The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: The Wedding at Cana
Song: He Turned the Water Into Wine - Johnny Cash
Chapter Eleven: Jesus Ends Up Being the Caterer
It's a strange story, when you stop to think about it. Jesus came into the world for the greatest purpose any human has ever faced. He came to take on the sins of the world and free us all from death. While He was in the world, He presented His followers with dozens of amazing signs to prove His majesty as God's only Son. As he said to John in Matthew 11: 4 - 6,
“Go and show John again those things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.”
Oh, what a wondrous preacher, and what an amazing gift from God, for Him to come down and do such things for men! And yet, what was His first miracle? He conjured up a bunch of wine at a wedding when the guests were already kind of drunk... because His mother asked Him to do it. It seems, at least on the surface, to be a story that might have been carried over from the mythology associated with the Greek god Dionysus. What are we to make of this sign from Jesus - other than that He appears to have been a really spectacular house guest?
The Marriage at Cana by Maerten de Voos
Detail: Nozze di Cana by Bernardino Poccetti
John 2: 1 - 11
1 And on the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;
2 and both Jesus and His disciples were called to the marriage.
3 And when they lacked wine, the mother of Jesus said unto Him, “They have no wine.”
4 Jesus said unto her, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”
5 His mother said unto the servants, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”
6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of the purifying of the Jews, holding twenty to thirty gallons apiece.
7 Jesus said unto them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.
8 And He said unto them, “Draw some out now, and bear it unto the governor of the feast.” And they took it.
9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, not knowing from whence it had come (but the servants who drew the water knew), the governor of the feast called the bridegroom
10 and said unto him, “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine, and when men have drunk well, then that which is worse; but thou hast kept the good wine until now.”
11 This beginning of miracles Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.
The Marriage at Cana by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Die Hochzeit zu Kana by Frans Francken the Elder
Les Noces de Cana by James Tissot
The calling of St John during the marriage at Cana by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen
Meditation: Wine, the First Sign, and the Last Supper
It's the kind of moment that strikes terror into the heart of hosts everywhere. That heart-stopping second when you realize you've planned something really badly and the whole thing's about to turn into a major disaster.
"Jesus, they have no wine."
Understand that in those times, attending a wedding was an even more major undertaking for the guests than it is now. Often they might have to travel for one or two days to arrive at their destination, so the celebrations, once begun, needed to last for awhile. Etiquette of the time demanded that the host at a wedding give the guests a celebration that made the travel worth their while. For them to run out of wine could bring humiliation onto the family.
Mary appears to have been part of the planning committee. She knew about the wine shortage while it was still a secret, and she appears to have been one of the people tasked with coming up with some kind of a solution. Perhaps she was close to the happy couple, or at least friends with the matriarch of the household. At any rate, she knew just the guy to call on for help... whether He liked it or not.
"My hour has not yet come", He replied. John does not specify exactly what He meant by that, but I suspect that He was not yet quite ready to reveal His extraordinary abilities to the world, especially in so public a setting. He knew what Mary did not - that the notoriety that would come with miracles would hasten His trip to Calvary. But oh, that Fifth Commandment! Mary insisted, and He gave in to her wishes.
The wine steward never even realized that there was anything wrong; he just couldn't figure out why the wedding party didn't serve the good stuff first. The servants knew. And this is more important - the disciples knew.
Signs and wonders were often sent by God throughout the Bible as proof that His hand was at work in earthly matters. During this wedding party, the disciples were still quite new in their choice to follow Jesus, and they didn't really know what He was all about just yet. Once they saw the water turn into wine, they had greater conviction that they were following a holy man of great power. They believed in Him.
One of the paintings gathered here envisions a particular consequence of this miracle at Cana. Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen's painting is named "The Calling of St John During the Marriage at Cana", and it suggests that John decided to follow Jesus after seeing Him perform this miracle.
But why a wedding? Is it important that He changed water into wine? There are potent symbols at work here. It is at a wedding that Jesus performs His first miracle - Jesus the Bridegroom first shows His glory to those who would make up His Bride - the Christian church. By transforming water into wine, He demonstrates that He will perform a similar alchemy upon all who truly believe in Him. And the wine... The first miracle and the last were both related to wine. At the Last Supper, Jesus proclaimed that wine represented His blood. Jesus spilled His blood for our redemption, and then rose again. We drink wine in remembrance of His death and sacrifice for us, even as we rejoice in His resurrection and His triumph over death.
Oh, yes. Jesus saves the best wine until last.
Marriage at Cana by Cornelis de Baellieur
Die Hochzeit zu Kana by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Thank you Lord, for the wondrous signs and miracles that You saw fit to present to us while You walked the earth as a human man. Help us remember that you are still an active presence in our lives, and that You are there to provide us with aid and reassurance in our daily troubles if we simply lay them down before You and ask for help in prayer. You have said "Ask, and you shall receive." Just as your mother Mary asked, so should we. Make us faithful servants, willing to accept the miracles You are so willing to send our way.
Previous Chapter in This Series
- The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: Jesus is Tempted by Satan in the Wilderness
Jesus fasts for forty days in the Wilderness. The Devil presents three temptations. With paintings by Juan de Flandes, James Tissot, William Blake, Ducio, Ary Schaffer and Carl Heinrich Bloch.
Next Chapter in this Series
- The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: Calling Simon Peter
Jesus calls the lowly fishermen Simon and Andrew, rather than learned scribes or priests, to be His first disciples.