John 2:1-12 (Grape Expectations, Part One)

Yesterday, Nathanael trusted in Jesus after witnessing just a tiny display of his supernatural power:

John 1:48-49 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus’ response? You ain’t seen nothing yet:

John 1:50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”

In today’s story, we see the first of these “greater things” – the miracle at the wedding at Cana.

John 2:1-2 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

Not exactly the obvious location for the Son of God’s first miracle. Up in an obscure part of Galilee, rather than down where the action was in Jerusalem. At a local wedding, rather than at an important festival. And not some grand statement symbolically announcing his identity, as it turns out: just helping out his mum’s friends with a bit of a catering problem. Interesting.

John 2:3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

They’re having a party, and they’re out of drink. Not exactly the biggest crisis, right? I mean, one time when we were hosting a party, I ran out of soft drink. No big deal. I just jumped into the car, went up to the 7-Eleven and got some more. No-one even knew. Crisis over.

A little trickier in the first century, as camels can take longer to start, and their slave labour force was too busy doing other things to run 7-Elevens. But still, under-catering isn’t the worst thing in the world, is it?

If you answered “no,” then you haven’t met any Mediterranean mums. (Two Middle Eastern brothers in my church used to host some of our leaders’ meetings in their home. Their mother would provide extensive catering, despite the fact that there were only about six of us, and it was an hour after we’d all had dinner. As we left the meeting, the boys would be mock-pleading with us: “Please, eat something. Or smuggle it out inside your clothes. Otherwise she will beat us!”) In Mediterranean culture, one simply does not under-cater.

In the first century, this was even more important, if that’s possible. The family’s honour was at stake. To run out of food or drink at a wedding would bring shame on your family for years, if not generations. (Some rabbis actually described a person who failed to provide adequately for their guests as a thief!) It would impact whom the other children could marry, their economic prospects, and the family’s reputation. In the grand scheme of God’s plan for humanity, it was irrelevant. But to this family it was everything.

So what does Jesus do in response to his mother’s implicit request for help?

John 2:4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

First off, realise that the address “woman” is in fact far more polite than the translation suggests to our ears. And it’s probably better translated, “what’s that got to do with you and me?” How is that my problem? I’ve got bigger fish to fry. My hour has not yet come. It wasn’t the time for Jesus to reveal himself to the world. It wasn’t part of the plan. A little wedding in a hick country town up in Galilee.

Quite rightly, Jesus could have refused to help. After all, there were plenty of other families at the time who were facing their own social and economic crises – he can’t get caught up in all of them and still fulfil his mission. That’s what lies behind his decision (recorded in Mark’s Gospel) to leave Capernaum when the whole town was hunting him down, looking for healing:

Mark 1:38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

This could have been how Jesus left the situation at the wedding. Tragic for the family. But not the main game. Not the focus of the Lamb of God whose mission was to take away the sins of the world.

But his mother doesn’t take no for an answer.

John 2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

And she leaves it in Jesus’ hands. So what does he do? Despite the fact that it’s not part of the plan, he sees the need, has compassion, and miraculously provides. Not in a big, showy, attention-getting way. Just quietly, so that only the servants (and his mother) know what has happened. Because his “hour” to reveal himself publicly had not yet come. He has six stone water jars filled with water, and simply turns them into wine. Catering problem solved, let’s quietly move on.

But he can’t help himself. He doesn’t just make average-quality wine. Let alone the cheap cask-wine they would have been serving by this point in the wedding feast, when everyone would be too bungalowed to notice.* No, he makes the best wine:

John 2:9-10 The master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

This wine was a seriously good drop. It wasn’t maison in Greek, or the spumante of early Latin translations. This was the finest wine the Son of God could make!

To think about

So what’s the point of this story?

I think there are two points to it. We’ll look at the second (and probably more significant) one tomorrow. But the first one is simply this: that Jesus cares about our ordinary problems. He’s not just about the big picture stuff of redeeming the world and restoring creation. He’s also interested in all of the problems that, in the grand scheme of things, might seem irrelevant. But to the individual or family that’s going through them, they’re huge. He cares about those things, too. Enough to break with the plan. Enough to risk getting the mission off-track if everyone found out, and tried to pressure him into setting up Cana Estate Wineries. Or starting a 1800-LEPROSY home healing service (Mark 1:36-38). Or rallying an army and making him king (John 6:15). He cared enough to help a family out so that they wouldn’t be shamed by their poverty.

Now it’s easy to go to either extreme in applying this lesson. There’s the temptation to under-apply it, seeking Jesus only in the big stuff of life – almost too embarrassed to bring the little stuff to him, acting like it’s not worthy of his time. After all, most of our day-to-day problems are insignificant in light of eternity! This story is a reminder that Jesus is interested in our everyday problems, too.

And then there’s the temptation to over-apply it, which can turn Jesus into our personal genie who gets us good parking spaces and good weather for our holidays and a good price on a new car. (Often neglecting the fact that Jesus may be more interested in developing our character when we have to park in the next suburb and walk, or endure wet weather while cooped up in a caravan with our family.)

The balance, I think, is an appropriate awareness of the triviality of many (but not all!) of our concerns in light of eternity, coupled with an understanding of God’s love which tells us to cast all our cares upon him (1 Pet 5:7), yet to find contentment in him despite our circumstances (Phil 4:12-13).

 


* A reference to comedian Michael McIntyre’s observation that if you’re British, literally any noun can be used to describe intoxication.

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