Turning water into wine at the Cana wedding is one of Jesus’ best known miracles. But once we look deeper into the story, water turned into wine is just one of the incredible things happening here in John 2. The wine running out isn’t simply an inconvenience for those who weren’t finished drinking. It’s a source of shame, a sign of inhospitality to not be able to fully provide for your guests. When Jesus intervenes, the miracle is not only that water is turned to wine, but that Jesus compassionately steps into the hosts’ moment of shame to replace it with joy. Already in John’s Gospel, we suspect that we’re going to see a lot of Jesus overcoming shame with compassion and joy.
The miraculous sign of the water turned into wine comes so early in John’s Gospel for a reason. It so perfectly foreshadows the rest of the Gospel. Water is transformed into wine, and there is a bigger transformation going on. Deeply broken people are transformed into faithful followers, and death itself is transformed into life (this all happens “on the third day,” John tells us; why do you think he wants to include that little detail?). The jars containing the water (and soon to be wine) are designated for Jewish rituals of purification, and there is a bigger purification going on. Those who give themselves to Jesus are being cleansed of their sin. The revelation of Jesus at a wedding foreshadows the great wedding between the new heaven and the new earth at the climax of God’s whole story (Revelation 21:1-2). And of course, this is Jesus’ first of many miraculous “signs” in the Gospel of John, by which Jesus reveals that God is powerful present in our midst to feed, heal, and give new life. The pattern of revelation, joy and transformation is one we’ll see repeated in John over and over again.
This whole story happens, though, because of a mom. This story is what gets the whole Gospel of John rolling, but Mary is what gets this story rolling. The water becomes wine because Jesus is capable of making that happen, because God is powerfully present in our midst. But the water becomes wine also because a mom believes in what her child is capable of and is willing to challenge him. Every Christmas we hear the song, Mary Did You Know? Well, she clearly has some idea.
Jesus resists at first. “My hour has not yet come,” he says. The hour he’s talking about is the hour of his death. Jesus knows that once the miraculous signs start, there’s no going back. The second the water becomes wine, the clock is ticking and Jesus is on the road to the cross. So he resists at first. But Mary doesn’t push. She knows her son; she knows telling him once will do the trick.
Now, Mary makes just two appearances in the Gospel of John. Here in the first one, Jesus says his hour hasn’t come yet. And Mary makes her only other appearance when Jesus does finally reach that hour (John 19). So the Gospel of John shows us the mother of Jesus when his public ministry begins, and when it reaches its culmination. We didn’t realize it, but we’ve been seeing Jesus from start to finish in the Gospel of John through the eyes of his mom. It is the love of the Father that brings Jesus to and through the cross. But it is the love of his mother that brings Jesus to and through the cross as well. The love of God is both.
It is this love that creates a new family at the foot of the cross, as Mary and the beloved disciple now belong to each other as if they always had. It is this love that removes our shame and creates joy in its place. It is this love that will transform us inside and out, top to bottom. Are we ready to be confronted by such a love?