose deeds are open to the eyes of faith.