Monday, January 21, 2013

5 Interesting Things About the Wedding at Cana

A wedding at Cana is remembered as the occasion for Jesus' first miracle, when He turned water into wine.

Here are five interesting things about John 2:1-11, in which the incident is recounted.

1. John begins the account with the words, "On the third day..." Most scholars now believe that this represents the third day of man named Nathanael following Jesus. How Nathanael came to do that is recounted in John 1:43-51. It appears right before the account of the wedding in John's Gospel.

Coming at the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry, the phrase, "on the third day," foreshadows Jesus' resurrection, which comes on the third day from His crucifixion.

2. There is whimsy in this incident, underscoring that Jesus is both true God and true human. Here we see Him as God and as a human being.

Jesus' mother presents Him with a dilemma: The supply of wine for the celebrants of a wedding banquet, the kind of event which typically ran for about a week in those days, had given out. Implicit in Mary's statement of fact apparently, is a request that reflects her understanding of Who Jesus is, the "Word made flesh," God in human skin.

But Jesus is also her son. Like generations of sons before and since, Jesus is playful in His response to Mary. I think we can well imagine a teasing tone in Jesus' voice and a smile on His face when He tells her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to Me? My hour has not yet come." (More on that below.)

Also, like generations of moms, Mary takes her son's teasing in stride and, certain that He will respond to her request, turns to the servants and says, "Do whatever He tells you."

Even if you don't believe that Jesus teased His mother here, you have to admit that choosing to reveal His divinity for the first time through an act that allowed a party to continue and prevent its hosts from being humiliated, seems, on the face of it, a whimsical choice on Jesus' part. But God isn't just solemn Lord of the universe; He's also the author of joy.

3. The "hour" to which Jesus is referring undoubtedly is the hour when His divinity was to be fully revealed. Of course, that would happen soon. After all, who but God could turn water into wine?

Jesus' divinity would not be fully understood until after His resurrection. Many still refuse to understand it or believe it. But, to those who paid attention, miracles like this one served as signs of Jesus' identity and mission. They still serve the same purpose today.

4. The water turned into wine reminds us of the two Sacraments of the Church: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

The first is our port of entry into the Church. (By "Church," I'm not referring to a denominational organization or a specific congregation, but the Church composed of those who turn from sin and persist in believing in Jesus as their only God and Savior.) Holy Baptism is what Jesus is talking about in John 3:5, when He says, "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit." In Baptism, the Holy Spirit claims us as children of God. Of course, like all children, we may run away from being God's child. We may opt out of trusting in the God Who claims us in Baptism. But Baptism assures us that, as the old saying puts it, God is absent from our lives, it wasn't God Who moved.

The second is the sustenance Christ gives to us along our journey as believers. In a mysterious way we can't explain or articulate, Christ comes to us in Communion, offering us forgiveness of sin as we receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine. This is what Jesus meant when, at the Passover He celebrated with His disciples just before He was arrested and executed, He handed them bread and said, "Take, eat; this is My body," then handed them wine and said, "Drink from it all of you; for this is My blood...which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 20:26-29)

The Lutheran movement of which I'm a part has always said that it's pointless to argue over how many Sacraments there are. But we also believe that three things make a thing a Sacrament, a mysterious means by which God's grace in Christ is imparted to us:
  • It was instituted or commanded by Christ.
  • It entails a physical element.
  • It comes with the promise of forgiveness of sin to those who receive it with belief.
Interestingly, John's Gospel is the most sacramental of the for Gospels found in the New Testament. Yet, in it, we find no command from Jesus to baptize and He doesn't mention Jesus' institution of Holy Communion during his account of the Last Supper. John, the consummate artist, emphasizes the importance of the two sacraments by not including overt references to Jesus instituting either of them.

5. This incident, coming at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, is the start of what scholars call an inclusion which culminates at John 19:34. In this latter passage, wanting to confirm that Jesus, then hanging on the cross, is dead, a soldier pierces His side "and at once blood and water came out."

Ancient writers often used inclusions in order to emphasize an important theme. There are many of them in the Bible and an inclusion can encompass both large and small sections of Scripture. They offer a good interpretive tool for those who want to understand God's Word.

Everything within this particular inclusion, the story of Jesus' time on earth, helps us to stand in awe of the incredible fact that God took on human flesh to make His grace, power, and love accessible to all who believe in Him (see John 1:1-14; 3:16; 14:6).

Today, although we can't see Jesus, Who is alive and ascended to heaven, He remains accessible to us in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, among other ways. We also can experience Jesus, of course, in the Bible, God's normative and authoritative book for us; prayer in Jesus' Name; and the fellowship of other Christians. But the Sacraments, with their physical elements, have about them the mystery of the God, Who is Spirit, taking on flesh to become "the Lamb of God."

So, this passage, laden with whimsy and taking place at a party, also foreshadows Christ's death for the sins of humanity and His resurrection. It also points to the fact that all who believe in Jesus will, one day, be guests at a party--a banquet, a celebration--that never ends. (See also Luke 15:22-23.)

There's a lot more to be said about this passage. But this post is only about five interesting things. You might want to explore and reflect on the passage for yourself, using a good commentary like IVP Bible Background Commentary (New Testament) by Craig Keener.

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