Jesus’ mother, whom St. John never mentions by name, appears only twice in that Gospel. She appears first here in our Reading from chapter 2, the wedding at Cana in Galilee. She appears again in chapter 19, standing by the cross where the dying Jesus commends her to John, the beloved disciple.
These two cameo appearances connect Jesus’ first miraculous sign and His last mortal breath. And by this, St. John connects Jesus’ gift of wine at the wedding at Cana with Jesus’ gift of His blood poured out on the cross. We are drawn by St. John to drink deeply of “glory” as he calls it, glory revealed by the miracle of the wine, and with it, the awful glory manifested in Jesus’ blood. Take and drink, John invites us!
There are seven of what John calls miraculous signs in his Gospel; seven miracles by which Jesus reveals something: the changing of water into wine, chapter 2; the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem, immediately following this episode; two healings taken together—the Galilean official’s son, chapter 4, and the man by the pool of Siloam, chapter 5; then the feeding of the 5,000, in chapter 6; followed by Jesus’ walking on the Sea of Galilee; then there’s the healing of the man born blind, chapter 9; and, finally, in chapter 11, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the last miraculous sign before Holy Week.
Each of these miraculous signs in John’s Gospel reveals something about Jesus but also something about the human condition, about us. And each of these events, in the way St. John records them, draws us into the encounter with Jesus.
Here at Cana Mary serves as the foil to bring together her Son with human need. She makes a blunt statement of what has happened, but it echoes with a universal human dilemma: “They have no wine.” Oh, a preacher could preach a multitude of sermons on that simple statement. “They have no wine.”
Timing is everything, but here at Cana in Galilee the timing has gone wrong…or so it seems. The wine ran out too early. Now, that doesn’t sound all that surprising. After all, John tells us that it’s the third day of this wedding banquet. Three days of banqueting means a whole lot of wine. And if it were a particularly thirsty bunch, we can easily imagine how they ran dry.
But in the culture of 1st Century Galilee, running out of wine too early isn’t just a little embarrassing, it’s a disaster. Wine doesn’t simply make the celebration flow, it’s a sign of God’s abundance, a sign of joy and gladness and hospitality. So running out of wine means they’re running out of blessing…a bad sign at a wedding!
To make matters worse, Jesus’ mother doesn’t seem to have a sense of timing either. Or so it sounds. “They have no wine,” she tells her Son. It may be true, as commentators surmise, that Mary was close to the families of the bride and groom, so she was eager to help them out. Clearly, she expected her Son to do something.
But Jesus replies, “Woman”—taking an oddly formal tone with His mother, exactly as He will do in the other scene with her at the cross—“Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” But Mary doesn’t raise an eyebrow at her Son’s tone, nor does she argue with Him. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you.”
OK, so what’s really going on here? With St. John’s Gospel, you can always be sure that there is much more going on than meets the eye. What Jesus says is very true: “My hour has not yet come.” In John’s Gospel that “hour” is the crucifixion. As Jesus will say in a later chapter, “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.”
And the hour of the cross was not yet, there in Cana of Galilee. And yet…what Mary says in faith is also true: “Do whatever He tells you.” She likely didn’t even know the full importance of her own words. Mary was as likely mystified as Jesus’ own disciples about what that “hour” was going to be. And yet, she knew…she knew He would do something here.
But…what Jesus does is so much more than supply a truck load of fine wine—from 120 to 180 gallons of wine!—for a wedding feast in danger of social disaster. No. What Jesus does is bring that hour of the cross into this little scene at Cana. And how do we know He does that? Because St. John suggests it.
John begins this whole episode by writing, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana…” More literally, “There was a wedding at Cana in its third day…” “The third day.” Yes, those little bells go ringing in our head. “The third day…He rose again from the dead.” The purpose for this sign at Cana is, as John writes, that “Jesus revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” “Glory.” That’s not just the glory of a miracle worker. For John, glory belongs to the cross, and with the cross, the resurrection. His point is that the glory of Jesus’ great hour on the cross (and everything the cross means) is made present with that wine in little Cana…and all that that means!
In fact, all seven of the miraculous signs in St. John’s Gospel contain allusions to Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of them do. It’s the lens through which St. John wants us to read his Gospel.
So how do we read this glory of the wedding at Cana through the lens of the great glory of Good Friday and Easter?
At Cana human resources were at an end. “They have no more wine.” Here, and in each of the miraculous signs in John, when human beings have come to the end…of their wine, of their medical skill, come to the end of their food supply, or their supply of courage…where human beings have reached the end of their resources it is there that Jesus acts…He creates fine wine, He heals, He feeds, He comforts in the storms of nature and grief, He brings faith where it was lost. Jesus supplies what is needed at that point for the feast of life to continue.
So at the last on the cross, the Word made flesh comes to an end of His life born of Mary. But in that hour…an hour that seems out of joint…there the divine Son cries out the human dilemma, “I thirst!” And yet He pours out the abundance of a wine of life in His blood, a new wine in the resurrection, as the hidden glory of the cross bursts into the great glory of Easter.
For St. John, the cross, together with the resurrection, is the ultimate miraculous sign—an abundant supply where there is deep thirst, the abundant life where we see only death.
Oh, and don’t we know that tension! We can sense it. We read it and hear it in the media, the emptiness of life, the violence in words and deeds which has such a deadening effect on life, and the whole utilitarian, disposable view of human life itself from conception to the grave, a view that has become so prevalent these days; this, and more, shows how the carafe with the wine of life has reached the dregs. Our human cup is drying up!
And yet…and yet, even here, even now, in our own little Cana of Arlington, in this era which seems to be running to its last hour, here and now the wine of a great feast, the fine wine of heaven’s feast, the wine brimming with Jesus’ life-giving blood from the thirsty cross…here and now, Christ pours out such incredible wine. He gives it for us to drink deeply.
And in drinking His wine, we taste, even now in this parched and thirsty era, we taste how there is more at work—at work in us, at work in this world—there is more at work than we can see or ever imagine.
As once at Cana’s wedding feast so now, the cross and resurrection of Jesus is at work in the wine which Jesus serves us in this late hour. And through us the glory of His cross and resurrection flows out into the world.
Oh, sometimes it seems that the world’s hour grows very late. But…Jesus’ wine is always yet more fine the later the hour. So drink deeply, my thirsty friends, drink deeply!