Miracles are rare. They’re to be exercised with great discretion, only used for the most utilitarian of purposes. The healing of a blind man who spent his life begging in the dark. The exorcism of a demoniac chained up in a cemetery of solitary confinement. The raising of a little girl from the clutches of death.
That must be why biblical scholars are divided about today’s text. After the disciples began to follow him, Jesus heads to Cana for a wedding. And as his first act of ministry, he turns water into wine. So the question for us today is why does Jesus perform this miracle?
John 2:1-11 2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
To reveal his divinity.
To keep the bride’s family from the public shame of not having enough to drink.
Because his mother asked him.
In 1973, the United Church of Canada commissioned a painting by the little known artist Willis Wheatley. It’s a portrait of Jesus that was immediately controversial. Critics were disturbed that Christ’s expression wasn’t stoic or serious enough. Instead, his head is thrown back; his shoulders are relaxed with pleasure; his mouth wide with a smile. Wheatley entitled the work, “Jesus Christ, Liberator.” While little is know about the artist or his intent, the image ended up selling millions and millions of copies. I’d like to think that the painting’s appeal has everything to do with a Jesus who liberates us from believing God is always a killjoy.
The teetottling truth is most Christians are more Victorian than Elizabeathan, more straight-laced than merry making. But if first acts of ministry leave lasting impressions, then turning water into wine reveals the very character of God. A God eats his way through the New Testament at every potluck and picnic, who invites the world over for a backyard BBQ when the Prodigal Son returns home, who is our favorite bartender forever refilling glasses of grace. Jesus turns the water into wine because he wants the party to keep going.
Church, there’s nothing worth celebrating more than a wedding. The holy occasion when two people make vows in the name of love, covenant to be husband and wife for better and for worse, enact the promises of God in their own lives through the sacred institution we call marriage.
The six stone jars amounted to 180 gallons of wine. Jesus must have been expecting the reception to last a few thousand years, he must have been planning to be on the guest list of every wedding and to raise a glass with all of us and bless this union between Thomas and Martha.